ISLAMABAD - Federal Minister for Climate Change Zahid Hamid on Friday lauded the Balochistan government for declaring Astola Island, which is one of the most important globally-known biodiversity hotspots and the largest island along Pakistan’s coast, a marine-protected area.

The Balochistan government in a historic move declared on June 15 the country’s largest offshore island, Jazira Haft Talar Satadip, better known as Astola through a notification as country’s first marine-protected area (MPA).

The declaration of MPAs is an international obligation of the federal government under the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Aichi Biodiversity (ABD) Target No 11 agreed in 2010, the ABDs call for member countries to declare at least 10 per cent of their coastal and marine areas as MPAs, especially the areas of biodiversity significance.

Highlighting the unprecedented importance of the Astola Island, the minister said Astola Island was ecologically important, as its beaches provide nesting ground for the endangered green turtle and hawksbill turtle, while also supporting a large variety of migratory birds.

The Astola saw-scaled viper is endemic to the island.

While being treeless, due to the absence of a fresh water source, the island’s vegetation consists of scrubs and large bushes.

The island’s marine ecology supports a variety of corals, creating a breeding ground for a vast range of marine species.

Astola Island is located approximately 25 km off the coast of Pasni, a fishing port town in Gwadar District of the Balochistan province.

Spanning 6.7 square km it is Pakistan’s largest offshore island.

The climate change minister recalled the onerous process to notify Astola Island as a MPA was initiated a few years ago under the auspices of Mangroves for the Future Programme, a regional grouping of South and Southeast Asian countries of which Pakistan is currently the co-chair.

Explaining various measures taken for declaring the Astola Island a marine-protected area because of its biodiversity of unprecedented significance, Zahid Hamid said, “His ministry’s team, led by him, undertook to spearhead the process of declaration of MPAs in 2016 after attending the Oceans Conference in Washington at the invitation of outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry.”

Climate Change Secretary Syed Abu Ahmad Akif said that the Climate Change Minister Zahid Hamid in April 2017 visited Astola along with Commander Coast Pakistan Navy, Rear Admiral Abdul Aleem.

He also met the Balochistan chief minister to help complete the formalities in connection with declaration of Astola as marine-protected area.

“This declaration would have not been possible to come about without concerted efforts led by Zahid Hamid and very active collaboration of the Balochistan government and its Forest and Wildlife Department. Additional impetus and support was extended to the cause of declaring Astola Ilsland a marine-protected area by the Ministry of Defence, Pakistan Navy, the IUCN, the WWF-Pakistan and other members of Mangroves for the Future Programme, Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Zahid Hamid expressed his appreciation for all the many persons associated with this landmark declaration, especially, the Balochistan’s chief secretary, additional chief secretary, and Balochistan secretary Forest and Wildlife Department, Commander Coast, Pakistan Navy, Ministry of Defence, the IUCN and the WWF-Pakistan.

The climate change minister said, “efforts are underway in full swing to declare the Indus Canyon [located where the Indus delta meets the continental shelf] and several other sites including Churna Island and Miani Hor, as marine-protected areas.”

The Ministry of Climate Change will now be assisting in developing a management plan for the Astola MPA.