Astola Island, located about 39 kilometres east of Pasni, Balochistan, in the Arabian Sea, has been declared the first dedicated Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Pakistan. The island and it surrounding waters are known to provide important habitat to many marine species, including Arabian Sea humpback whales.
Covering an area of about 400 square kilometers, Astola is considered the largest island along the coast of Pakistan, and the Balochistan government, through a notification issued on Thursday declared it the first dedicated marine protected area in Pakistan’s history.
By declaring the Astola Island a marine protected area, Pakistan has started complying with the Aichi Target 11, which requires that at least 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas be conserved are protected by 2020 .
WWF-Pakistan played a crucial role in providing the research and justification for this MPA, with over 25 years’ of studies and publications on the area’s biodiversity from 1990 to the present. WWF technical adviser and ASWN member Muhammad Moazzam Khan said Astola Island was a biodiversity hotspot hosting many species of marine and terrestrial animals and plants, including nesting green turtles, over 25 species of corals, and nesting colonies of the greater crested tern. Endangered Arabian Sea humpback whales have also been observed in the waters off the island’s shores. “This will ensure conservation of these species whose population is drastically declining along the coast of Pakistan. The declaration of Astola Island ensures that the biodiversity of the area is conserved, and use of deleterious fishing methods will be banned and recreational activities will be controlled,” ” Khan added.
ASWN member Rab Nawaz, WWF Pakistan Senior Director of Programmes, hailed the efforts of the secretary of the forest and wildlife department, Balochistan, and the minister and the secretary of the federal ministry of climate change for declaring Astola Island as a marine protected area. “WWF considers the declaration an effective step toward management of the marine protected area and protecting marine ecosystems, processes, habitats and species, which can contribute to the restoration and replenishment of resources for social, economic, and cultural enrichment.”