(Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan)
The Caspian Sea is the largest inland body of water on Earth and a precious, yet fragile place for approximately 400 endemic species. The sea was once teeming with life and supplied sturgeon (Acipenseridae), trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and salmon (S. ciscaucasicus) for the inland European fisheries in the middle ages. Unfortunately, this region has struggled with a “tragedy of the commons”, with several sturgeon species currently in danger of extinction due to pollution and illegal fishing along the shores of the five countries that surround the sea.
However, Azerbaijan has been making major moves to preserve the health of this unique body of water: in September 2018, the government established the Ghizilagaj National Park, making it the very first marine park in the entire Caspian Sea.
Why is this so monumental? Conservation for the Caspian Sea is crucial: it remains the most abundant home for seven species of the critically endangered sturgeon, and it’s perhaps the most important location for wintering and breeding aquatic birds in the Western Palearctic zone.
Mission Blue is proud to declare the Ghizilagaj Reserve National Park has been named Mission Blue’s first Hope Spot in the Caspian Sea– and the very first Hope Spot with no connection to the ocean. Mission Blue also commends the efforts of The Blue Marine Foundation and International Dialogue for Environmental Action (IDEA); two organizations advocating for the preservation of the Caspian Sea and the life within it, and educate local youth on the importance of marine conservation.
Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue, says, “It’s up to us to stand up and use the knowledge we have to turn things around for the planet. I’m so proud of the work of Blue Marine Foundation and IDEA to push for marine reserves and educate young people on the importance of protecting their blue backyards for future generations.”
The Azerbaijan government established a marine protected area (MPA), added on to the Ghizilagaj National Park with an IUCN Category 2 protection status. The MPA contains the wetlands that serve as a vital breeding and wintering location for marine birds. However, Hope Spot Champions Rory Moore and Surkhay Shukurov note that more resources are necessary for further protection of the wetlands and Park from pollution (including runoff from agriculture, as the Caspian Sea has no outflow to the ocean) and illegal fishing. However, they are optimistic that the new Hope Spot designation will spark a new wave of conservation efforts throughout the rest of the Caspian Sea.
Leyla Aliyeva, Founder of IDEA, said: “This is a major step forward in our efforts to save the Caspian and its unique species, and we are extremely proud that Azerbaijan was the first country in the region to adopt such measures.”
Rory Moore, Senior Projects Manager at Blue Marine Foundation said: “If it can work in Ghizilagaj, there’s no reason why it can’t work throughout the rest of the Caspian Sea, touching Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.” He continues, “There is an ingrained conservation theory in the region that the breeding and reintroduction of fish will solve the problem. It is unlikely that it will. The key is that Blue Marine Foundation and IDEA are working together to restore habitats and protect important marine areas (like the Ghizilagaj National Park) which we believe will ultimately reverse the decline of Caspian marine life.”
The right framework is already in place. Earlier in 2019, the nations surrounding the Caspian Sea agreed on renewing the 10-year moratorium on sturgeon fishing at the Commission for the Conservation, Sustainable Use of Marine Resources and Management of Joint Stocks, held in Baku, the capitol of Azerbaijan. With the right resources, Azerbaijan and the rest of the Caspian Sea nations can band together to save the sturgeon and preserve the enigmatic, beautiful Sea for generations to come.
About Blue Marine Foundation
Known as BLUE, this UK registered charity was set up in 2010 by some of the team behind the award-winning documentary film ‘The End of the Line’. BLUE is dedicated to creating marine reserves and establishing sustainable models of fishing. Its mission is to campaign against over-fishing and for the effective protection of 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.
IDEA is an NGO founded in 2011 by Azerbaijani social and environmental activist, artist and poet Leyla Aliyeva with the vision to protect the rich nature of Azerbaijan and the greater Caucasus region, and to preserve it for future generations by promoting public awareness and action on environmental challenges. IDEA is the champion of the green movement in Azerbaijan, a regional hub for environmental activities and a reliable partner to prominent international organizations such as UNEP, FAO, UNDP, IUCN and WWF.