What can Parliamentarians do to put our ocean on a path to recovery?

By Alice Watson, MCS Public Affairs Assistant. Twitter: @alicee_watson

When it comes to decision making on environmental issues, ocean recovery hasn’t always made the cut. But there is reason for hope and Parliamentarians can really help to bring issues to the forefront and make ocean recovery happen.

What is an APPG?

All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG) are cross-party groups of MPs and Peers who meet with stakeholders to discuss a particular issue area. Take the Environment APPG for example - they hold sessions on issues ranging from marine conservation to renewable energy so that Parliamentarians from all parties can find out more about environmental issues and what they can do to tackle them.

Houses of Parliament 2 - London

Restoring our Oceans event- why was it important?

On Thursday 28th January, Chris Tuckett was invited to speak at the Environment APPG’s event on ocean recovery. We were delighted to be on the bill because marine issues are very often sidelined when it comes to discussing the environment as a whole. To kick off the event Chris shared “Thank you for inviting me to this session and for holding an Environment APPG meeting that is dedicated to ‘marine’. This is the first time that I’ve known that to happen.”

With MCS being a part of the APPG event, it gave us a chance to explain to MPs and Peers why ocean recovery is so vital – making up more than 55% of our environment in England, ‘marine’ always should be part of the big picture.

What was our overriding message to the group?

Put simply, our marine environment right now is in a poor state – last year a government report found that UK seas are failing on 11 out of 15 indicators of health (including marine litter), and there is so much improvement to be made. But a recent WWF report proves that investing in ocean recovery is worth the price tag. Chris said “recovery of our seas could bring benefits equating to more than £50 billion by 2050, so in economic terms our marine environment is important.”

What actions can the government take to restore our oceans?

During the APPG event, Chris stated three key areas that need stronger leadership:

1. An Environment Bill that fully accounts for our seas

We’ve heard news this week that the Environment Bill will be shelved for sixth months. But that’s not the only concern. As it stands, the Bill doesn’t quite make the cut in terms of ocean recovery.

Chris filled MPs in on the issue- “At the moment the Environment Bill doesn’t heavily include marine. We’ve been told it’s in there but it could be brought through much more strongly.”

2. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) free from bottom trawling

36% of our waters are classified as protected, but just 5% currently ban bottom trawling (a destructive fishing method that decimates the seabed). We simply need to see an end to this damaging practice in our offshore MPAs that are supposed to protect the seabed. Chris said “36% of UK waters are classified as protected, but just 5% currently ban bottom trawling. We need to put those measures in place to make them properly looked after and we need to prevent further damage.”

3. Blue Carbon

The potential of our marine environment to capture carbon and help in the fight against climate change is now beginning to be recognised. Recovering our saltmarsh, seagrass beds, kelp forests and sea shelf sediments should be considered as part of the mix of nature-based solutions alongside planting trees or restoring peat bogs.

MCS has estimated that continued disturbance of carbon in offshore sediments could cost the UK £9 billion to mitigate over 25 years. However, recovering these habitats, if done correctly, could contribute to our net-zero target. We are calling for a blue carbon strategy to take this work forward, at pace.

The government has dubbed 2021 as the ‘Marine Super Year’, promising to deliver on ocean recovery. This includes implementing a Fisheries Act with sustainability at the heart of fisheries management, properly managing our Marine Protected Areas, as well as delivering on the long-awaited Deposit Return Scheme.

On the international stage, as co-hosts of the COP26 climate change conference and the G7 summit this year, there is a momentous opportunity for the government to harness the real value that our seas bring for our economy, nature and climate.

So, there is a real reason for hope and optimism when it comes to ocean recovery, and as Chris said while wrapping up the session, “we absolutely welcome MPs support on this”.

Seagrass Social

You can watch the event recording here.

To find out more about the issue of bottom trawling in our Marine Protected Areas, read our summary report here. You can read the full technical report here.

Parliamentarians can find more information on Marine Protected Areas in our briefing and show support by sharing this on social media.