UK backs protection for 30% of world's oceans

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 25 September 2018

The UK government will back calls to treble internationally-agreed targets to protect sea life and habitats by the end of the next decade, at a meeting at the UN General Assembly in New York to discuss ocean conservation.

Cornwall Sunset
© Mike Pratt

We need world-class investment in our growing network of marine protected areas so they are properly monitored and managed to allow our own marine ecosystems to recover.

Dr Peter Richardson,
MCS Head of Ocean Recovery

Environmental campaigners have welcomed the plans but have warned the government it needs to give real protection to the seabed and fragile habitats in British waters.

Dr Peter Richardson, MCS Head of Ocean Recovery, says ambition needs to start at home: “We need world-class investment in our growing network of Marine Protected Areas so they are properly monitored and managed to allow our own marine ecosystems to recover.”

Countries have agreed a target of designating a tenth of the seas and coastlines as protected areas globally by 2020, under the UN’s Convention of Biological Diversity. At a meeting in Egypt in November, negotiations will begin on a new target, and the UK government is backing calls by campaigners, including endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh, for 30% of the oceans to be protected by 2030.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Marine Protected Areas Principle Specialist, said there are continually excellent aspirations announced by politicians, but the facts speak for themselves around the UK: “Less than 0.1% of UK continental shelf waters are closed to all forms of fishing and extraction (in three tiny no-take zones). Less than 2% of UK seas are protected from bottom trawling and scallop dredging and only about 23% of UK seas are in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).”

Ministers say 36% of England’s waters are already safeguarded as MPAs, with recent proposals for 41 more marine conservation zones to protect species such as the short snouted seahorse and peacock’s tail seaweed still being considered, Dr Solandt says there is very little use in our protected areas at this time: “Our MPAs have potential, but are little use to recover our ecosystem. When it comes to local planning and management of MPAs, there is little will or drive to change the status quo.”

Mr Gove said: “Protection of our oceans is a global challenge which requires global action.

“The UK has already safeguarded vast swathes of precious marine habitats, but we must go further.

“Only by working together can we protect our shared home and ensure our marine life continues to be a source of awe and wonder for future generations.”

Lewis Pugh recently completed a 328-mile (528 km) swim along the length of the English Channel, calling for more ambitious ocean protection targets that would see 30% of the oceans fully protected by 2030.

He said “the pain of my 49 days’ swim has quickly disappeared” in light of the announcement the UK government was backing the plan: “It took my breath away. If this is supported by other nations and followed through, it will be the most important moment for ocean conservation in history.”

But he added: “While we welcome this landmark decision, we need to focus not only on the number but the nature of the protection.

“Fully protected MPAs is what it takes for these oceans to fully recover. Without this a protected area is like a frame without a picture.”

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt’s paper - ‘A stocktake of England’s MPA network – taking a global perspective approach’ was published in the journal ‘Biodiversity’ in May.

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Did you know?…

An area over 9 times the size of Wales is now in marine protected areas in the UK, but less than 1% is considered by MCS scientists to be well managed