Plans to protect at least 30% of international waters revealed

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 4 April 2019

A network of marine reserves could be rolled out across the high seas to protect wildlife hotspots and save species from extinction, a report has said.

Compass Jellyfish - Abercastle
© Paul Naylor

Environment Secretaty, Michael Gove, states that the UK is on course to protect well over half its waters, yet only 2% of our own UK continental shelf waters are protected from bottom trawling and scallop dredging

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt,
MCS, Principal Specialist, Marine Protected Areas

Academics at York and Oxford universities have mapped out how to protect at least 30% of international waters, a target scientists have said is needed to conserve wildlife and tackle climate change.

The high seas, areas of ocean outside national waters, cover more than two-fifths of the Earth’s surface and are home to an array of life which rivals that found in coastal areas or on land.

The report warns that global oceans are at risk from fishing, the emerging threat of deep seabed mining, climate change warming the seas while carbon emissions are making them more acidic, and plastic and other pollution.

Dr Jean-Luc, MCS Principal Specialist MPAs, said: “Environment Secretaty, Michael Gove, states that the UK is on course to protect well over half its waters, yet only 2% of our own UK continental shelf waters are protected from bottom trawling and scallop dredging which are the single most widely used damaging activity at sea. Only by dealing with that first can we start to repair the damage from over 130 years of extraction. The only significant areas preventing such activity are offshore windfarms, as it is risky to trawl through the array of turbines.”

Negotiations at the United Nations (UN) towards a new global ocean treaty could pave the way towards protecting vast swathes of seas outside national borders totalling 230 million square kilometres, the study says.

It breaks down the global oceans into 100 kilometre squared units and maps the distribution of wildlife and habitats such as sharks, whales, seamounts or underwater mountains and hydrothermal vents which support unique nature.

It modelled the best way to fully protect 30% or 50% of the global oceans to ensure hundreds of important conservation features are protected in the most efficient way while minimising impacts on human activity such as fishing.

The most efficient design included existing high seas marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic and vulnerable areas closed to fishing by regional fisheries management organisations.

Professor Callum Roberts, marine conservation biologist at the University of York, said: “The speed at which the high seas have been depleted of some of their most spectacular and iconic wildlife has taken the world by surprise.

“Extraordinary losses of seabirds, turtles, sharks and marine mammals reveal a broken governance system that governments at the United Nations must urgently fix.

“This report shows how protected areas could be rolled out across international waters to create a net of protection that will help save species from extinction and help them survive in our fast-changing world.”

Louisa Casson, Greenpeace UK campaigner, who collaborated on the report said: “Over the next 18 months, governments around the world have a unique opportunity to establish a global framework for protecting the oceans.

“By working together they can facilitate the protection of 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030, via a network of fully protected ocean sanctuaries.

“UK ministers like Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt need to take the lead and personally engage with their counterparts to encourage international collaboration and high ambition to protect the oceans for future generations.”

Actions you can take

  1. Report your wildlife sightings
  2. Browse Marine Protected Areas

Did you know?…

Over half a million people have voiced their support for ‘marine protected area’ designation in the UK through our campaigns

Over 170 parliamentarians from across the political spectrum signed up to our Marine Charter calling for a network of ‘marine protected areas’ in UK Seas

To the shelf limits, Scotland has 61% of UK waters, of which 23% are now in existing or new ‘marine protected areas’