Snakelocks Anemone, Chalk Reef, Freshwater Bay

World Rewilding Day: recovery of marine wildlife and habitats is possible

4 minute read

To celebrate World Rewilding Day (20th March 2024) we're sharing some of our most successful restorative projects.

Recovery of biodiversity can be done by actively restoring an area with species that once thrived, or by actively managing people to allow natural recovery. Marine recovery needs a mix of these approaches depending on where the area is and how badly it has been degraded.

Our data, much of which is collected by our volunteers, provides valuable evidence that marine wildlife and habitats can be recover if given the space and opportunity to do so.

Significant seagrass regrowth

Seagrass protects our coasts from coastal erosion and is one of the most important species in helping us to tackle the climate crisis, absorbing 10% of the total carbon buried by ocean sediment.

Alongside the Ocean Conservation Trust, last year we reported a 212% increase in seagrass cover over the last four years, since replacing traditional moorings with new floating moorings within the mooring area of Cawsands Bay, Plymouth Sound.

The chain from traditional swing mooring systems can drag along the seabed, harming seagrass and preventing ocean recovery. The new Advanced Mooring System uses buoys, floats or bungee-type devices to keep the chain off the seabed.

For the UK to reach its goal of net zero by 2025, rewilding of marine ecosystems that play a key role in carbon capture, such as seagrass, is crucial. Many fish species also use seagrass as nursery or feeding areas, highlighting the importance of replacing traditional block-and-chain moorings for the restoration of seagrass meadows and increasing the biodiversity of our ocean.

Seagrass Isle Of Wight

Credit: Laura McConnell

Oyster restoration

Oysters are known as ‘ecosystem engineers’, creating reefs that encourage the formation of complex microhabitats. These reefs provide a surface for species such as barnacles and mud crabs to live on, contributing to a diverse marine ecosystem. Oysters are filter feeders and improve water quality by removing harmful pollutants and chemicals from the ocean, as well as extracting and storing carbon from the atmosphere.

We're a founding partner of the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP) which is working to reintroduce Native European oysters to the Dornoch Firth. These oysters were once abundant in the area but have been absent for the last century due to overfishing. Since the project began, tens of thousands of oysters have been reintroduced to the Dornoch Firth with an end goal of four million.

In Wales, our Natur am Byth project works with partners to restore the native oyster population of Milford Haven. While early days, in this rewilding story, work is underway on this exciting four year project.

Rewilding of ecosystem engineers is a conservation priority, and the ongoing work of innovative projects such as DEEP and Natur am Byth is critical for protecting the long-term health and biodiversity of our ocean.

DEEP project update

Credit: The Glenmorangie Company

Find out how you can take action for our seas

What you can do

Recovering UK marine wildlife and habitats

Rewilding isn’t just about putting species back in the water. For the open seas of the UK, recovery of our wildlife often means creating the space and removing external pressures for them to recover. This can be achieved by managing damaging activities such as bottom-towed fishing, away from sensitive areas or removing them entirely.

Our analysis on fishing activity in Marine Protected Areas (MPA) shows just how effective byelaws removing bottom-towed fishing from sensitive areas can be to allow wildlife stocks and the seabed to recover.

Since a recent byelaw removing bottom-towed fishing the English Dogger Bank MPA came into effect in 2022, the area has seen a 98% decrease in seabed fishing. The steep decline in damaging fishing activity is evidence of how effective proper protections in these areas can be.

As of January 2024, a further 13 byelaws have been introduced, protecting 12% of the English seabed from bottom-towed fishing, with the UK Government aiming to fully protect all English offshore MPAs by the end of 2024.  As well as providing protection for a range of marine species such as the pink sea fan and sea anemone, safeguarding these areas is estimated to be worth over three billion pounds to the UK economy.

We want the UK Government to support and incentivise a just transition of the UK fishing industry away from unsustainable, high impact practices towards sustainable, low impact and climate supporting solutions. This should include significantly reducing fishing damage in Marine Protected Areas that have been designated to protect the seabed and other vulnerable areas.

Ocean waves

Credit: Anastasia Taioglou

Marine wildlife and habitat recovery in UK Overseas Territories

We've also been supporting the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) for over 20 years with the conservation of their marine wildlife and management of Marine Protected Areas.

Since 2016, the charity’s work on the Blue Belt Programme has enhanced marine protection across more than 4.3 million km2 of marine environment. Blue belt has been supporting management of local fisheries to reach sustainable catch levels and ensure best practice, while also funding outreach projects to improve waste management and reduce plastic waste.

The UKOTs are home to 94% of the UK’s biodiversity, including hydrothermal vents, whale sharks, and six of the seven species of sea turtle. Protecting these areas from the pressures of overfishing, pollution, and tourism is a critical step towards rewilding of the marine ecosystem.

To support this recovery, and the vital role the UKOTS play in the health of our ocean, we're asking the UK Government to maintain current levels of support for the Blue Belt programme by committing at least £50 million from 2026 for the following five years.

Amdeep on a boat

Credit: Peter Richardson

Looking to the future

While we must celebrate all the major (and minor) wins that The Marine Conservation Society has made to improve the recovery of marine biodiversity, we must not rest on our laurels.

As a charity, we are optimistic of the future and are always looking ahead to see what more we can do to make our ocean a cleaner, healthier, more protected place. Will you support us?

Join our community of members

Help us protect and restore our ocean