Angler at Sea

Welsh sea threats

Welsh seas are in trouble. Despite the fact that over two-thirds of Welsh inshore waters are designated as protected areas for their significant importance for wildlife, in many cases, designation has not led to effective management. On top of this, the UK’s departure from the EU presents significant risks to the management of our seas.

Stackpole Head

Brexit could affect:

Marine Protected Areas

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are essential for protecting marine wildlife, however most of the legislation that underpins the designation and management of these sites comes from European Directives. Without these pieces of legislation, the designation and management of our most precious areas for wildlife may be under threat. Check out Welsh MPA’s here.

Healthy Seas

European law and policy have been set so that we meet “Good Environmental Status” of our waters by 2020, which is essential for thriving wildlife and clean seas. Similar legislation has also enabled us to set high standards of bathing waters so we can swim safely, and ensures our rivers and coastal waters are pollution-free.


Several fish stocks have been overfished so we must make sure that fishing quotas are set below maximum sustainable yields (MSY), which means fish stocks are healthy in number, and maintain their populations year after year. An exit from the European Union may mean losing the reformed Common Fisheries Policy, and we must ensure that the same high standards of environmental legislation apply in UK waters and that there is no loss of, or reduction in, protection of our marine and coastal waters.

Other significant threats currently affecting Welsh wildlife

Poly cup on beach

Marine pollution

The amount of litter that is ending up on our beaches and in our seas is ever increasing, which can entangle, suffocate and slowly kill wildlife. Our Great British Beach Clean 2017 report showed that a staggering 677 pieces of litter was collected for every 100m stretch of beach in Wales. This is an increase of 11% on the previous year. The Welsh Government and businesses must to more to reduce our dependency on non-biodegradable packaging and, in particular, single-use plastic.

Coastal water quality at a UK level greatly improved in the late 20th century, due to urban waste water treatment. However, agricultural run-off remains an issue, particularly for our rivers in Wales.

Over-exploitation of living resources

Wild caught fish

Fishing is of particular importance to many coastal towns around Wales. Historically however, the rise of modern fishing vessels, able to travel huge distances, and new fishing methods, led to near collapse of many fin fish stocks, such as cod. Over recent decades, a higher rate of effort has been required to catch fewer and smaller fish, with some fish stocks being fished beyond limits recommended by scientists.

Today, both European policy, domestic legislation and fishers’ initiatives are trying to tackle overexploitation of fin fish and shellfish stocks in Wales. However, some stocks are still far from enjoying healthy levels, with long lived species such as skates and rays still particularly vulnerable. There is also evidence that sub-tidal marine sediment habitats have been damaged in areas of the Celtic and Irish Seas by fishing activity, in particular by bottom-trawl and scallop dredge gear.

Check out our Good Fish Guide, which gathers relevant information and helps us make sustainable seafood choices.


The Welsh Government is keen to see Wales as a world leader in aquaculture production. It has set targets for growth of aquaculture by 50% of farmed fin fish and 30% of farmed shellfish species by 2020. Farmed seafood has the potential to take pressure away from wild caught fish stocks, but only if developed in a way that is sustainable.

To enable growth, the Welsh Government’s priorities for aquaculture must focus on identifying sustainable sourcing of feed, to avoid escapes by adopting technical standards, to minimise biodiversity impacts, and to reduce the impact of chemicals and medicine use. To fill the knowledge and data gaps, more research and data collection are needed regarding the effects of aquaculture on wider Welsh ecosystems.

Coney Beach Surfers

Development and other human activities

Welsh seas are getting busier and, increasingly, we are looking to the sea as a source of food, transport, renewable energy, tourism and recreation. The Welsh Government have high ambitions to promote “Blue Growth” of Welsh seas and coastal waters, and Marine Spatial Planning, which will set the direction of travel for growth of Welsh seas, is currently under development. MCS are campaigning to ensure the Plan does not support “growth at any cost”.

Critically, growth of marine industry and activities must only be set at a rate which will ensure we are able to live within our environmental limits. The Plan must also ensure the Welsh network of Marine Protected Areas is not compromised, particularly considering that there are almost no areas of pristine marine biodiversity left around the UK as a result of increasingly intensive human pressures.

Climate change (sea level rise and warming seas)

In its latest statement, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted that recent man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are at their highest levels in history. Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in our climate and in our oceans. It is likely that sea-surface temperatures in Wales will continue to warm and sea levels continue to rise.

This is a problem for people living in Wales, as coastal flooding is already a major problem. In terms of biodiversity, we can expect to see changes in the distribution and abundance of plankton and fish stocks, with knock-on effects to top predators such as seabirds. A global effort is needed if we are to reduce the rate at which changes to our seas are taking place, with everyone playing their part in reducing their energy consumption.

Actions you can take

  1. Browse Marine Protected Areas
  2. Discover more about MCS in Wales
  3. Report your wildlife sightings

Did you know?…

Over 60% of the population of Wales either live or work on the coast.

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