By Joe Wilkins
Just as most* rivers eventually flow into the sea, UK Youth for Nature’s Freshwater Campaign is flowing into our Ocean Campaign.
Kicking off today (8th May 2021), our campaign will focus on critical areas of focus for UK politicians such as our coasts, territorial waters, and the High Seas (those beyond national jurisdiction).
Despite covering nearly three-quarters of the planet, the ocean has long been neglected in environmental policy and legislation. This can no longer be allowed to happen! It is not exaggerating to say that life on Earth depends on a healthy, functioning, and resilient ocean. From its control of the weather to its provision of food and other resources to its role in the mitigation of human activities such as fossil fuels, we must protect this most precious of Earth’s habitats.
Before diving into the Ocean, I would like to add that just because we are shifting our focus away from rivers does not mean we forget them altogether. It is not only water that rivers carry to the sea. They take large quantities of waste and pollution from the land into the ocean. With no river in England registering good ecological health, one must wonder about the impacts on our coastal areas such as estuaries, bays and our territorial waters. This reaffirms the need for a systemic and holistic approach to environmental conservation.
Now to fully immerse ourselves in issues facing the ocean.
Have you noticed the UK Governments choose to dodge many of the questions about our territorial waters? But what is the current condition of the UK’s territorial waters? In a word: poor (not my word of choice but this is a public blog). The Government would lead people to believe that large swathes of our territorial waters fall under the protection of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), but these are little more than paper parks.
I was surprised to discover that only 5% of MPAs have a bottom trawling ban in force. Bottom trawling is one of the most damaging marine activities. It can release vast quantities of stored carbon from the seabed, destroy the local ecosystem and have knock-on consequences on the regional food webs. The combined impacts of bottom trawling, industrial fishing, and pollution can be devastating! The ecosystems in UK territorial waters are under extreme pressures, and we are already beginning to see impacts. Many seabirds, fish, and marine mammals are vanishing from our waters, such as the Puffin which has declined by as much as 42% over the past five years.
How can the governments claim that these areas are protected when bottom trawling and other damaging activities are allowed? The UK Governments have long lectured other countries on the best approaches to sustainable management of their waters, but I think they should be looking in the mirror (or in their reflection in the sea, though it may be polluted) and ask themselves: are we actually protecting our waters? They can no longer continue this “do as I say, not as I do” approach to ocean conservation, and we are calling on them to change now!
With the expected signing of the High Seas Treaty (formally the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Treaty) in August, attention should also be on our role in protecting the seas beyond our view. The UK Government (Westminster) has been active in creating a Global Oceans Alliance and using its diplomatic strength to encourage others to sign the treaty, which should be commended. But on its own behaviour, the Government has been suspiciously quiet. Could this be because they are attempting to hide the fact that they in the process of giving deep-sea mining rights to global weapons companies? The High Seas Treaty needs to be strong and protect these vast areas (nearly 50% of the planet’s surface) from damaging human activities.
As an island and maritime nation, the UK is inherently linked to the health of the ocean. But more than this, the world is connected to the health of the ocean. Every one of us. No matter if we live right on the coast or hundreds of miles away from the sea. So my ask to the UK Governments is: get serious about ocean conservation. Empty promises, paper parks, and finger pointing will no longer cut it.
Join us at UK Youth for Nature in making sure that the UK Governments keep to their promises to protect the ocean!
I would like to end my
rant blog with this quote from Arthur C. Clarke about the size and importance of the global ocean:
How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.
*Of course, there are some exceptions to this statement. Do check out examples of rivers that end in inland basins, such as the Okavango Delta in Botswana.