Today on World Ocean Day (8th June 2021), countries from all four corners of the world – from India to Guyana, South Korea to Austria have pledged to support the ‘30by30’ commitment which is being championed by the UK-led Global Ocean Alliance and the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, co-chaired by the UK, Costa Rica and France.
This next milestone follows a successful meeting of the G7 Climate and Environment ministers, during which all members agreed to champion the global ‘30×30’ target to conserve or protect at least 30 per cent of the world’s land and at least 30 per cent of the world’s ocean by 2030, as well as committing to ‘30×30’ domestically.
Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said:
The UK is a global leader in marine protection, and we are leading the way internationally to deliver healthy and sustainable seas. We must strike a balance in supporting sustainable industries while increasing protections for our seas to ensure a healthy, resilient and diverse marine ecosystem and we will work with others as we develop future protections.
The UK has also launched plans to increase protections for England’s waters through a pilot scheme to designate marine sites in England as “Highly Protected Marine Areas”. The selected sites would see a ban on all activities that could have a damaging effect on wildlife or marine habitats.
This follows the independent Benyon Review, which recommended that Highly Protected Marine Areas would have an important role in helping the marine ecosystem recover. The review was commissioned in 2019 to look at how these areas could be introduced and the Government has today published its response to the review. As well as helping drive marine recovery, the review also highlighted other potential benefits of the sites, including increased tourism.
The sites to be piloted could be in or outside of existing Marine Protected Areas where they would benefit from a substantially higher level of protection. They will be identified by Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee with input from stakeholders with a formal consultation set to launch next year.
Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, said:
I am delighted that the Government has committed to implement Highly Protected Marine Areas with a number of pilot sites. Natural England’s evidence based advice has been instrumental in determining the need for special protection for our most vulnerable marine wildlife.
We look forward to working closely with Defra to identify pilot sites and use this great opportunity to explore how highly protected areas can mitigate the impact of human activities on the ocean, support its recovery to a more natural state, and enhance vital marine ecosystems.
This comes as Defra and the Ocean Conservation Trust publish the results of the largest ever survey in England and Wales on public attitudes to our oceans. The survey finds that 85% of people consider marine protection personally important to them. Of those who had visited our coastlines last year, 80% said it was good for their physical health and 84% said it was good for their mental health.
The findings also show that when asked about the greatest threats to the marine environment, participants were most concerned about pollution, with overfishing, climate change and loss of marine habitats also ranking highly.
Professor Michel Kaiser, HPMA Review Panel member and Chief Scientist and Professor of Fisheries Conservation at the Lyell Centre, Heriot-Watt University said:
The implementation of a trial of HPMAs provides a landmark opportunity to understand how marine habitats and life will respond in the absence of damaging activities, setting our ambition for healthy oceans of the future.
Joan Edwards, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at The Wildlife Trusts, said:
This new type of marine protection will be the gold standard for rewilding parts of the sea. It’s a fantastic step-forward, one which The Wildlife Trusts and over 10,000 of our supporters have been waiting for – we’re absolutely delighted!
The removal of all harmful activities – from fishing and trawling to construction – has never been attempted in UK waters before. This is an historic moment and we’re certain that HPMAs will help our seas become healthier and that degraded underwater habitats will be better able to recover.
This special form of protection is vitally needed. Decades of overexploitation and pollution have left our precious seas damaged and the wealth of wildlife that once lived there is much diminished. Existing Marine Protected areas are limited in their ability to restore nature as they only go as far as conserving its current, sometimes damaged state.
HPMAs will allow us to see what truly recovering seas look like. They will set a new bar against which other protected areas could be measured.
The UK has also further advanced its role as a global leader in ocean protection by moving to full membership of the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance (ORRAA). The Alliance brings together the financial sector, governments, non-profit organisations to pioneer innovative ways of driving investment into critical ecosystems like reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, wetlands and beaches that provide the nature-based-solutions to build resilience against climate change.
The UK has also become a co-leader of The International Partnership on Marine Protected Areas, Biodiversity and Climate Change which will work with other countries to ensure they have the information and tools they need to understand the important role that Marine Protected Areas play in helping to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans, and the biodiversity they protect.
The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) has also today published its annual ‘Blue Belt’ assessment which reveals this year the UK Government’s Blue Belt Programme exceeded its target of protecting and enhancing over 4 million square kilometers of marine environment around five UK Overseas Territories.
The commitments made today represent another step forward for the UK’s efforts to step up action on climate change in the run up to the G7 Summit taking place in Cornwall this week and international climate conference COP26, to be hosted in Glasgow later this year.