GOVERNMENT SAYS "YES" TO 'HIGHLY PROTECTED MARINE AREAS' - ON WORLD OCEANS DAY 2021
And Surfers Against Sewage launch new 'love letter to the sea'
Today, World Oceans Day, 8th June 2021, DEFRA has announced its commitment to protect our seas by beginning the process of designating Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMA's) in a pilot scheme by the end of 2022.
This follows the findings of the independent Benyon Review in 2019, which recommended that Highly Protected Marine Areas would have an important role in helping the marine ecosystem recover. The Wildlife Trusts, who have been calling for HPMA's for the past 3 years and launched a petition, urging their speedy implementation, said they should be an essential part of the UK network for the protection and recovery of the marine environment. They believe that HPMAs should be designated in each regional sea and in both inshore, nearshore and offshore English waters, encompassing a range of habitats, so that experts can study how different ecosystems recover when pressures are reduced.
Each Highly Protected Marine Area will see a ban on all damaging activities and the strictest possible protections for the marine environment in order to give nature the best chance of recovery. They will also act as a natural solution to help store carbon and tackle climate change, as well as generating benefits through tourism, recreation and marine education and should contribute significantly to the Government's commitment of protecting 30% of our seas by 2030. (The '30 by 30' commitment 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.)
Joan Edwards, director of policy and public affairs at The Wildlife Trusts who was invited to be on the Government's HPMA panel heralded this announcement as 'an historic moment' as she pointed out that the removal of all harmful activities, from trawling to construction, has never been attempted in UK waters before. She also said:-
"This new type of marine protection will be the gold standard for rewilding parts of the sea. It's a fantastic step-forward ... we're absolutely delighted! 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. It is hard for us to imagine the abundant scenes that historic records reveal, with dolphins, whales and seabirds as far as the eye can see and huge numbers of fish which were far bigger than you see today. 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 theme for this years 'World Ocean Day' is 'Life and Livelihoods' so the announcement of HPMA's to conserve wildlife and habits and increase the number, diversity and size of fish, is timely. But the announcement also comes at a time when Defra and the Ocean Conservation Trust are due to 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 with 80% of those who visited our coastline this year saying it was good for their physical health and 84% saying it was good for their mental health. 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.
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.
Meanwhile you might like to watch Surfers Against Sewage new 'love letter to the sea', made from stories and footage sent by supporters, "that recognises and celebrates everything the sea means to us."