156 Parliamentarians, two Parliamentary Committees and 350,000 members of the public are now calling on Government to get on and complete our network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
Today I am in Westminster for the launch of a Charter which has been signed by 133 MPs and 23 Peers. It calls on Government for ‘the swift designation of a representative and well managed Ecologically Coherent Network of Marine Protected Areas in UK Seas by 2016’. It’s an incredible endorsement across all political parties for the protection of our seas. What we must see in the following months is this call translated into designation of new MPAs and effective management introduced to protect our marine life from damaging human activities.
There is a great deal packed into the Charter commitment, so let’s break it down and explain what it all means and what we are asking Government to do:
Firstly, our MPA network needs to be ‘ecologically coherent’. This means ensuring that all components of marine life are protected, and the sum of all MPAs is greater than its parts. A number of criteria sit beneath this term, which together help ensure that our MPA network is sensibly and systematically designed and includes the most productive and biodiverse parts of the sea.
The recent designation of MPAs in Scotland has filled some of the gaps in our network, and as long as the majority of the 37 possible Marine Conservation Zones for England are designated in 2015, we will have made some great steps forward for the UK.
But there are still important bits missing. A report commissioned by Link in 2014 looked at the network of MPAs around the UK, and identified where these gaps in our network are. For example, the exclusion of whales, dolphins and seabirds in England’s MPA network is a glaring omission. We know that there are parts of the sea that they regularly use to feed and breed and it is these sites that must be protected. The Wildlife Trusts have just produced a report which highlights parts of the sea that must be protected for our whales and dolphins. The RSPB has been pushing Government for years to ensure that places that seabirds use to feed are better protected, and we will continue to make sure that seabirds have the protection they need at sea.
Secondly, our MPA network needs to be ‘well managed’, because right now it isn’t. Well-managed means ensuring that those human activities which are damaging habitats and species in our MPAs are stopped. It also means that we we take a ‘precautionary approach’ to ensure that lack of complete certainty about human impacts is not a barrier to effective protection.
And thirdly, the 2016 deadline means it needs to be ‘swift’, partly because our marine life needs to urgent protection and partly because we have made commitments to put in place this network by 2016. And that’s only 13 months away.
Last week the European Union officially published it new Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning, requiring all Member States with marine and coastal waters to create plans to set out how their waters should be used. the RSPB was heavily involved behind the scenes, together with our partners in BirdLife Europe, in trying to secure the best outcome for the environment in what was a challenging piece of legislation.
I've written a more detailed blog about this for BirdLife's new European Seabird Resource Hub. You can find it here. While you're at it, check out the other blogs there from our other BirdLife Europe partners to hear what's going on elsewhere. It's a great resource! The website is http://europeanseabirds.wordpress.com/
Also, you can find out more up to date information and interesting marine issues by following me on Twitter! Just click here.
We continue to fight on your behalf for seabirds and marine wildlife in general, from Brussels to Bempton Cliffs. Thank you for your support.
Through August, Lewis Pugh is doing long distance swims in the Seven Seas of ancient maritime folklore - The Mediterranean, Adriatic, Aegean, Black, Arabian and North. His mission is to highlight the need for Marine Protected Areas across the globe.
Lewis Pugh is most famous for having swum in the Arctic in 2007 to highlight the loss of Arctic sea ice as a result of climate change. The water temperature was minus 1.7 degrees and it took months for his body to fully recover. I need to steel myself before I plunge into the sea in Cornwall and that is in the summer, in a wetsuit, when the temperature is 14 degrees. He has also swum in a Himalayan glacial lake (the highest swim ever undertaken) to raise awareness of melting glaciers and repercussions for water supply across Asia, across the Maldives and around Robben Island in South Africa (a primary habitat for Great White Sharks).
His feats are truly inspirational. The message that he embodies is what is possible if you truly commit to overcoming a physical challenge. He has set himself these Herculean tasks to highlight the need for a global response to an environmental challenge-the fact that less than 3% of our seas are protected. How much more does a man need to do to show that he cares?
The response needs to come from Governments across the world; but the call needs to come from people. Across these ancient seas our demand for resources has outstripped their ability to regenerate and we now see populations of Common Skate and Monk Seal at the edge of extinction. We know that these seas are polluted and overfished, but the scale of the problem leaves us feeling paralysed and powerless.
We don’t all have to swim vast distances or take a dip in Arctic waters, but like Lewis we need to remind our politicians that we care. In one sense, it doesn’t really matter how the message is relayed - we can swim, hop or run, but ultimately it is important that politicians hear that the protection of the sea is important to us.
As he left South Africa to start this mission, Desmond Tutu wished Lewis Pugh well saying ‘when we damage the environment and don’t protect our resources we create the conditions necessary for conflict. However when we protect the environment we bring peace.’ The protection of our environment may feel a lesser priority than issues such as energy and the cost of living, but our economies are fundamentally rooted in the natural world and the resources and value it provides for us.
When he completed the swim in the Mediterranean this weekend he was met by Prince Albert of Monaco. I am not sure who will be meeting him when he swims up the Thames on the 29th August, but if you are in London then it would be great to ensure he gets a reception to show our gratitude for this feat to highlight the importance of protecting our seas.