My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
I've handed the reins of my blog over to Mark Avery for most of June. Mark's sharing the successes and challenges of saving nature around the world in the run up to the Rio+20 Earth Summit.
Today is World Oceans Day; the 21st since the first one at the Earth Summit in 1992.
We live on the Blue Planet; c71% of the Earth’s surface is ocean. We live most of our lives on the 29% of dry land although even so 10% of the world population lives in the thin strip of low-lying coastal areas.
Half of species on Earth live in the oceans and they are massive carbon stores while marine phytoplankton produce most of the planet’s oxygen.
However, we have plundered the oceans and blundered in their management. Human exploitation almost drove many of the great whales to extinction, and their numbers are still greatly reduced which makes no sense whether you want to watch them or eat them. Few people wish to watch cod but many want to eat them and the collapse of the cod stocks in the Grand Banks off Newfoundland should have taught us a lesson in marine fisheries management – when fishing pressure was lessened the stock showed signs of recovery, but only very slowly and is still far short of previous levels. This is a lesson in how fragile ecosystems can be.
The oceans, most of the Earth’s surface in other words, could provide us with much more of our food if only we let them recover more fully from decades of over exploitation. By letting marine populations recover we could soon harvest more food from the oceans.
Increasingly, marine biologists believe that strict marine protected areas can help both marine life and marine fishermen have better lives. There are numerous case studies that show, unsurprisingly that no-take zones help fish species and other marine life to recover (eg here, here and here).
In April 2010 the UK government declared the largest marine no-take zone in the world around the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean after pressure from many conservation organisations.
Nowadays, even if you never go to the Oceans you can do your bit for them in your local supermarket. The Marine Stewardship Council certifies fisheries that are sustainable so that you don’t have to make the difficult choices yourself. It’s a simple recipe and it works – you can even find MSC certified fish fingers these days. Rewarding those fisheries that do the right thing encourages the good guys – and MSC certification tells you more accurately than you could ever work out for yourself who are those good guys.
No-take zones which allow stock and ecosystem recovery and economic rewards from discerning shoppers are just two recent moves in the right direction to protect the oceans better and in return to be able to harvest them more profitably for our own uses. These are the types of successful steps towards sustainable living where the oceans are leading the way, and such successful examples give great hope for the future.
We already have the national and international laws that should be protecting marine wildlife, including seabirds. There is now an urgent need to implement them and designate those sites that need protection. Step up and safeguard our seabirds at sea by signing our pledge today.
Dr Mark Avery is a former Conservation Director of the RSPB and now is a writer on environmental matters. We’ve asked Mark to write these 20 essays on the run up to the Rio+20 conference. His views are not necessarily those of the RSPB. Mark writes a daily blog about UK nature conservation issues.
Sooty - working for the RSPB was never a straight jacket. It was a well-fitting smart overcoat...
You know I wondered if there was enough to keep you occupied when you left the RSPB well what a silly thought that was.You find so much that is wrong in the world it must have felt like a strait jacket before.
Sooty - we'll come to the albatrosses later! Look out for MSC fish when you do the shopping with Sweep! If we managed the Oceans better we could feed an awful lot of people.
Well you are certainly highlighting lots of things in the world we should be improving,you would think all countries would respect Whales enough to let them alone with no hunting and the Dolphins getting in fishing nets is a big problem like all the Albatross taking fishing lines and being killed.