Why our seas are vital

The UK is incredibly important for seabirds – over seven million nest here every year.

The importance of our seas

The UK is internationally important for many birds. Every year, over seven million seabirds breed around the UK's coast, while millions more waders, divers and seaducks spend the winter in and around our coasts and estuaries.

Almost two thirds of the world's gannets nest along our coasts, while 80 per cent of the world's Manx shearwaters, and more than half the world's great skuas breed on islands offshore.

On land nesting seabirds are protected from human activities such as development and disturbance. However, when they leave their colonies and travel out to sea, the important areas they use for resting and moulting, as well as the feeding areas they depend on, are not currently safeguarded in the same way.

Rathlin Island RSPB reserve, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Sensational sealife

But UK waters aren't just home to seabirds, they are full of plenty of other surprising and exciting inhabitants.

In the cold, dark waters off the west coast of Scotland there are cold water coral reefs that are thousands of years old. Rare little seahorses can be found in delicate seagrass meadows off the south coast of England.

In the summer, our waters are visited by giants – the leatherback turtle that can weigh a tonne, the basking shark, which is the second largest fish on the planet, and the world's biggest jellyfish, called the lion's mane due to its mass of orange and brown tentacles.

Then, of course, there are those animals you would expect to find in seashore rockpools, such as crabs and shrimps, and little fish such as gobies and blennies, along with mussels, limpets, winkles, anemones and barnacles all clinging to the rocks.

Jellyfish close up of group

Why should we protect it?

Not only is all this marine wildlife amazing, but a healthy marine environment does more than support healthy seabird populations. Healthy, functioning seas are also important for us.

We get food from the sea, and it provides fishing jobs for isolated communities around the coast. Tourism and recreation, which depend on clean seas and plenty of wildlife to watch, are also important in small communities.

We know that our seabird reserves can bring in substantial economic benefits to local communities and businesses, through spending by tourists in shops, hotels and cafes. But there are other, less obvious things the sea does for us.

The sea helps regulate our climate. More than half of the carbon produced is stored in seabed sediments by marine plants such as saltmarshes, seagrasses and seaweeds and phytoplankton - the microscopic plants that float near the surface of the sea.

But all is not well in the marine environment. We have strong evidence to show that our marine environment is under threat, with pressures from human activities increasing and some areas already damaged.

In the last decade, there has been a nine per cent decrease in the numbers of seabirds breeding in the UK. We are working hard to ensure measures are put in place to protect what is still intact and restore what has been damaged.