Environmental Audit Committee Sustainable Seas Report key paragraphs selected by the Great British Oceans coalition.
The Overseas Territories (OTs) Blue Belt programme has bold ambitions to protect four million square kilometres of sea, yet not all protected areas that have been established are meeting international best practice guidelines. The goal should not only be to designate protected areas, but to ensure they are achieving their desired effect. Sustainable funding for the Blue Belt Programme post-2020 is needed to ensure these areas are adequately monitored, managed and enforced.
The South Georgia shelf has been identified as the most biodiverse region of the Southern Ocean. Charles Clover, from the Great British Oceans coalition told us about the campaign to create a fully protected marine protected area (MPA) in the South Sandwich Islands. He considered the main barrier to its designation was resistance in the Foreign Office.
Professor Boyd told us that it is not the size of the protected areas around the OTs that is important, but whether they are having the desired effect. He considered more monitoring and evaluation was necessary. Funding for the Blue Belt Programme will cease from 2020. We heard from witnesses that the programme will still need monitoring, management and enforcement after this time which the Government acknowledges is expensive.
Not all MPAs established by the Blue Belt programme are meeting international best practice guidelines by the IUCN. We are concerned that the UK’s MPAs are missing key components to meet protected area demarcation, and that the UK missed its OSPAR commitment to establish a network of well-established MPAs by 2016.
While designating MPAs is important, their benefits will only be realised if they are effectively managed. They must be monitored to deter illegal activity and to establish if species and habitats are recovering, to inform future designations and adaptive management decisions.
The Government must, as a matter of urgency, guarantee sustainable levels of funding for the Blue Belt Programme post-2020, to ensure monitoring, management and enforcement of marine protected areas. We recommend the Government should work in collaboration with all Overseas Territories with MPAs to set up a fully integrated monitoring and surveillance regime for satellite tracking of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
In particular, the UK Government should support the Ascension Island Government in designating 100 per cent of its Exclusive Economic Zone as an MPA as the Secretary of State for DEFRA told us he is considering.
The South Sandwich Islands present an opportunity to protect one of the most biodiverse areas in the UK’s jurisdiction. Adding this area as a “no take” designation would add half a million square kilometres to the Blue Belt. We welcome the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Government’s announcement on 12 December 2018 to extend the “no-take zones” to cover 23 per cent of the MPA, while also implementing additional measures to enhance marine protection around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
This will extend the MPA and close around 170,000 square kilometres to commercial fishing. The Government should continue to work with the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Government to work towards designating 100 per cent of the South Sandwich Islands MPA as a “no take” area for commercial fishing while recognising the need to licence very limited fishing for scientific purposes. This would help to realise the Government’s ambitions to protect four million square kilometres of ocean.
Marine protected areas more generally
The UK should use the highest levels of Government, including the Foreign Secretary, to mobilise its diplomatic network and use its position as Chair of the Commonwealth to advocate for its targets for marine protection. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) is the global arbiter of MPAs, recognised by national governments and the UN as the global leader in protected area policy, science and management practice.
Networks of MPAs have been shown to be effective at protecting marine species, leading to “higher densities, biomass and species richness of marine biota” within and around the area due to species’ ability to move.
Research has shown that MPAs are effective if they are properly managed: Large, long-term, “no-take” reserves that are isolated by deep water or sand and backed up with strong enforcement have five times more large-fish biomass than unprotected areas.
Dr McQuatters Gollop from the University of Plymouth argued that “there is no point putting in place an MPA that does not have a management strategy with effective measures of management”.
Witnesses also described “fisheries law trumping environmental law”, such as pulse fishing being allowed on the Dogger Bank, the largest MPA in Europe; that there are few goals for restoration of the environment; and that competent authorities are not receiving enough funding for policing protected areas.
The Government claims to have met its targets for marine conservation in the UK, but its approach to marine protection is not working, with too many harmful activities such as bottom trawling occurring across too wide an area. Fisheries are not adequately incorporated into marine planning and few MPAs have management plans in place. Monitoring of the success of protected areas is also inadequate.
The Government is complacent: its goal should not only be to designate protected areas, but to ensure they are achieving the desired effect to improve ecological status.
We heard that an adaptive management approach could tackle the multiple stressors which threaten the marine system. We welcome Defra’s review of ecological status of UK seas and recommend that in response to this report, it sets out how its new strategy will deliver more integrated marine planning, restoration and adaptive management to achieve ecologically diverse, healthy and productive seas. It should also set out its timetable for when all marine protected areas will have management plans and monitoring in place.
The full Sustainable Seas Report can be found by clicking here.