Ocean Conservation: What Are Nations Doing to Protect Their Underwater Habitats?

Summary

  • Greenpeace UK on the World Oceans Day launched a six-month operation called Operation Ocean Witness.
  • Its ship, called the Sea Beaver, would be on a patrol of the protected areas located off the southern coasts.
  • The UK government too announced plans of banning fishing in some of the key marine sites off England’s coast.

Greenpeace UK, on World Oceans Day, launched a six-month operation called ‘Operation Ocean Witness’ for patrolling the coasts of the UK. Its ship, called the Sea Beaver, would be on a patrol of the protected areas located off the southern coasts. It aims to fulfil one of the key promises of Brexit that the government has so far failed to achieve – to prohibit destructive fishing in UK’s protected marine areas.

The UK government, on its part, has announced plans of banning fishing in some of the key marine sites off England’s coast in a bid to protect wildlife and habitats. It announced a pilot scheme of five highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) as a response to the independently conducted Benyon review that was published last year. It made a case for introducing special sites along with marine protected areas (MPAs) in the UK.

What is the pilot project?

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ HPMA scheme was described as historic by the Wildlife Trusts and one that would begin a new chapter on marine protection by helping the degraded underwater habitats to heal.

HPMAs are parts of the sea that protects and heals the marine ecosystems by banning destructive, extractive, and depositional uses. It only allows other activities to continue at non-damaging levels that have been set by international law. Joint Nature Conservation Committee and Natural England would choose the selected sites on the basis of inputs from stakeholders. There would be a formal consultation next year. 

According to the conservation group Oceana, bottom trawlers conducted fishing activities for 68,000 hours in UK’s protected areas set up in 2020, particularly to protect the seabed.

What are conservationists saying?

Other conservation groups said, while welcoming the proposal as a step taken in the right direction, the proposal did not give any formal commitments, and the government had not yet acted hastily enough to neither meet its own aim of mitigating the climate crisis nor of protecting 30 per cent of the oceans by 2030.

Over 97 per cent of UK’s MPAs are bottom trawled and degraded, a study by The Guardian has found. Conservationists have long criticised MPAs as paper parks that are ineffective.

The pilot might run the risk of cleverly hiding the lamentable system of MPAs seen in the UK. Almost 40 per cent of the UK’s waters come under MPAs.

Apart from this, the government has also announced that under its leadership, 80 nations have signed to meet an international target to safeguard a minimum of 30 per cent of all the oceans by 2030. Countries like Guyana, India, Austria, and South Korea, among others, have committed to support ’30 by 30’.

Road ahead

The Ocean Conservation Trust and Defra has recently published in the largest ever survey in Wales and England on the attitude of the people towards oceans. It has found that 85 per cent of them feel that marine protection is extremely important to them. About 80 per cent of people who visited the coastlines last year felt they were good for the physical health of people, and 84 per cent believed they were good for mental health as well.

Those surveyed were the most worried about overfishing, pollution, loss of marine life, and climate change as being the biggest threats to the marine environment, the findings showed.

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