More of our oceans protected but how can we really ensure their future?

At the UN General Assembly ​this week, Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced the UK’s support for making 30% of the world’s oceans protected areas by 2030. Whilst this is a very welcome commitment, there’s still work to do to ensure our oceans and the remarkable wildlife they support are really protected. Our Marine Project Manager, Sue Wells, tells us more.

Puffin swimming around the Farne Islands in Northumberland ©National Trust Images / Ian Ward.Having taken part in efforts to identify and establish marine protected areas in our home waters, the National Trust welcomes this announcement. There is good scientific evidence that the 30% target is essential if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change and save marine wildlife.  The government is justly proud of the 36% of UK waters have been designated as protected.

However, protected areas are only useful if they have long-term effective management, which is generally harder work and requires more resources than the creation and designation of such areas.

For example, in England, the Inshore Fishery Conservation Authorities (IFCAs), responsible for ensuring compliance with fishery regulations both within and outside marine protected areas, need better resourcing. There is also an urgent need for more monitoring, to find out if the health of marine wildlife is improving and whether management activities in the protected area are working.

Over 180 of the Trust’s coastal properties are next to or overlap with marine protected areas – that is, Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protected Areas (SPAs) and Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) – and we support their management in as many ways as possible.

Grey seal at Blakeney Point, Norfolk ©National Trust Images/Ian Ward

The seals and seabirds that breed and rest in colonies that we manage on many of our coastal properties (e.g. Lundy, Farne Islands, Blakeney) depend on marine protected areas for their food; most of our beach cleans take place either in or immediately adjacent to marine protected areas and thus help to keep the nearshore waters clean (e.g. Formby, St Bees, Birling Gap, Woolacombe ..); the educational work we do and the visitor experiences we provide help to make people aware of the need to respect marine wildlife; and in a few cases, we actually own the seabed within a marine protected area and play a direct role in its management (Newtown Harbour, Strangford Lough).

We do a lot, but could still do more.

Thousands of people visit our coastal properties each year and use the adjacent marine protected areas: swimming and other recreational activities are allowed in such locations provided they do not damage the protected wildlife. Visitors are often unaware that they are in the equivalent of a nature reserve.

If we can increase public understanding of why these areas are important and the work that goes into their management, it  could have a major influence in raising support for marine protected areas and encouraging individuals to help, through citizen monitoring schemes, beach cleans and respecting regulations and codes that reduce damage to marine wildlife.

The Trust will continue to look at what we can do to improve people’s access and understanding of these special places, whilst ensuring the habitat’s wildlife flourishes.

We’ll play our part, and will look to Government to play theirs to make protected areas of our ocean worthy of the designation.

Blog by Sue Wells, Marine Project Manager, National Trust

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