Our work with Sky Ocean Rescue and plans for the future
Alec Taylor, Head of Marine Policy at WWF
The ocean is the blue heart of our world, absorbing over 90% of the heat and almost a third of carbon dioxide humans have ever created. It is also the lungs of our system, producing well over half of the world’s oxygen. It’s the largest ecosystem on earth, sustaining millions of jobs, providing food to more than a billion people and is worth trillions of dollars to the global economy. Without our ocean, our planet would be pretty much uninhabitable.
Yet, the ocean is suffering and in crisis. 2019 was the year that the world woke up to the profound impact that the climate and nature crisis is having on our marine environment, both here in the UK and across the world. Unless we take action now, it’s almost certain 1 that over this century the ocean will face desperate decline, with growing acidification, dead zones, warming and sea level rise. This will mean many of our fisheries, species, habitats and marine ecosystems are unlikely to thrive or even survive, with critical impacts on societies and economies.
This is also a social and economic issue for the UK: WWF’s Global Futures report shows that over 98% of the economic losses to UK GDP by 2050 will be to ocean natural assets, in particular the loss of coastal ecosystems and fisheries, with significant knock-on impacts on livelihoods.
Delivering at home
In 2018, WWF entered into a new partnership with Sky, as part of its Ocean Rescue campaign. Designed to inspire millions to take action to protect our oceans, the initial phase of the partnership focussed on the management of marine protected areas (MPAs). MPAs are areas explicitly created with the objective to conserve biodiversity, as part of a wider network to maintain and restore nature and provide services to people. Our work with Sky Ocean Rescue in the UK focussed on eight key areas: an MPA in North Devon, (teaming up with the Government’s ‘Pioneer’ projects); an area in the Outer Hebrides; and six protected areas over three times the size of Wales, created to protect the harbour porpoise populations. Other work across Europe looked at protecting whales from ship strikes in the Mediterranean and protecting the German North Sea coast to help adapt to climate change.
Our aim was to address the challenge of ensuring our seas receive proper levels of protection. Whilst a fifth of UK waters are designated as protected, only a fraction are adequately managed. This is due to a combination of factors including a lack of community buy-in, limited financial resources and a fragmented governance system. Solutions existed to tackle some of the key threats, such as underwater noise and fisheries bycatch, but they were not being implemented. Through developing solutions and building support in these areas, we could build an inspiring and persuasive case for replicating success across the country. This was all brought together under the “UK SEAS” project, seeking a fresh look at how we coordinate the management of MPAs.
Over the last three years together with Sky Ocean Rescue, we’ve done some amazing things, including:
- Creating and testing a new tool to assess and improve the management effectiveness of for MPAs from creation to implementation, called “The Compass”.
- Launching a set of new short films about the beauty of North Devon.
- Tagging basking sharks in West Scotland to inform the case for a new MPA for these gentle giants.
- Revealing the benefits that even modest noise reductions could have for porpoise populations in the North Sea and securing new regulations to manage noise inside protected areas.
- Developing innovative, long-term funding mechanisms for marine conservation through the creation of a new “Blue Impact Fund”.
- Engaging hundreds of stakeholders across the North Devon region about the management and protection of their marine resources.
- Shining a light on the ongoing problem of porpoise bycatch and identifying hotspots for management.
- Planting seagrass meadows the size of two rugby pitches in West Wales as a pilot of large scale restoration of this critical habitat in the UK.
- Launching the UK’s first autonomous marine litter-collecting robot, the WasteShark in a Devon harbour.
We have already achieved a great deal together, yet we also know we need to do more to reset the ambition and urgency of ocean leadership in the new decade.
We know that it is possible to substantially restore the ocean in 30 years and avoid the worst impacts of climate change 2, if we act now to reduce key pressures and give the ocean space to breathe. The power of the ocean to bounce back is an inspirational long-term message to accompany the need for transformative change.
On top of this, the power of the ocean to support the UK as an island nation is a critical part of building a long-term recovery from the current COVID-19 epidemic, helping us move towards a future that is just, sustainable and supports coastal communities and livelihoods.
Throughout 2020 WWF, together with Sky Ocean Rescue, will be campaigning to drive ocean recovery as the foundation for the next decade, inspiring millions to take real action to save our oceans.
To us, ocean recovery means bringing UK seas back to life for people, climate and nature. It is a positive vision of hope to allow the ocean to help us deliver food security, reduce environmental footprint, improve livelihoods, support coastal communities and reduce climate risks. It is an underlying mindset and a dedicated choice, and which the UK Government could drive forward both globally and nationally in its new role as an Independent Coastal State.
We focus on ocean recovery as a clear and unifying vision, not just because it is important in itself, but also as the only way to collectively tackle climate change, protect our coastal assets, reduce our ocean footprint and restore nature. In doing this, we also take vital pressure off resources on land, for example on the agricultural systems that cause so much deforestation, soil erosion and pollution.
Over the coming months, we will be setting out the actions that we can take as individuals to become ocean heroes, whilst outlining the leadership needed by the UK Government at this critical time to support ocean recovery.
By the time World Oceans Day 2021 comes around, let’s hope we look back at this moment as the point we really got serious about bringing our precious seas back to life.
To find out more about WWF’s partnership with Sky Ocean Rescue or to join the fight and become an Ocean Hero visit www.wwf.org.uk/oceanhero
1 As per IPCC State of The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) report
2 As per Duarte et al., (2020) Rebuilding Marine Life , Nature 580, pp 39–51
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