Challenging the UK government to lead the world in ocean protection.

Posted by Willie — 10 February 2015 at 5:02pm - Comments
All rights reserved. Credit: Enric Sala/Nat Geo

If I said to you that the UK government was responsible for rare sea turtles, endangered sharks, tropical coral reefs and quite possibly more penguins than any other country, you might think I was talking about some aquariums or zoos. It’s certainly not what you think about in UK seas, especially at this grey time of year (though of course we do have visiting turtles, many shark species, cold water corals, and puffins as penguin-wannabes). But across the world the UK has ‘overseas territories’. They are relics of a turbulent past when flags were planted across the world, and mostly, these days, they are islands – like Bermuda, Pitcairn, and Ascension. So, in turn, the amazing wildlife in the seas around these islands is effectively ‘British’.

Each oversea territory is different, and each has its own sort of administration or government.

For years the significance of the amount of ocean under UK’s watch, which is the fifth largest area of sea of any nation (after USA, France, Australia & Russia) and the importance of the species living in it has been ignored. Globally only a tiny fraction of the world’s oceans have any sort of protection, whilst at an international level our marine wildlife is under huge threat: Coral reefs plundered and at risk from climate change; ocean wanderers like turtles and sharks endangered due to hunting and bycatch; seabirds and whales threatened by massive overfishing.

Greenpeace is campaigning worldwide to create more ocean sanctuaries, areas off limits to damaging human activities, from the high Arctic to the high seas, and from the Great Barrier Reef to the Bering Sea Canyons.

In recent years governments around the world have started to compete with one another in a slightly more constructive way than simply waving their arsenals at each other. There’s a new, and overdue, race to declare and protect big parts of our oceans which fall under national control. This is usually accompanied by world-beating headline.

France has done it. The USA has done it. Australia, Palau and even Kiribati have done it.

But what about the UK? Well so far the coral-rich waters around the British Indian Ocean Territory have been declared as a marine reserve, and protections have been announced in waters around South Georgia, after it was featured in Hugh’s Fish Fight.

But there is now a huge opportunity to protect much more, since Britain’s overseas waters cover about twice the area of India. That’s why a broad coalition of conservation groups (and others) has this week launched a campaign to encourage the UK government to protect ‘Great British Oceans’. Our colleagues in Pew, RSPB, the Zoological Society of London, and Blue Marine, as well as Fish Fight campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have joined forces with a vast array of ocean lovers, scientists, and even a few celebrities who care enough to have gotten naked for the fish. It may seem an unlikely alliance, but it’s an important one.

We need to redress the balance in our oceans, and the UK has a big role to play in that. Protecting the waters around Pitcairn alone could create the world's biggest marine reserve.

If you want the government to step up and protect more of the ocean for future generations, then do check out, for more information on what’s worth protecting or check out #GBoceans on twitter.

You can also join Greenpeace UK as an ocean defender.

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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