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Protect one third of British seas, say conservationists

Fri, 10th Jun 2011

Helen Scales

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Diving into the deep sea

Helen - This month there's news about a group of top marine conservation groups –Sargassum seaweed who call themselves the Marine Reserves Coalition – who are sending a strong message to the British government that they need to be doing a lot more to protect the oceans. Here’s Alistair Gammell, Director of the UK Office of the Pew Environment Group, one of the members of the Marine Reserves Coalition.

Alistair - The UK controls the seas not only around the United Kingdom but we have these overseas territories, so that actually the UK is one of the major marine nations of the world. I think it’s something like 6000 square km that we control. So we can do something really important in the world.

Helen – And what are we aiming at? What do you think we need to achieve with protecting the seas within marine reserves?

Alistair – We’re aiming at 30 per cent  would be no-take, which sounds a lot, but that still leaves 70 per cent, by far the majority, for fisheries and exploitation and various things, but 30 per cent. But that is so massive compared with what we have round the United Kingdom. We have less than 1 per cent and it’s such a tiny little area. There are only three small reserves in the seas around the United Kingdom. But we could do some much more, and we need to do so much more.

Helen – Any thoughts on how we go about doing that?

Alistair – Well, we have to get the public on our side. So we all know on land about things like the Serengeti, Yellowstone park, and we always think Wow those are fantastic, and we should protect them. We need that same mentality in the sea and say actually lets set aside some places as a major public asset and we need to convince politicians to do that.

Helen - I personally think it’s really encouraging that people are standing up and loudly pointing out how important it is that we protect lots of the oceans – and that it can be a win-win situation both for fisheries and for protecting marinelife.

You could argue that campaigning for one third protection of the oceans could scare off a lot of people, and perhaps there’s not a lot of chance of this ever actually happening and that this is a target that’s never going to be reached.

This marine manifesto for protecting a third of british seas was launched as part of a big campaign being run by the department store Selfridges in London called Project Ocean, which is raising awareness about problems in the sea, and raising money to set up protected areas. I think it’s a great project because it should get some important messages through to people who might not otherwise really get involved in issues like these – Selfridges is a fairly posh expensive department store, visited by people who have plenty of money to make choices to do things like buy sustainably caught fish.

Well, one place that could help take a major step towards protecting one third of British waters, is the overseas territory of Bermuda. This island in the western Atlantic lies alongside the Sargasso Sea, which is a unique ecosystem based around enormous floating mats of Sargassum seaweed that offer food and shelter for all sorts of other important marine life.

I caught up with Frederick Ming, Director of the Bermuda Government’s Department of Environmental Protection to find to out about some exciting plans that are underway for conserving a large part of the Sargasso Sea.

Frederick - There are actually two things happening simultaneously and that’s what makes this extremely exciting. We’ve got one project that would begin at the outer margin of our 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone and work inward from there to create a no-take marine reserve. So, one project is looking inward from the outside. The other, the Sargasso Sea Alliance is looking from that 200 mile zone outward.

Now, the reason why these two are interestingly connected is that we believe that if Bermuda would set the example of setting aside a significant portion of its EEZ, as a marine reserve it would give us the moral authority to be able to invite other countries to take some kind of action, serious marine conservation action.

Helen - Well, it’s certainly encouraging that countries like Bermuda are taking marine protection very seriously and let’s hope they can indeed set a good example for everybody else.

Find out more

Sargasso Sea Alliance

Project Ocean


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