17 April 2024
Ocean Protection

The UK is a global leader in protecting our seas, the ocean and marine life, working with counterparts both in the UK and overseas.

At COP15 in 2022, almost 200 countries agreed a global commitment to reverse biodiversity loss and to protect 30 per cent of land and oceans by 2030. The UK also announced nearly £30 million to support developing countries to deliver the "30 by 30" target. In addition, in March 2023, UN Member States agreed the High Seas Treaty, which aims to place 30 per cent of the seas into protected areas by 2030. 

Further, 374 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) protect 38 per cent of UK waters, which are all subject to planning and licensing regimes to ensure they are protected from harmful activities. The Government’s Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP) sets the country on a path to deliver an improved marine environment and halt the decline in biodiversity which benefits us all. As set out in the EIP, the Government has a statutory target to have 70 per cent of designated features in MPAs in a favourable condition by 2042, with the remainder in a recovering condition.

The UK was among the first signatories to the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Agreement at the UN in 20 September 2023. Work is in hand on the legislation and other measures needed to translate the detailed and complex provisions of the agreement into UK law before ratification when parliamentary time allows.

Finally, the first Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) have come into force. These areas of the sea will benefit from the highest level of protection which will exclude all fishing, thus encouraging full recovery of marine ecosystems. For HPMAs to be successful, the Government will work with the fishing industry, other marine industries and sea users in designating, managing and monitoring them. 

International Action

I am aware that at the 2022 United Nations Ocean Conference, the UK, US and Canada launched the Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Action Alliance, which brings together state and non-state actors to tackle the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Through committing to implement international agreements, promote active monitoring, control and surveillance, and encourage transparency and data sharing, this alliance is growing and has welcomed several new countries to its membership.

In addition, the Government has pledged funding to support marine protection, ocean research and activities to combat illegal fishing. These investments will bolster initiatives aimed at conserving our oceans and ensuring their long-term sustainability by allocating resources to these critical areas.

Invasive Species

Invasive species are recognised as one of the greatest threats to marine biodiversity worldwide, second only to habitat loss, and cost the UK economy £120 million a year. I am aware of research led by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) which, by adapting a model originally designed to predict the distribution of oil following a spill, was able to uncover the origin of floating marine debris and track how invasive species enter UK waters. It is hoped that this new modelling technique will enable the UK and other countries to track the movements of floating debris more accurately and establish an early warning system to prevent and respond to any emerging threat of non-native species.

With 80 per cent of marine debris made up of marine plastics, and over 800 million tonnes of plastic ending up in our oceans each year, this research reiterates the importance of tackling global plastic pollution, supporting calls from the UK at COP15 in 2022 for greater ambition and support to protect 30 per cent of the world’s ocean by 2030.

Kevin Foster PMB

I am aware that my parliamentary colleague Kevin Foster has tabled a Private Member's Bill titled "The Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity (Ratification of Treaty) Bill", which if passed would enable the Government to swiftly ratify the Global Ocean Treaty in this parliamentary session. I will follow the progress of this Bill closely. 

Bottom Trawling

Each MPA protects specific features, whether that is a particular species or a variety of different habitats. Byelaws to protect MPAs from damaging fishing activity are developed using an evidence-led process to determine what measures are required to protect these specific features. Site-by-site assessments are carried out to tailor management measures and to avoid unnecessary restrictions on fishing. Only fishing activities which could damage the protected features of an MPA require management.

Nearly 60 per cent of the 181 English MPAs are already protected from damaging fishing activity. This includes byelaws made in 2022, which ban bottom towed gear over sensitive features in the first four offshore sites. The Marine Management Organisation consulted in 2023 on similar proposals for a further 13 sites, with restrictive byelaws for these sites coming into force on 22 March 2024.