Charles Clover Co-founder and Executive Director, Blue Marine Foundation
WE NEED A SEA CHANGE
The future of life on land lies underwater. We are a blue planet and our oceans cover 70% of the world – they feed us, regulate our climate and supply half the air we breathe. However, man-made pollution and overfishing pose an existential threat to marine ecosystems.
We are destroying biodiversity and our food supplies at an unprecedented rate, pointlessly. It is estimated that 90% of commercial fish stocks are overexploited and 90% of large, predatory fish are gone. Yet, environmentally speaking, recovering depleted fish stocks is a realistically solvable problem. If we were to simply manage this resource better, generations to come would reap the benefits.
Mike Park OBE, the head of The Scottish White Fish Producers Association, once said that conservation is nothing more than sensible business practice. Why would you want to destroy the one thing you've got to sell? Why wouldn't you want more fish? Overfishing happens when people aren't organised, they compete, or there aren’t sufficient constraints upon them.
One of our flagship projects took place in Lyme Bay in south-west England and involved a pioneering four-year study with Plymouth University on the impact of pot fishing within marine protected areas.
The research showed that if the commercial intensity of pot fishing increased above a measurable threshold, reef species that had returned following the hard-fought ban on dredging and trawling – which were previously mashing up the seabed – could be negatively affected. Following the ban, we worked together with the local fishermen to practice low impact, responsible fishing and preserve the life within the rocky reefs.
The model helped create a blueprint for how to manage small-scale, static gear fisheries within sustainable limits.
It led to a 52% increase in the number of species, a 22% increase in pink sea fans in the reserve, and 4.5 times more lobsters for the potters, one of whom now describes it as a ‘goldmine’.
When we first began life as a start-up ten years ago, we saw a gap in the NGO world to really focus on overfishing and conserving marine life. While many organisations considered it, nobody looked on it as their primary objective.
Since 2010 we’ve grown from a small outfit to one that this year will turn over Åí7 million. To date, along with our partners, we have secured commitments to protect millions of square kilometres of ocean across 21 projects – whether that is creating what was the largest marine protected area in the world at the time around Chagos, securing a commitment to create a “Blue Belt” around all 14 UK overseas territories and helping to ban electric pulse fishing in EU waters.
HOW COMPANIES CAN DO RIGHT BY THE OCEAN:
Sourcing sustainable fish, using MCS Good Fish Guide
Committing to digital conferencing, rather than flying
Taking pension schemes out of fossil fuel investment
Going carbon neutral – and finding a marine offsetting scheme
What differentiates BLUE, and allows us to work swiftly and effectively, is applicable to any business, charity or individual serious about acting on the Sustainable Development Goals. We are well connected and determined. We seize opportunities when they arise. We forge new partnerships and use them to challenge the status quo. We are results- focused.
Our team includes those with backgrounds in journalism, filmmaking and politics. Results are very much embedded our DNA, and frankly, need to be in order to meet the fourteenth Global Goal: Life Below Water.
That’s why our target of securing marine protected areas to ensure the protection of at least 30% of the ocean by 2030 goes even further than the UN’s ambition, and why we were delighted when the UK Government aligned with our long-term strategy.
As a British NGO, we believe there is great potential in building blue belts around overseas territories and helping the Commonwealth to establish reserves. In addition, crucially, we require action in areas beyond national jurisdiction and boundaries.
The potential for high seas protected areas, such as the Walvis Ridge or Sargasso Sea, are vast because they represent 43% of the Earth’s surface.
If we are to hit our 2030 target, these areas must be collectively pursued.
2020 was intended to be a ‘Super-Year’ for our oceans, however much of life has been on hold. The good news is that life underwater has never had more advocates. Public support has swelled following documentaries such as ‘The End of The Line’ and ‘Blue Planet 2’ in a way that I never saw in all my years as an environmental journalist.
Previously, people perceived these sorts of problems through a terrestrial lens. I was often asked: ‘How are you ever going to get people to care about fish?’. Today, that battle has been won and people care intimately about life below water. In the space of a generation, we've gone from regarding fish in a utilitarian way – ‘chicken of the sea’ – to passionately fighting for their preservation.
Our oceans are indifferent to political or international borders, but are adversely affected by them every day. Our future is intimately tied with these bodies of water – they belong to all of us.
We should act accordingly.