Our island nation has 32,018 kilometres of coastline, overlooking the English Channel, Celtic Sea, Irish Sea, North Sea and, of course, the open North Atlantic Ocean. We are surrounded by some of the richest seas in the world, teeming with an astonishing abundance and diversity of marine wildlife.

We provide a home to some eight million breeding seabirds 1 – including globally important populations of gannets, manx shearwaters and great skuas – and have some of Europe’s most important seabird colonies. A wide variety of cetaceans are seen regularly in our waters, including minke whales, killer whales, Risso’s dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, and harbour porpoises, along with everything from otters and grey seals to basking sharks and white-tailed eagles. There are estimated to be 8,500 marine species living in UK seas altogether. 2

But we do a shockingly bad job of looking after them. We take out far too many fish and shellfish, often catching them in destructive ways that have devastating impacts on other wildlife, and we use the seas as a dumping ground for an insidious tide of plastic waste and all sorts of other pollution. Add to that threats from rising sea temperatures, oil and gas exploration/extraction, and coastal development, and it’s not really surprising that we are losing our marine wildlife like never before. Many seabird populations are in steep decline, at least 1,500 dolphins and thousands of porpoises, dolphins and other cetaceans die in fishing nets around the country every year, 3 and dredging for scallops and other shellfish results in the complete annihilation of seabed habitats.

The good news is that we can turn the tide. With proper management we can ensure that our seas are brought back to full health and remain healthy for generations to come. Marine wildlife can flourish, coastal communities can prosper, and everyone will be able to enjoy the sheer wonder of the marine world and all its remarkable wildlife.

To achieve this we must establish an ecologically coherent network of properly managed marine protected areas, with 30% of our seas off-limits to commercial fishing, scallop-dredging and other damaging activities (currently, only 0.001% is given this level of protection)*. This would include our entire exclusive economic zone, to 200 nautical miles from shore, allowing populations to recover in the absence of human pressure. As fish numbers increase, they will spill out into the surrounding seas, increasing catches for local fisheries, and providing more food for seabirds, whales and all the other creatures that rely on our care and support.  

We are very fortunate to have such a rich, abundant marine wildlife – we have a duty to look after it.

MARK CARWARDINE, CONSERVATIONIST, BROADCASTER, AUTHOR

References:
1. Mitchell, P.I., Newton, S.F., Ratcliffe, N. & Dunn, T.E., (2004), Seabird Populations of Britain and Ireland, 511 pages, hardback, colour photos, figures, maps, ISBN 0 7136 6901 2
2.
State of Nature report (2016). Available at:​ ​rspb.org.uk/stateofnature(Accessed 25/07/2018) 
3. ORCA (2017). The state of European cetaceans. Available at: 
https://www.orcaweb.org.uk/images/media/ORCA-The_State_of_European_Cetaceans_2017.pdf (Accessed 3/9/2018)