Marine resources: a new approach

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The Marine Bill, fisheries and offshore energy

Cuckmere Haven, East Sussex

Maritime Media Awards 2008 Brochure
Jonathan Shaw, Minister for Marine, Landscape and Rural Affairs, on government proposals for the sustainable management of Britain’s marine environment

Photo: Louis Mackay

Britain is a world leader in many ways when it comes to marine management and protection, but our seas are some of the busiest in the world and demands on them are increasing. If we are to ensure that we can continue to make the best sustainable use of our marine resources, we need to be able to take a more strategic approach to managing activity at sea and protecting sea life.

The Marine Bill, a world first as no other country has attempted such groundbreaking legislation, will help us to do this. Britain is also showing leadership on climate change, not just domestically but globally, recognising that climate and the marine environment are closely linked. The UK Climate Change Bill, the first of its kind in the world which aims to set legally binding targets for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, will require government to regularly assess the risks that climate change poses to the UK, including the marine environment.

The latest annual report from the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (www.mccip.org.uk), an initiative involving government departments and agencies, NGOs and scientists, suggests that recent warmer conditions and shifts in the abundance and distribution of plankton have led to fewer fish for some seabirds, which has been strongly linked to recent poor breeding success and reduced survival rates. Rising sea levels will lead to more coastal flooding, with possible threats to human life. Coastal erosion is occurring along 17 per cent of the UK coastline.

The UK has one of the richest marine environments in the world. UK waters contain up to half of the UK’s total biodiversity, estimated at around 44,000 species. We depend on the sea not just for fish but for many other resources – and for tourism and recreation too. Damage to marine life, habitats and ecosystems therefore has serious knock-on effects for all of us.

We need better understanding of how climate change impacts on marine life and habitats, and we need to take radical measures to protect them. A joined-up, strategic approach is required across the whole UK, working with all devolved administrations, to protect the marine environment and ensure its resources are used in a sustainable way. We do not want our activities to make the impacts of climate change worse, or prevent marine ecosystems from adapting naturally to those changes.
The country already has 182 marine protected areas in UK inshore waters, covering almost two million hectares, but current measures are not enough. What is needed is a new network of protected areas around the UK to conserve rare, threatened and native species and habitats.

Consultations are taking place on proposals to designate almost 4,000 square miles of sea around Britain as the UK’s first offshore Special Areas of Conservation, extending protection for important sea life and habitats such as sandbanks and cold-water corals beyond the UK’s 12-mile territorial waters limit. The government wants to see a network of marine protected areas around the UK by 2012, and the seven new proposed offshore areas would play a big part. The Marine Bill will also allow us to provide this type of protection to all our precious sea life and habitats wherever that is needed in our marine area.

While we must think of the threat to the marine environment from climate change, the sea can be part of the solution too – by helping to provide clean energy. The Marine Bill aims to ensure streamlined, effective licensing of marine developments such as renewable energy projects. It will mean that fewer licences are needed for each development, and that better, more consistent licensing decisions are delivered more quickly and at lower cost to all. Regulators will be able to take a more holistic view of each development, providing as far as is possible a one-stop shop for developers. A modern marine planning system will help to secure our social and economic needs, better protect marine biodiversity, and manage fisheries and other important marine activities more effectively.

Offshore wind farms will be essential to government efforts to combat climate change and boost renewable energy sources. The UK has licensed sixteen wind farms, which could generate enough power for more than two million homes, but we need to go further.

We are currently considering plans for a major expansion of offshore renewables.Wave and tidal power also offers immense opportunities, and the government has started a feasibility study for a Severn barrage that could generate 5 per cent of the UK’s electricity. We are also looking to develop carbon capture projects offshore, involving the storage of carbon dioxide deep under the seabed.

The Marine Bill is a high priority for this government. We are on target to meet our commitment for a Bill in this Parliament – but the exact timing depends on the government’s overall legislative programme.

The government published the draft Marine Bill in April this year. Detailed parliamentary scrutiny of the proposals has been carried out by a Joint Committee of Parliament, while the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) looked at the proposals for coastal access. Both committees reported in July, and the government plans to publish its response to these, and the public consultation which took place at the same time, in the autumn.

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