Looking to the sea

20 years on from the first Awards, their purpose, to help build greater understanding of our manifold dependence on the sea, is more important than ever

There is a growing awareness that the oceans are a dynamic part of the planet’s ecosystem. Earlier this year WWF published its latest ‘Living Blue Planet Report’, subtitled Species, Habitats, and Human Well-Being. The findings are not encouraging. In the words of Mario Lambertini, WWF International’s Director General, ‘The picture is now clearer than ever before: humanity is collectively mismanaging the oceans to the brink of collapse’.

A further study by Professor Alastair Couper entitled Fishers and Plunderers: Theft, Slavery and Violence at Sea is similarly despondent, with a focus on lawlessness, and the feckless abuse of natural resources coupled with the appalling treatment of migrant fishers in the deep sea fishing industry.

It is only through the diligent research of committed individuals and organisations that the reality of malpractice is identified. The media have a similar responsibility to ensure that the true situation and the consequences are communicated as widely as possible as this is one of the few ways that political influence can be brought to bear. The recent study by the World Bank estimates that the lost opportunity cost of overfishing is a staggering £38 billion each year.

2015 is the 20th anniversary of the Maritime Media Awards, which started with just two prizes, one for the best maritime journalist and one for the naval unit that projected the best positive image of the Royal Navy. Three additional awards now celebrate the best contributions to maritime literature, television and digital media. The awards have consistently attracted a high level of nominations on a wide range of subjects, so enhancing awareness of specialised subjects but also providing a forum for the exchange of ideas, learning and influence.

This sentiment was carried forward into the fourth Britain and the Sea Conference, organised by the Maritime Foundation in conjunction with Plymouth University and held in London during the International Shipping Week, on ‘International Trade: Cooperation, Competition, and Confrontation in a Globalised Economy’. Articles based on the papers appear throughout this programme, and it was heartening to see such a comprehensive international media follow-up, with features in many publications leading to a better-informed understanding of the meaning of sea power in the 21st century.

Two other studies have recently been undertaken in the commercial sphere. The Department of Transport has produced its Maritime Growth Study, seeking to affirm the UK’s position as ‘a world-leading maritime centre’. The other research by Lloyd’s Register has been to make an assessment of the future by predicting Maritime Trends 2030. The technique adopted in this study has been to examine three different scenarios, the status quo, a sustainable maritime commons and the outcome of competing nations.

Much of what happens on or within the oceans is not visible to those who live in cities or work the land, but the UK has a central place in maritime affairs, hosting the International Maritime Organization, the unique Hydrographic Office, Insurance and the internationally recognised Lloyd’s Register as well as having the most influential maritime commercial centre in London.

It is tempting to fall back on the past, but the future holds great promise.