We don’t appreciate the scale of the decline of our oceans

Politicians are failing to appreciate the scale of decline of our oceans, Professor Callum Roberts told a Westminster conference this week.

The Marine Conservation Biologist from the University of York, who is the author of ‘The Unnatural History of the Sea’, warned that it is remarkable that in the space of just one lifetime there has been a dramatic transformation in the fortunes of ocean life.

“The oceans are not the same as they were”, he said, adding that a simple policy shift is what is needed to “rescue the network”.

Professor Roberts addressed a Westminster forum that was supposed to be headlined by Micheal Gove until the Chequers fall-out unravelled.

The British government was in the firing line over its conservation efforts, with just 7km of the UK’s 750,000 km sq. coastline protected by a Marine Protected Area.

A campaign dubbed The Long Swim has been launched to mark the start of an initiative that is calling on governments to fully protect at least 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030.

Lewis Pugh, UN Patron of the Oceans, is kicking off the campaign with an attempt to become the first person to swim the full length of the English Channel, which he described as the  “Everest of swimming”.

The long, cold journey will include encounters with pools of jellyfish after a warm start to the summer. Pugh said it will require patience and mental fortitude to complete, but after many years of swimming the World’s oceans it is something he is used to.

The scale of ecological change, however, is something that has taken him by surprise.

“I’ve been swimming for 30 years in the World’s oceans, which is a long time in human life but in ecological terms is such a short period of time, and in that time I have seen the oceans change”, Pugh said.

“From the Arctic to Antarctica to the Coral Reefs I have seen oceans change.

“Every single year I am seeing more and more plastic pollution”.

In 2005 Pugh went to the island of Spitsbergen in the Arctic Ocean to undertake a swim, and the water temperature was 3 degrees centigrade.

He went back there last year and the water was no longer 3 degrees centigrade. It was 10 degrees centigrade.

Up against the Arctic ice packs, the ocean temperatures are now 10 degrees centigrade, and the speed in which that has happened is seriously troubling.

Shock pictures released today show two young polar bear cubs playing with a large sheet of plastic on a remote Arctic island.

Kevin Morgans / SWNS

The siblings were spotted with their mother on the icy coast of Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago about halfway between the mainland and North Pole.

The black plastic stands out against the seemingly spotless landscape as the white-furred creatures paw at it, before putting it in their mouths.

But the real tragedy of the whole affair is that it is not hard to fix. As Professor Roberts says, “a simple policy shift could rescue the network”.

We need to afford protection to whole ecosystems rather than focusing on bits of them, and properly resource that management and ensure surveillance is in place.

Most importantly of all, instead of setting targets for nature to stay in the same place “let’s give nature the protection that it needs and let it dictate what comeback is possible”, Professor Roberts adds.

“By doing that we will have an internationally successful network of protected areas that will be at the forefront of conservational practice not just in Europe but across the whole world.”

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