Five years on from the first Charting Progress report, Charting Progress 2 provides us with a snapshot of what’s happening in the seas around us. It tells us how far we’ve come towards achieving clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas.
In our Commentary on Charting Progress 2, published today, we highlight the important UK-wide messages that we think are coming from it. Let me share some of them with you today.
We have the good news. Contamination by hazardous substances (such as heavy metals) has reduced in most regions and there are few or no problems relating to radioactivity, eutrophication or algal toxins in seafood. Many estuaries are cleaner and this has increased the diversity and number of fish species.
We now have more evidence that the main pressures on the marine environment are damage to and loss of habitat on the seabed from fishing and the presence of physical structures. But we still don’t know enough about the impacts of noise or litter.
We know that climate change is having an impact on our seas. Sea levels have risen by 14cm during the last century and surface temperatures have increased by 1° centigrade since the late nineteenth century.
We also have the news that although fish stocks have improved, many are still fished unsustainably. While populations of waterbirds such as waders, have improved in most regions, seabird and harbour seal populations give cause for concern in other regions.
So what are we going to do about these messages?
We’ve long recognised that marine problems don’t stop at lines on maps in the sea. The seas and the many species it supports are no respecters of national boundaries. We need to work closely with our neighbours.
Last week the EU Marine Strategy Directive passed through Parliament and into UK law. It requires European Member States to take measures to achieve Good Environmental Status in their seas by 2020; that is only 10 years away. This will provide the driver to reduce pressures on our seas where action is needed. It promotes an effective approach founded on widely shared goals and international co-operation.
Charting Progress 2 will help the UK fulfill its obligations in understanding what ‘Good Environmental Status’ looks like. We hope to hold this up as an excellent example of the reporting standard for the future.
Charting Progress 2 indicates that we’ll have to make tough decisions to meet our needs for energy, raw materials and food, in a biologically diverse and thriving marine environment. Many activities jostle for space in our seas - from renewable energy and aggregate extraction to local shellfisheries and recreation. There is a very genuine feeling amongst the users of the sea, especially fishermen, that they are being squeezed.
Armed with knowledge about the state of our seas, we have the power to change the way we use our marine spaces and resources, for now and for the future. To make better, more informed and long-term decisions on what we want in our seas, when and where. To plan for the longer-term UK priorities like energy and food production. And to protect and conserve our rich marine environment.
I’m pleased to announce that today we’re launching a consultation on the UK-wide Marine Policy Statement, which will be the decision-making framework for the marine area and will set the strategic direction of our seas.
We’re also starting a consultation today; it may sound like consultation overload, but good consultation is vital to getting things right; on a new marine planning system for England. It will be delivered by the Marine Management Organisation and other partners and will give clarity and certainty on decision-making in marine areas around England.
Our third consultation, yes another one, also published today, is on a new, more streamlined and transparent licensing system which will regulate marine projects in English waters and beyond. We want a lean, fit for purpose, process. And we need to get it right which will only happen if we listen to people’s views.
The new system for marine planning, starting with the Marine Policy Statement, and using Charting Progress 2 regional data, will help us to manage our seas sustainably.
The new marine licensing system will unknot a complicated tangle of historic regulation - some over 50 years old - and will help us make better, more strategic decisions about what we want in our seas. And provide the efficient, fair service that people rightly expect from modern Government and modern regulation.
These three consultations are steps towards delivering the Marine and Coastal Access Act. I was involved with this in opposition.
Our seas have an important role to play in our future. Particularly in our battle with the global change in climate and meeting our energy needs.
Last week the UK Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership, which has contributed to Charting Progress 2, published its annual report card. This makes us more aware of the impacts of climate change across UK regional seas and how the most recent (UKCIP09) climate projections can help our understanding of future marine climate change impacts. The facts on climate change made for animated conversation when I met Ministers of all UK administrations and Ireland last week.
We also have a major research programme on ocean acidification with the Natural Environment Research Council and the Department of Energy and Climate Change. And our coastal pathfinder programme is focusing on adaptation to climate change.
The sea may actually hold some of the answers to a number of questions around our future energy needs as we move to a greener economy. This transition will throw up lots of opportunities for creating economic growth and jobs, as well as contributing to a cleaner environment.
If we’re to get this step change right we’ll need to be innovative. And to do that we need to create the right conditions for innovation to flourish. We’ll need to make sure we have the right approach to regulation and development and research.
Globally the environmental market place is already huge and growing. It’s clear the marine environment will have a part to play here. Wind and wave technology will no doubt be essential for our future energy needs.
In May, the New Scientist reported research indicating that nearshore waves have 80 to 90% of the usable energy found in offshore waves. This opens up exciting prospects for easier, more economic harvesting of wave energy.
We’re going to need to look at projects such as Cornwall’s Wave Hub wave energy testing facility and other novel approaches in thinking about how we manage our seas in the future.
Other areas of our work will also contribute to tackling the issues Charting Progress 2 highlights. The network of marine protected areas we’re establishing. The fundamental reform of the Common Fisheries Policy needed to safeguard fish stocks, integrate fisheries management with marine conservation, and encourage a long-term profitable fishing industry - these are fundamentally important. Finding the best ways of using the resources our seas offer is what we are all about. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about these from our panellists.
Our approach to the issues in Charting Progress 2 also includes the Natural Environment White Paper. Next week we’ll be launching a programme of engagement to inform the development of the White Paper to be published next spring. It will be important that the White Paper addresses the natural environment both on land and at sea and that it is founded on sound evidence, such as that provided by Charting Progress 2.
We need to tackle the gaps in our knowledge identified in Charting Progress 2, such as the impact of underwater noise. But I’m also struck by the fact that every month we seem to discover something new about our seas. Whether it’s the effect of anti-depressant chemicals on shellfish. Yes really, we have prawns on Prozac! Or the invasion of the Henslow crab in the North Sea, which has swum north from the Portuguese coast as the sea temperature rises.
What is unchanging though, is how much our seas matter to us. Whether we’re working, travelling or just having fun, the marine environment has an integral part to play in our everyday lives.
The data in Charting Progress 2 underline what a valuable resource the sea is. They also underline the fact that we need to adopt an holistic approach to its management that improves business opportunities while at the same time protecting it and the resources in it. As some of you may have seen earlier, the data is easily accessible, even I can access it, it really is something we can all us.
I’d like to end by congratulating the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment strategy community on the publication of Charting Progress 2 - the authoritative report on the state of UK seas.
The community now reports to the Marine Science Co-ordination Committee - and, on behalf of the Ministers on the Committee, I’d like to thank the scientists around the UK who have put huge amounts of knowledge and expertise into preparing Charting Progress 2 and to scientists nationally and internationally, for peer-reviewing it to ensure it’s the best evidence that’s available for our seas.
The sea is a massive resource that belongs to us all. We can all make a contribution, such as by volunteering for beach clean-ups. By working together we can achieve a marine environment that is good for nature. Good for industry and good for everyone.
Today’s publication of Charting Progress 2 is another step towards us achieving our long- term goals for our seas and oceans.