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April 22, 2024

This Earth Month, Let’s Imagine a Bright Blue Future

The year is 2060, and we’ve fixed it. Vast shoals of fish can once again be seen miles out to sea from Britain’s cliffs, pursued by leaping dolphins and local fishing boats. Kelp forests and seagrass meadows bustle with life as seals and seahorses hunt among the fronds; snorkelers watch in awe; and seabirds wheel overhead. On land, our rivers run clean and clear, free from sewage, plastic and fertilizer. Our rejuvenated forests ring with bird song.

It’s rare that we allow ourselves to imagine what the future could be like if we really did achieve the UK’s commitment to protect 30% of sea and land by 2030, but it is paramount that we do. There are many barriers to overcome on this journey to protect nature and our future, many wrongs to right. But we must give ourselves a glimpse of what we stand to gain, because it will inspire us to new heights and creative solutions.

Bouncing back

Even partial protection of our ocean has shown how nature can spring back to thriving abundance and diversity, given the chance. One analysis, which collated the results of multiple studies, found that the total weight of fish found in partially protected areas was on average over 100% higher than surrounding areas. If the area was fully protected, that rose to a jaw-dropping 670%.

This should be music to the ears of fishers all around the UK’s coasts, as these areas could provide regeneration and resilience for fish populations in the face of challenges like the climate crisis, safeguarding the industry for generations to come.

We know this can happen in the UK because in a few places, it already is. Off the Isle of Arran in Scotland, for instance, fishers are catching more and larger lobsters near a highly protected area which acts as a much-needed haven for wildlife. A similar effect for lobster potters has been seen near the no-take zone off the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel, and tourism has also flourished here, with a boat-chartering business that serves divers and wildlife sightseers doubling its capacity.

Safe space

Protection of our seas is also a vital part of preventing the most destructive impacts of the climate crisis. All those kelp forests and seagrass meadows, not to mention cold-water coral reefs, seafloor sediments, whales, fish and all ocean wildlife, take up and store carbon, reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. This is desperately needed as our global leaders falter and stumble on our needlessly circuitous route to ending to fossil fuels.

With these many positive returns it is not surprising that safeguarding our ocean does the same for our economy. Banning destructive bottom trawling in our marine protected areas, for instance, could deliver benefits worth between £2.57 – 3.5 billion to the UK economy over 20 years. We should also remember, though, that it is not all about the money. Our wonderous ocean covers 70% of our planet, and is home to a staggering array of life, from microscopic plankton to the largest animal to have ever lived, the blue whale. The intrinsic right of these awe-inspiring species to exist is without doubt.

Let’s allow ourselves to imagine what would happen if we achieved 30 by 30. Let’s envisage the healthy seas, teeming with life, thriving alongside local communities. Let’s put a bright, blue future firmly in our sights.