Home / Blog / The UK is rightly proud of its overseas ocean protection: Why not at home?

June 8, 2023

The UK is rightly proud of its overseas ocean protection: Why not at home?


The Overseas Territories are showing the rest of the UK what real ocean protection looks like. Around the Pitcairn and Ascension islands, for instance, are large, fully protected marine reserves that provide a vital haven for ocean wildlife. But why doesn’t the UK government practice what it preaches in waters closer to home?

So-called Marine Protected Areas around the British Isles offer almost no real protection for habitats and sea life. Our offshore MPAs were subjected to 136,000 hours of industrial fishing in 2022 alone – this adds up to over 15 years.

At least 6,000 of these hours involved the use of destructive bottom-towed fishing gear. Under this practice, weighted nets, which can be as large as a football field, are dragged across the seabed, destroying almost everything in their path.

Our deep sea sponges, cold water corals and deep sea mud and sandbanks are absolutely critical to the healthy functioning of marine ecosystems and provide vital fish spawning grounds. Once degraded, they could take decades or more to recover.

The UK’s cold water corals, for instance, form enchanted worlds on our ocean floor, extending their stinging tentacles into the water column to catch plankton and krill as well as providing vital nurseries to and shelter to animals from crabs to the wolffish. These reefs, which can be centuries old, can be entirely destroyed by bottom-trawling.

The government must ban bottom trawling in the UK’s Marine Protected Areas. Calling an area ‘protected’ and then allowing this highly destructive practice to ravage these unique habitats is tantamount to ‘blue wash’. It is also insulting to the intelligence of the British public, 74% of whom feel bottom trawling is a crime against nature.

Ensuring a healthy ocean that supports local livelihoods, protects us all from the climate crisis and thrives in its own right is good for everyone. Banning bottom trawling will allow our ocean ecosystems to bounce back, as well as safeguarding the essential infrastructure of sustainable fisheries. Yet, although our government repeatedly claims to be committed to protecting 30% of land and sea by 2030, less than 1% of UK waters at home are fully protected.

We should always celebrate our successes, and here at Oceana we are more than happy to salute the progress made around the globe that safeguards our wonderful seas and the multitude of life they contain. But we must also be realistic, and in the UK the government must do better. What better day to start than World Ocean Day?