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I beg to move,
That this House has considered World Oceans Day 2021.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. The Earth is a blue marble. Over 70% of its surface is covered by water, and the algae that live on the surface account for more than 50% of the oxygen we breathe. So far, the ocean has absorbed one third of all human-created emissions, and regulates our climate. Our oceans are too big and too important just to be the domain of MPs such as me, who are blessed with a constituency with a sea shore. The oceans are home to over a quarter of a million known species and another 2 million as yet unknown, and they are the main source of protein for more than 1 billion people.
United Nations World Oceans Day is a celebration of the potential of our sea, and this year’s theme is life and livelihood. Globally, fishing supported some 39 million jobs in 2018, and the UK’s fishing industry alone is worth almost £1 billion to our economy. In my North Devon constituency, many local businesses and families rely on the maritime economy, and we need to revert to sustainable fishing practices to ensure that we use those precious resources in the best way possible. Additional jobs, fish and associated economic benefit could be derived if our fish stocks were restored to their maximum sustainable yield.
Conservative Governments have led the way for the UK to become a global ocean champion, with our extensive network of marine protected areas. However, we could make use of our post-Brexit freedoms to ban bottom trawling. Research suggests that emissions from bottom trawling alone could be as high as those from all UK agriculture.
Why does that matter? Our seabeds are significant carbon stores, or sinks. When they are disturbed by bottom trawling or dredging, or even by anchors being thrown overboard, the stored carbon becomes resuspended in the water, and potentially escapes back to the atmosphere as CO2. Over 200 million tonnes of this blue carbon are stored on the UK’s ocean floor—a third more than is held in our stock of standing forests.
The role of coastal and marine habitats in drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in seabed, sediment, seaweeds, salt marshes and seagrass beds has been somewhat neglected. Increasing blue carbon habitats could result in a reduction of carbon in our atmosphere, while reducing the disturbance of the seabed ensures that it remains stored. As a Marine Conservation Society blue carbon champion, I believe that if we are to meet net zero by 2050, we must consider blue carbon part of the solution, not to mention integrating it in our carbon accounts. Along with other hon. Members, I recently wrote to Lord Deben, the chair of the Climate Change Committee, to ask him to look into the feasibility of making that happen.
My North Devon constituency is home to the first UNESCO biosphere, and today is the 50th anniversary of the Man and the Biosphere programme. Our world-leading biosphere conducts a wide range of ongoing projects, including those investing in seaweeds, seagrass and salt marshes. I am truly fortunate that I spend my weekends in and on the sea, surfing and gig rowing. I live and breathe the ocean. Sir David Attenborough’s legendary “Blue Planet” brought the ocean to all our living rooms, and we now need to link that passion to action to ensure that it is there for future generations.
No wonder 85% of people in England and Wales consider marine protection important to them. Take whales, for example: not only are they delightful to watch when we are lucky enough to see them, but they are brilliant tacklers of climate change. Each great whale sequesters around 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide on average in their lifetime, which is equivalent to the carbon sequestration of almost 1,400 trees.
We need to ensure that we are all aware of the value of our oceans and what lives within them, and be aware that, while the benefits of rain forests are so widely taught, our oceans and blue carbon are absent from far too many curriculums.
I am proud that the UK, through leading the Global Ocean Alliance and co-chairing the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, is pushing to protect at least 30% of the global ocean in marine protected areas and through other effective area-based conservation measures by 2030—the 30by30 target.
It is great news that this morning the Government have announced plans to pilot highly protected marine areas in English waters, creating sites where all activities that could have a damaging effect on wildlife or marine habitats would be banned. The independent Benyon review concluded that such HPMAs would have an important role to play in helping the marine ecosystem to recover. The Government have my full support in taking those steps.
Biodiversity is also crucial. With 90% of big fish populations depleted, and 50% of coral reefs destroyed, we are taking more from the ocean than can be replenished. As the UN states when referencing World Oceans Day:
“To protect and preserve the ocean and all it sustains, we must create a new balance, rooted in true understanding of the ocean and how humanity relates to it. We must build a connection to the ocean that is inclusive, innovative, and informed by lessons from the past”.
Connect to the ocean we must. I frequently collect litter on our beaches and am horrified by the volume of plastics, microplastics and nurdles on North Devon’s beautiful beaches. The tragic situation with the container ship in Sri Lanka last week—it caught fire and spilled its cargo into the ocean—has brought nurdles something of an unwanted fame, but it highlights the fact that we are indeed shipping those pellets around the world in containers that end up in our seas. Is that what we want? If not, what are we going to do to change it?
Plastic pollution is visible and tangible, and we feel we can do something about it by picking it up, but so much of what is going on in our oceans is not visible. Sewage pollution is another challenge along my constituency coastline. I was one of the MPs to support the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), and I am delighted to see so much of it incorporated in our landmark Environment Bill, which yesterday received its Second Reading in the House of Lords.
I also hope that introducing the debate will reduce the pressure on my inbox, as I receive an abundance of emails from constituents linked to the Surfers Against Sewage campaign each time the water quality is reduced in North Devon. I very much hope further steps will rapidly be taken to reduce the discharge into our rivers, which ultimately reaches our oceans.
Blue carbon is part of the solution, not part of the problem, when it comes to achieving net zero. I hope that today’s debate offers a chance to focus not just on what we have achieved, but on how much more there is still to do to restore our oceans and to optimise their link to our lives and livelihoods.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hosie, and I congratulate the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing the debate and on an excellent speech. I do not think there was anything in it with which I could disagree.
Sadly, World Oceans Day has increased in importance each year as our seas fall victim to the impact of climate change and our abuse of our planet’s precious resources. Like the hon. Lady, I have signed up to be a blue carbon champion in this Parliament as part of the project run by the Marine Conservation Society and Rewilding Britain. I also support the WWF Ocean Hero campaign. I pay tribute to all those groups for their campaigning, along with the likes of Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, Surfers Against Sewage, and Pew, to name but a few.
The challenges facing our oceans are huge and numerous. Rising temperatures, over-fishing, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, bottom trawling, bycatch and extreme weather events are wreaking havoc on our ocean environments, threatening the rich biodiversity within them and the livelihoods of those who depend on the blue economy. The prospect of deep-sea mining is also deeply alarming. Our oceans’ resources should be protected, not plundered, and I am pleased that we are proceeding with caution on that front, but I would be very concerned if, on the basis of the current evidence, any licences for exploitation were granted. I know that they are up for review soon, so I hope the Minister can offer us reassurance on that point.
As an island nation and with so much of the world’s seas and oceans falling within our territorial waters, the UK should lead the way on the issue. We hear talk of ambition with the 30by30 target, but what we have in reality is marine protected areas that are little more than paper parks, as the review by the Environmental Audit Committee found in the previous Parliament. As with the Fisheries Act 2020, the Government have been actively stripping marine protections out of legislation. I welcome the Benyon review and the announcement on highly protected marine areas, but I am slightly cynical about what that will mean in practice. I hope it represents an improvement on the marine protected areas.
As the hon. Member for North Devon said, we need a proper commitment to outlawing destructive practices such as over-fishing and bottom trawling, and we need sustainability to be put at the heart of our fisheries strategy, with the ramping up of monitoring and enforcement. The Government must also press forward with a ban on the detonation of munitions, as those detonations harm marine life, and the adoption of less damaging deflagration techniques. We need to think long term about ocean protection, setting out how we can reach net zero emissions in our marine activity and developing a blue carbon strategy to rewild our oceans, protect blue carbon stores and develop low carbon fisheries and aquaculture. I am glad that the Marine Conservation Society has called for exactly that today.
As chair of the recently formed all-party parliamentary group on small island developing states, I have been speaking regularly to nations that have contributed least to the changing of our climate, but which suffer the worst effects of that. Rising sea levels are an existential threat to many small island developing states, as are climate-related extreme weather events. Those nations rely heavily on the blue economy for food, resources and tourism, and they have been badly hit by covid and the closure of countries to tourism in the past year.
Small island states desperately need support for ocean conservation measures and climate change adaptation, including natural climate solutions such as restoring mangroves and coral reefs. During sessions of the group, it has been really interesting to hear that instead of giving money for the building of concrete sea barriers, it would be far better to rely on natural carbon solutions. Reforming access to climate finance and investing in the blue economy—for example, through debt-for-climate swaps and blue bonds—will be central to that.
This is a pivotal year for ocean protection with the convention on biological diversity, COP26, and the global ocean treaty being negotiated internationally. We know that our oceans have an immense capacity to heal themselves if they are given the space to breathe, but that requires us to be much bolder at home and abroad to ensure that those precious resources are protected and restored. When we talk about ocean protection, it is obligatory to talk about “Blue Planet”, which, as I never hesitate to point out, was made by the BBC’s natural history unit, based in Bristol. As Sir David Attenborough said last year:
“We are at a unique stage in our history. Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet, and never before have we had the power to do something about that. Surely we all have a responsibility to care for our Blue Planet. The future of humanity and indeed, all life on earth, now depends on us.”
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hosie, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on having the foresight to secure this important debate on World Oceans Day. Although the world’s oceans are an enormous stage, they are all interconnected. Whatever happens in one place can have global implications. If someone somewhere gets it wrong and manages a particular fishery or coastline irresponsibly and recklessly, everyone can suffer, but if we get it right somewhere, in however small a way, there is the potential to spread benefits, opportunities and good practice around the world.
My apologies, Mr Hosie, but I am going to be parochial, in that the focus of much of what I will say is on, in or off my own backyard—the UK waters of the East Anglian coast. In October 2019, the East Anglian fishing industry came together with local councils, Seafish and the New Anglia local enterprise partnership to produce the Renaissance of the East Anglian Fisheries report. With Brexit about to happen, the report made recommendations as to how to revitalise the local fishing industry.
Some of those proposals have had to be revised as a result of the outcome of Brexit negotiations, which were a disappointment to so many. However, Brexit provides the opportunity to manage our own waters in a better, more responsible way, and I will briefly highlight five areas where we can do that for the benefit of the marine environment and local people in coastal communities.
First, we need to review our marine governance arrangements. The UK has a complicated, multi-layered and multi-bodied system of marine management. That often leaves fishermen annoyed, frustrated and irritated as they find themselves being inspected by different officials from different bodies carrying out the same checks for the same reasons within days of each other.
Secondly, we need to put in place a comprehensive marine planning system that enables us better to manage the many activities that take place in UK waters. Those waters are becoming crowded places with many competing and conflicting uses—for example, wind farms, cables, marine protected areas, extraction of aggregates, capital dredging, the disposal of sediments, and a wide variety of fishing activities. The UK was one of the first countries in the world to legislate for a comprehensive marine planning system that would enable us better to manage those often conflicting uses. However, there is much work to be done and our exit from the EU gives us the opportunity to get on and do it.
Thirdly, fisheries management and marine conservation must be properly integrated in the marine planning system. Until now, that has not been possible as both were part of the EU legislative framework. Thus, we have a disjointed management system that is out of step with the UK’s ambition to be a global leader in marine conservation and marine management.
Fourthly, we need a system that better understands and better manages the impact of displacement, which can have devastating consequences for the marine environment, small-scale fishermen and coastal communities.
My final point is that we should do something different. We should involve the fishing industry—fishermen—in decision making. The sustainable future of the fishing industry depends entirely on healthy fish stocks. Fishermen have unparalleled local knowledge, and it makes sense to work with people with knowledge. To involve them in decision making would be in keeping with the spirit of World Oceans Day.
It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Mr Hosie, and I thank the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for securing and leading this important debate to consider World Oceans Day.
I am the Member of Parliament for Gower, and I am very proud of the Gower peninsula and all it has to offer. A precious and diverse seabed surrounds the peninsula—we must consider that on World Oceans Day, and work with our fishing industry—and the Gower constituency is renowned for its salt marshes, its cockle beds and its environment.
When we talk about plastics pollution, it is important to consider the many organisations that help to keep our beaches and our seabeds clean, as well individuals, such as young Sonny in my constituency, and community groups such as Pennard Community Council, which go out and keep their precious areas clean. They are to be commended for their hard work, but the Welsh Labour Government are also to be commended, because it is so important that we work together across the four nations to protect our seabeds. The UK marine strategy is already backed up by secondary legislation and works across all four nations; however, in its current state, it is no longer fit for purpose. There is a focus on indicators rather than action, and insufficient accounting for the increase in the effects of climate change on our seas. This year, the United Kingdom has a prime opportunity to set a new mandate for our marine strategy: to restore and safeguard declining coastal ecosystems and to demonstrate global leadership in ocean recovery.
I, along with many other politicians, support the OceanHero programme: it was really important that we were there to speak to the World Wild Fund for Nature about the problems that we have on our seabeds. We have to take control now, and understand that we have to change to move forward. “The Blue Planet”, as many have mentioned, was an eye-opener for so many people, sitting in their armchairs and watching the world around us. We have to look after our seabeds, and I totally support what the hon. Member for North Devon has said in today’s debate. I will draw to a close and say thank you very much, Chair.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on having secured this important debate on World Oceans Day. I count myself incredibly lucky that I have been able to see the sea from every house I have lived in, over my whole life—occasionally I had to stand on tiptoe from an upstairs window to be able to see it, but I have always lived in sight of the sea. Some of my happiest memories, both of my childhood and of raising my own family, are of days spent on or beside the water. I grew up with an amazing awareness of what an incredible place the sea and our oceans are, but also with a deep respect for them: not only are they a great place for fun, enjoyment and leisure but they contain incredible power and can, at times, do incredible damage. It is therefore absolutely right that we have this day once a year to remember our oceans and focus on them, and to remind ourselves what a major role they play in our lives and our natural environment.
The UK, as a proud island maritime nation, has always played an important role in global affairs relating to the sea, and it is right that we continue to play a global leadership role now. As others have already said, the UK cannot deal with all of the issues that affect our oceans on its own: it is going to take global co-operation, and it is good and right that the UK plays a leadership role in bringing that together. For far too many years, we tended to see the ocean as this great big dumping ground that we could pour raw sewage into and let our waste end up in, because it was big enough to cope; it would manage; the waste would not have much effect.
However, thankfully, in more recent times we have changed that view, and have come to realise the incredible damage that we were doing to our oceans. As others have mentioned, the BBC’s “Blue Planet” programmes with David Attenborough really brought home to the British public the damage we were doing, and how we needed to change our ways. I am glad that that is happening. Since I was first elected to this place in 2015, I have had the honour of chairing the ocean conservation all-party parliamentary group—which was previously called Protect Our Waves—and working particularly closely with Surfers Against Sewage and other organisations, such as the Marine Conservation Society, to continue to press in Parliament for more action.
In the time I have left, I would like to mention a couple of areas in which I believe we are making progress, but we need to go further; the first is with regard to plastics. We have all been shocked to learn just how much plastic there is in our seas and oceans. The stat that really brought that home to me, which I read some time ago, was that if we did not change our ways by the year 2050, there would be more plastic than fish in our seas. It is good to see the action that is being taken, both by Governments and by other organisations, such as the million mile beach clean that recently took place, through which thousands of tonnes of waste were removed from our beaches. However, we cannot go on relying on beach cleans for ever. We have to address the source, and stop putting as much plastic waste into the seas. That is where a deposit return scheme will play an important part in increasing recycling rates. I am delighted that the Government are committed to that, though we are all a bit disappointed that it is going to take a year longer than we hoped. Let us take that year and ensure that we get a world-beating deposit return scheme; that it is the best we can do to increase recycling rates and reduce the amount of plastic thrown away to end up in our oceans.
The other issue I want to touch on is that of sewage discharged into our seas. It is the reason Surfers Against Sewage began their campaign 30 years ago. We have made great progress, but we still need to go much further. Raw sewage is still far too often discharged into our waterways, ending up in the sea, or is discharged directly into our seas.
I welcome the Government’s agreement to adopt new measures in the Environment Bill that will better enable us to hold water companies to account, but we need to ensure that the legislation has real teeth to hold them to account and take the necessary action to stop discharging raw sewage into our seas. I plead with the Minister to ensure that the Environment Bill enables us to do that in an effective way. I am delighted to have made this short contribution to today’s debate. Let us all continue to work together and provide global leadership, particularly in this year when the G7 summit and COP26 are being held in the UK, to ensure that we work together around the world to nurture and protect our oceans.
I am very pleased to participate in this debate. I echo the thanks to the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for her excellent exposition of the challenges before us. World Oceans Day supports the implementation of worldwide sustainable goals and fosters public interest in the protection of the ocean and the sustainable management of its resources.
The Scottish Government are committed to conserving our marine environments and protecting natural biodiversity. Evidence of that is that the first no-take zone—the first marine protected area—in the United Kingdom was established in Scotland, in Lamlash bay on the beautiful Isle of Arran, in my constituency. It was established in 2008, one short year after the Scottish Government first took office, after previous successive Governments had failed to offer the necessary support for that to happen.
Thanks to work of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust—or COAST, as it is known—supported by local MSP Kenneth Gibson, no shellfish or fish can be taken from Lamlash bay’s waters or seabed, including the shore area. The University of York found last year that, far from being a paper park, the action of creating this marine protected area had transformed the ecosystem. This no-take zone has been lauded as a great success. What has happened in Lamlash should serve as a template for other marine protected areas.
There is no doubt that human activity has had a significant impact on our seas and oceans. I refer hon. Members to the rapid decline in shark populations on a global scale, because humans have replaced them as the oceans’ top predators. There was an interesting debate here on that issue yesterday. The shark population is being severely impacted by the horrific practice of shark finning, the process of slicing off a shark’s fin and discarding the rest of the still-living animal into the ocean. Unable to swim, it sinks to the bottom and dies a slow and painful death. So much for shark fin soup and other shark fin products. Sharks are essential to healthy oceans for a number of reasons, which I do not have time to go into.
The ocean is home to most of the earth’s biodiversity, but human activity is threatening its ecosystem. We all know of the great damage being caused in the seas by sea blasts, a dreadful legacy of war. The way we dispose of munitions is hugely detrimental to our seas and the sea creatures that live in them. It does not have to be that way. We know that low order deflagration is an effective and much less environmentally damaging alternative.
On World Oceans Day, let us all give more thought to the good we can do as a species by reducing our extractive and destructive activity in the seas and oceans, and how we can perhaps repair some of the damage we have done by letting the ecosystems of our oceans recover, repair and regenerate, free from our interference or with much less interference from us. The oceans and seas, like the world, do not belong to us. We have inherited them, just as future generations will go on to do. Sometimes, I think we can forget that.
COP26 provides us with an opportunity for fresh impetus on that and so many other environmental issues globally. We need to ensure that we are sharing expertise to promote and protect natural habitats, clean up our oceans and work with international partners for better commitments to climate action to make sure our oceans and seas are sustainably managed and biodiversity is conserved. Let us try and leave our seas and the natural world in better shape for future generations. What has happened in Lamlash bay is a tiny snapshot of what we can do as a species if we have the political will. That, surely, is our duty.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing the debate as we celebrate World Oceans Day. The topic is extremely important to my constituents in Truro and Falmouth, as well as to wider Cornwall. It is also one of the reasons I came into politics. My constituency has a north and a south coast. We have the gentle, rolling and calm inlets of the south coast, including the port of Falmouth, Portloe and Portscatho, and the dramatic wind-whipped surf beaches of the north coast, including St Agnes, Perranporth and Holywell Bay. St Agnes is home to Surfers Against Sewage, and I want to thank them for their tireless campaigning.
If you speak to anyone who swam or surfed in the sea in the 1980s and early 1990s, we all have stories of looking down and seeing—how shall I describe it?—objects and matter that had gone straight down the loo and into the sea. Things are generally better nowadays, thank goodness. According to the Marine Conservation Society, 77% of people who visited the sea in the last 12 months said they felt happier and 81% of people who visited the sea in the last 12 months said they felt healthier.
Healthy oceans are vital to life and to the livelihoods of our planet. Ocean protection and the conservation of marine biodiversity are essential for building resilience and adapting to the impact of climate change, as well as supporting its mitigation. Falmouth Harbour Commissioners are actively regenerating the seagrass beds off Flushing, and I went to visit them recently. They are also developing an advanced mooring system to ensure yachts and boats continue to moor there, but that the lines and anchor chains no longer decimate the seagrass beds.
Marine protected areas need to be effectively managed and well resourced, and regulations need to be put in place to reduce overfishing, marine pollution and ocean acidification. Effective management of the oceans, both locally and globally, is fundamental to the future of Cornwall’s fragile but sustainable inshore fishing industry, and I want to echo the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) about the need to simplify and overhaul our current complicated management system.
I am extremely pleased that the UK has led the way in efforts to secure an international agreement to protect at least 30% of global oceans by 2030. I also welcome the fact that the Government are playing a leading role in negotiations for a new agreement on conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction through the BBNJ agreement. Further commitments are also welcome, including the new £500 million blue planet fund to support developing countries to protect the marine environment and reduce poverty as part of the UK’s commitment to spend at least £3 billion on international climate finance and to protect and restore biodiversity over the next five years. There will always be more that we can do, but we should not underestimate the achievements so far.
Turning to the wider point of water quality, we know that it is essential for life on planet Earth. The pollution of our rivers and oceans has had a huge detrimental effect on us and our wildlife. Thankfully, because of the extensive lobbying by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) and Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, the Government have committed to publishing a plan by 2022 to reduce sewage discharges, to report to Parliament on progress and to place a legal duty on water companies to publish data on storm overflow operations on an annual basis. The legislation will also require the Government to set legally binding targets for water quality.
The earth is warming at a very worrying rate. Increasing ocean temperatures affect all marine life, causing coral bleaching and the loss of breeding grounds for fish and mammals. They affect the things that we rely on from the ocean, threatening our fish stocks, as I mentioned earlier, causing more extreme weather and accelerating coastal erosion.
I am delighted that the Government are accepting the recommendations of the Benyon review and intend to designate highly protected marine areas as soon as possible. I hope the Minister will assure us that, as we host the G7 in Cornwall this week and COP26 in Glasgow later this year, there is a real push for ambitious and accelerated action to improve the quality and biodiversity of our oceans.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I must apologise to you and to the Minister that I will miss the end of the debate because I have a Committee clash.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for securing a debate on our oceans. We are an island nation; the seas surrounding us have shaped our history and helped to make us who we are, so it is appropriate that we gather here today on World Oceans Day. Our mariners sailed the wide oceans for centuries, bringing back wealth and knowledge and building an empire that once covered a quarter of the surface of the planet. The islands and territories that remain of that once powerful empire mean we have a responsibility for a massive ocean estate, much of it far from our own shores.
Of all nations, we island dwellers have a responsibility to safeguard the marine environment. Our hearts should bleed at the thought of dolphins drowning after becoming entangled in discarded packaging, turtles choking on plastic bags that they mistake for jellyfish, or birds trying to feed plastic to their hungry chicks. The facts are disputed, but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimates that around 12 million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans each year. We have a moral duty in this House to take action.
This Conservative Government are doing more than any Government ever before to address the pollution tragedy. We were one of the first countries in the world to introduce a wide-ranging ban on microbeads in personal care products. Our bag charges have caused the use of plastic bags to plummet. Our deposit return scheme should mean that millions of bottles are returned for recycling, not casually cast away. Our plan for extended producer responsibility will mean that companies that benefit from plastic packaging should pay the cost of its disposal. If correctly constructed, that should provide a strong incentive to cut down on unnecessary use of plastic, ensure more packaging is reusable or recyclable and create a new income stream to help clean up our streets and oceans. Our manifesto commitment to bring an end to waste exports outside the OECD will mean taking greater responsibility for our own waste, dealing with it back here at home.
There is so much more to do, so I appeal to the Minister to try to make progress as soon as possible on the deposit return and the EPR schemes. It is three years since they were first announced, and we need to get them into operation. We have led the debate at a global level on marine conservation, as other hon. Members pointed out, through initiatives such as the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance. Now, we have an unprecedented opportunity to use our presidencies of the G7 and COP26 to push for urgent global action to protect the rich biodiversity of our seas. The COP21 conference in China on biodiversity must also have a strong emphasis on ocean recovery. Future generations will judge us on whether we succeed or fail in meeting the great environmental challenge that we are considering. We must strive to pass the test.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship Mr Hosie. It is a pleasure to speak in this important Westminster Hall debate on World Oceans Day. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing this important debate and on her excellent speech. As we are an island constituency, we on Ynys Môn understand more than most the importance of our healthy oceans. Healthy sea waters are critical to fishing and agriculture businesses such as Holyhead Shellfish, and vital to our tourist trade, with operators such as Seacoast Safaris taking visitors to see the dolphin, porpoise and seal populations that flourish locally. Our island waters are clean enough to support breeding seahorses at Anglesey sea zoo.
When we are considering how our oceans can help us achieve our net zero targets, there is a focus on renewable marine energy production, such as that being developed by businesses like Minesto and Morlais based on Anglesey, but in this year of COP26, we should also be focusing on the contribution that blue carbon can make to achieving those targets.
Blue carbon is the carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by our ocean ecosystems. Anglesey is rich in a range of marine environments, including salt marshes, sand dunes, mudflats and areas of seagrass. All are significant sequesters of carbon. Large stretches of coastline in areas such as Cymyran, Newborough and Aberffraw are prime examples of these diverse landscapes. We host two marine protected areas in the Menai strait and the Anglesey coast salt marsh. Groups such as the Friends of the Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path actively clean, monitor and protect our coastline and it is extensively used by the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University for study and research. Using their knowledge and experience, we can preserve and rebuild these critical resources so that they can contribute to our 2050 targets.
At least 113 million tonnes of carbon are already stored in the top 10 cm of the Welsh marine environment, which equates to almost 10 years’ worth of Welsh carbon emissions. It represents more than 170% of the carbon held in Welsh forests. It is even estimated that the amount of carbon sequestered by the Welsh marine environment every year is equivalent to the average annual fuel consumption of 64,000 cars. That carbon is held in a number of different ways, but it has been shown that salt marshes have the highest carbon burial rate per unit area compared with other blue carbon habitats. Studies also show that intertidal mudflats and seagrass foliage account for much higher rates of carbon sequestering than previously thought. For example, seagrass covers only 0.1% to 0.2% of the global ocean floor, but is responsible for between 10% and 18% of the total carbon storage in the ocean.
However, the Blue Carbon Initiative, which includes representation from Bangor University, estimates that, worldwide, between 340,000 and 980,000 hectares of coastal blue carbon ecosystems are being destroyed annually. It is vital that that trend is reversed. Natural Resources Wales has recently carried out extensive restoration of sand dunes in Newborough and it actively monitors areas such as the Cefni salt marshes. Such projects, which restore intertidal and shallow subtidal habitats and protect the features that allow them to flourish, would yield the greatest per unit area benefit in terms of increased carbon sequestration.
I urge the UK and Welsh Governments to take account of the contribution that can be made by our marine environment towards neutralising our carbon emissions, and encourage them to invest in extending, enhancing and improving these critical but fragile environments.
I thank the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for setting the scene so well, and for requesting the debate, the granting of which gives us all the opportunity to contribute. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie)—I am not sure of my pronunciation, but that is how we say it in my neck of the woods. It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Lady; I would probably book a holiday in her constituency, as every time I hear her talk of it, it sounds such a wonderful place.
As a keen conservationist and a lover of nature, I am happy to celebrate this day with other UN nations and members. I have lived all but four years of my life close to the water. My parents came from the west of the Province; my father was from Donegal and my mother was from Strabane, in County Tyrone. We moved east to a village called Ballywalter, in the very east of Northern Ireland. So all my life—bar four years—has been spent living alongside the beach and the sea. My mum and dad always had a fascination and love for the sea, which is why they went there. That was where they were able to relax and it is where we played and had fun as children, many years ago. That was not yesterday, by any means; it is a long time ago. However, that was our introduction to the beach and the sea.
I therefore know and care about the imperative nature of the ocean; it is imperative even to those of us who are probably really landlubbers but live close by the sea. I live between Greyabbey and Kircubbin on the Ards peninsula; the sea is as close to me as Westminster bridge out there is to Parliament. The Irish sea, on the other side of the peninsula, is only five minutes away. I believe that I have a wonderful appreciation and understanding of the part played in our daily lives by the raging seas. I see them as being fascinating and reassuring, and—believe it or not—I also find them quite calming.
I was not surprised to learn that the ocean produces at least 50% of the planet’s oxygen. It is home to most of Earth’s biodiversity, and seafood is the main source of protein for more than a billion people around the world. Nor did it come as a shock to me to read in the wonderful briefing paper produced by the Library—it does some incredible research for us—that it is estimated that by 2030, there will be 40 million people employed in ocean-based industries.
Nevertheless, I believe that we are yet to understand the depth of the majesty of the ocean and the potential that lies within that depth. The writer of Psalm 104 put it beautifully:
“O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with creatures innumerable,
living things both small and great.”
How well that is put in the Bible, in Psalm 104.
The potential of the ocean is both untapped and unfathomable. However, what is clear is that we must make a better job of harnessing the seas and, first, of protecting them. I have seen images of the destruction of our seas by our carelessness, which have caused me great distress and have distressed other Members too. As other Members have said, it is past time that we channelled our inventiveness and energy into seeking to repair that which we have so thoughtlessly damaged in the past. I say “we” because it is the people of this Earth who have done it.
I was delighted when my own local council, Ards and North Down Borough Council, invested in the first sea bin in Northern Ireland, as an innovative way of hoovering the surrounding seas for our rubbish. A sea bin is a floating rubbish bin made of natural fibre that moves up and down with the tide, collecting floating rubbish. Water is sucked in from the surface and passes through a catch-bag outside the sea bin, with a submersible water pump. Water is then pumped back into the sea, leaving litter and debris trapped in a special catch-bag, so that it can be disposed of property, as it should be.
Sea bins can collect up to half a tonne of debris each year and have the potential to collect a percentage of the oils and other pollutants floating on the water surface. A sea bin is a small but an effective thing, and it shows that if there is a mind to do something, we can do it. My council has purchased three sea bins, but how sobering it is to think of the vast number of sea bins that would be needed to put even a small dent into the waste that lines our oceans. Nevertheless, if we all play a small part, then collectively all our small parts become a great part and we can make a difference.
It is for this reason that I absolutely support the Government commitment to establish a new £500 million blue planet fund, using overseas development assistance to support developing countries, protect the marine environment and reduce poverty. It will also contribute to the UK’s commitment to spend at least £3 billion of international climate finance to protect and restore nature and biodiversity over the next five years. Unfortunately, that is a drop in the ocean—to use a pun—compared with what needs to be done, but it is a start.
I am always reminded of the story of the starfish. I will conclude by telling it:
“One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, ‘What are you doing?’
The youth replied, ‘Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.’
‘Son,’ the man said, ‘don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!’
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf.
Then, smiling at the man, he said… ‘I made a difference for that one.’”
That is what we can all do—each one of us can make a difference individually, and by working collectively, in our own way. If we all took that attitude and did what we could, this debate would be a very different one in 10 years’ time. Then we could all be very thankful, because we are doing this not for ourselves but for our children, our grandchildren and for the world as a whole. We can note the difference that is made, if each of us would reach down and give it our best throw.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing this important debate.
I will touch briefly on some of the excellent contributions so far in the debate, starting with the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who made a characteristically thoughtful contribution. An interesting point for me was her comment that the UK should be leading the way on the issue, given its history and its maritime experiences over the years. She highlighted the danger of marine protected areas being only paper parks. That is a concern I share. She also noted the stripping out of marine protections from legislation by the UK Government, and she expressed a certain amount of cynicism about what that all means in practice. I am afraid that I share that cynicism. She said that this is a pivotal year for ocean protection, but ended by pointing out that the capacity for oceans to heal themselves is known, and will hopefully be sought and achieved.
The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) spoke of our oceans as increasingly crowded places, with many often competing activities. He made an excellent point about the importance of involving and consulting fisherfolk in decisions about marine planning. I absolutely agree with that.
The hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) mentioned the power of the documentary series “Blue Planet” and the effect it has had of raising consciousness about the importance of the protection of our blue environment.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) mentioned that the first marine protected area to be established in the UK was in Scotland, in her constituency of course, and she highlighted the dreadful plight of sharks mutilated for food, and in particular the plight of cetaceans affected by sea blasts.
I read many years ago, as a child, a kind of science fiction book about a time traveller who came back from the future to warn our world about the polluting materials we were dumping in our seas, which were poisoning all forms of sea life in his time. It was a long time ago, and I was only nine or 10 years old, but it had a really powerful effect on me. I look back on it, and it started a life-long awareness of what the long-term impact could be of the decisions we take now on the environment of the future. I recall that there was a happy ending to the story, in which an intrepid youngster took on the authorities—along with the time traveller—and saved the day. Unfortunately, that is only the stuff of storytelling. We will get no such second chance, unless time transportation novels like that reveal themselves one day to be predictions and not simply fantasy.
This is the predicament we face on World Oceans Day: a legacy of centuries of abuse of our precious blue environment. I welcome the opportunity to raise awareness of it. For too long, we have treated our oceans with an almost casual disregard, too often thinking, “Out of sight, out of mind.” I have done quite a bit of research into the subject, and have looked into the impact of millions of tons of munitions dumped into our seas since at least the end of world war one, with their long lists of dangerous gases, chemicals and radioactive materials. Too many parts of ours seas are off limits to fishers, following the haul-up from the sea floor of a lethal weapon. The offshore wind industry is now being presented with problems around the safe removal of those munitions, including—as was mentioned by my hon. Friend for North Ayshire and Arran—decommissioning blasts and their effects on cetaceans, as was highlighted by Joanna Lumley in the campaign on that issue. That is not to mention the Boris bridges to Northern Ireland across Beaufort’s Dyke, with its discarded cocktail of who knows what. Dumps like these are properly the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence, which deposited the vast bulk of them over the years, and I will certainly continue to press the issue until some resolution is found, hopefully well before it contaminates our oceans any further.
The issue is not, of course, just about what has been put into our oceans over the years; it is also about the impact of the great increase we have seen in recent years of activity on our waters, and what that is putting into our air. The disaster of Brexit will see increased UK reliance on foodstuffs shipped from many thousands of miles away, resulting in increased food miles and emissions. Perhaps the Brexiters thought the collapse of the fresh seafood produce market that exported daily to Europe would compensate for that in some way; perhaps they did not take any of it into consideration at all, which, frankly, seems more likely.
There are increasing concerns being raised by Governments and residents about the impact of shipping emissions on the populations of coastal areas, in ports such as the Port of Leith in my constituency. Shipping accounts for 3% of global emissions and emits around 1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases every year. I recognise that this is not a simple issue to resolve, but solve it we must.
I am pleased to see the UK Government finally following Scotland’s lead and the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations by incorporating its share of shipping emissions into its new carbon budget, but they need to go further and faster if the UK is to reach at least its net zero commitments by 2050. This year, as they host COP26, I hope the Government are looking to other countries as well as Scotland for inspiration for the sort of bold steps they could consider in the fight against global warming.
In California, decisions taken on the reduction of shipping pollution require ships to use low-sulphur fuels and to cease dumping acidic water and heavy metals into the sea. Last year, it also introduced rules that mean stringent emission standards for diesel trucks servicing dock areas, which will require more ships to plug into electric power when docked.
The EU is considering legislation that mandates the use of sustainable fuels on ships calling into European ports. I believe that this is the first transport mandate of its kind, as it targets users rather than fuel suppliers and manufacturers, therefore preventing ships from simply refuelling outside the EU’s boundaries.
The US is considering introducing a programme that will monitor, report and verify emissions for ships coming into US ports. China has established a domestic emission control area, with all ships docking at ports within the area switching to low-sulphur fuel. Some local governments there are offering shipowners incentives to retrofit ships with electric or liquefied natural gas propulsion, and they have invested in power infrastructure at seaports.
It seems to me that there is an unstoppable momentum building behind such proposals. The UK really should step up and show that it is at least giving serious consideration to bold steps, or it risks further compromising its international standing and reputation. There are reasons to be optimistic in some areas as technology improves—for instance, the testing of the world’s first hydrogen-powered ferry in Orkney. Such pioneering efforts show that successful alternatives to dirtier fuel are possible.
With regard to the enormous problem of ocean pollution already touched on by several Members, there is still much to be done. However, the Scottish Government have shown what can be achieved with the necessary political willpower and guts, by leading the way on a deposit return scheme that is soon to be implemented and on plastic issues such as microbeads and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. Our national marine plan and the 36 new marine protected areas created, including the largest MPA in Europe, are further welcome developments.
However, there is much more to be done if we are to meet our ambitious targets for greenhouse gas reductions, which are some of the toughest in the world. I welcome the news that the Scottish Government will be appointing environmental champions—world experts to keep Scotland at the forefront of tackling the ecological emergency and ecological decline.
I am a big fan of nature-based solutions, and I am concerned that they are too often overlooked in favour of new technologies. These might appeal to the techie types among us, but they are currently so expensive, and so far off being able to play a significant role in carbon reduction at this stage of development, that their promise appears remote and almost impractical. Therefore, practical and relatively inexpensive solutions such as improving salt marshes, seagrass beds and mangrove areas could play an important role in carbon dioxide mitigation. The Marine Conservation Society suggests that these potentially amount to 5% of the emission savings needed globally, even before taking into account the carbon stored in marine life and the enormous stores of carbon contained in seabed sediments.
Unless we see genuinely co-operative efforts from Governments across the world to address and solve the problems we face, those who come after us will curse us for timorously tinkering around the edges and leaving them with a toxic legacy. Scotland is ambitious for its seas, its coast and its communities, and it recognises the vital importance of reaching out to and working with other countries.
Climate change is a global issue, and we all have to work together on it. Where Scotland misses out most is by not having its own voice in the discussions about what needs to be done; we do not have the same opportunities to try to persuade the international community of the need for proper action. A case in point is COP26 in November: although it is on our turf, we cannot take part in it properly; we cannot engage in the diplomatic efforts which really make these conferences tick.
We urgently need action now. We cannot wait for a time traveller to come back in time to rub our noses in the disastrous long-term effects of decisions caused by our ignorance and negligence. We want a Glasgow agreement at COP26 in which all countries commit to taking the action needed to tackle the climate emergency. I urge the UK Government to take their responsibilities seriously and work with others, including the Scottish Government, to achieve that.
It is really good to see World Oceans Day being celebrated in this way, to reflect on the impact of humankind on our oceans, and to recognise that the time to take action is now. There is no time to waste.
In is an honour to serve under your chairship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing this important debate on World Oceans Day. As she, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) highlighted, the world’s oceans cover 70% of the planet and could be one of the most effective carbon sinks if they are looked after properly. Oceans not only host an abundance of biodiversity, known and unknown, but they absorb 25% of all CO2 emissions—50% more than the atmosphere—and store more carbon than all the rainforests combined. Closer to our shores, coastal waters in the UK store an estimated 205 million tonnes of carbon, as several hon. Members highlighted.
Protecting our oceans is fundamental to our fight against the climate emergency. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) about the action by local volunteers to keep beaches clean, and from the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) about the greater efforts needed to tackle plastic waste to protect marine mammals, birds and fish. The hon. Members for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about our fantastic coastal communities and the horrific threat of damage from sewage and waste. Will the Minister set out what actions and plans there are to address and end the pollution of our seas by plastic and sewage waste?
Protecting our oceans is fundamental to our fight against climate change, and it is really important to look at this globally. Salt marshes and seagrasses are a huge carbon store, holding almost 450 million tonnes of CO2 per year—half the emissions of the entire global transport system. Experts believe that rewilding key marine ecosystems is absolutely necessary and that around the world they could lock away 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon each year—5% of the savings needed globally to avert climate catastrophe. However, in the UK we have lost 90% of our seagrass meadows to pollution, dredging, bottom trawling and coastal development. If we continue business as usual, our sea shelf sediments could release 13 million tonnes of stored carbon over the next decade.
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East about current protections being paper parks—a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. We should be protecting and restoring seagrass, salt marshes, oyster reefs and kelp forests at the same urgency with which we are calling for the protection of rainforests and our own woodlands and peatlands. Ministers recently—perhaps belatedly—published their trees and peatlands strategies, but we have heard little about specifically restoring our marine environments, despite campaigners at the Marine Conservation Society and Rewilding Britain calling for the Government to kick-start a programme of ocean rewilding. So far, their calls seem to have been ignored.
We urgently need an ocean rewilding strategy that, unlike the recent peatlands and trees strategies, is ambitious and detailed enough to meet the scale of the crisis we are facing. When will we see a plan for the restoration of our marine environments? That must also include a sustainable plan for fishing. Evidence shows that over-fishing and practices such as bottom trawling can have disastrous effects on ocean habitats. It is good that the Government have signed up to the UN pledge to protect 30% of our waters, but full protection means implementing no-take zones, as the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) mentioned. If the Government are serious about this pledge, for the sake of our own coastal communities and fishing industry they should outline where these no-fish zones will be, explain the plan, and set out what consultation there has been with the fishing and maritime communities up and down the country and the fishing industry.
I would be interested to know what lessons the Minister has learned from the designation of Plymouth Sound as a national marine park—a designation that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) campaigned hard for. We need to learn from the experience of Plymouth, where the UK’s first national marine park has just been established, so that we can further protect our oceans. This sort of designation builds on the success of the post-war Labour Government’s creation of national parks, and sends a clear message that these waters are important, valued and should be protected for future generations and for our own.
Finally, the Government have made it clear that they intend to amend the Environment Bill to set out targets on species abundance, which will be announced after COP15. I am afraid the pun is too hard to resist: this sounds a little like a cop out. The UK Government should not just reflect the consensus, they should lead the charge against the nature and biodiversity crisis. I am keen to hear the Minister set out what proposals they intend to take to COP15 to protect marine habitats and biodiversity. The Government Front-Bench team has given us a lot of exaggerated rhetoric about the nature and environmental credentials that they hold, but so far the rhetoric has not yet met the reality. Without a clear strategy and with matching clear targets going into the UN conference on biodiversity, I am concerned that we will see more of the same and the UK falling behind on the protections that we need.
It is, as ever, a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hosie, especially on this auspicious World Oceans Day. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for securing this debate on this day. She expresses so much passion for the sea and the ocean, which is quite understandable given her constituency, which I have had the pleasure of visiting. She is a great champion for the seas, but she is not alone in caring for them. An ocean literacy survey released today highlighted that 85% of people said that marine protection was personally important to them. Even in this Room, no matter what party Members represent, there is so much synergy in what we are talking about today and in our endeavour to do something about ocean recovery. So I thank my hon. Friend again, and welcome the new shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake); it is good to hear her speak on this subject.
As many others have done, I will highlight that our ocean plays a vital role in contributing to biodiversity. It provides 80% of life on Earth and regulates the planet’s climate. It absorbs over 90% of all excess heat in the Earth’s system. We rely on the oceans for our survival, livelihoods and wellbeing. Despite all these things, the ocean is under huge threat from multiple natural and anthropogenic pressures, including climate change, over-fishing and pollution of many types, but plastics in particular. This needs to change.
This is the pivotal year that could really help us to trigger the change needed to raise ambition on the ocean and stimulate the recovery we need. It marks an unprecedented alignment of domestic and international marine agendas, which is why we are calling 2021 a marine super-year. Through our COP26 and G7 presidencies, the UK can influence to build momentum and advocate for greater ocean action, championing global collaboration and towards ocean health and resilience. I know that is something that all hon. Members support, as indicated through the all-party parliamentary group on ocean conservation, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double).
Our G7 presidency is already significantly raising the profile of our ambitions and actions concerning the ocean. The G7 Climate and Environment Ministers’ meeting in May delivered a strong suite of ocean commitments, including the G7 ocean decade navigation plan. That plan established a framework for the G7 to collaborate and advance our collective work on transformational ocean science for ocean action, through- out the UN decade of ocean science for sustainable development.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon spoke about the 30by30 target, as did many other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), who is a great champion for the ocean—I can see her surf board behind her. The 30by30 initiative is championed by the UK through the Global Ocean Alliance and the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, of which the UK is ocean co-chair. I am delighted that between those two alliances 80 countries now support the 30by30 target. That is a vital and positive step towards our collective endeavour to deliver ocean recovery.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon highlighted marine litter, which I know she does a lot about locally, and plastic pollution. Rightly, that is a key priority of the super-year agenda. I echo concerns about the ship off the coast of Sri Lanka. We are holding discussions with the Sri Lankan Government on minimising environmental damage following the fire on the X-Press Pearl, and we stand ready to support them at this challenging time.
Scientists predict a threefold increase in the amount of plastics in the ocean between 2015 and 2025 alone, which is alarming. The issue crosses country boundaries and requires international action. Last November, Lord Goldsmith expressed UK support for starting negotiations on a new global agreement to tackle marine plastic litter and microplastics. The agreement will build on the important work we are already doing to tackle marine litter domestically and internationally. For example, together with Vanuatu, the UK leads the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance to reduce plastic pollution in the oceans in support of meeting sustainable development goal 14, “life below water.”
In parallel, we are taking steps here in the UK and focusing our efforts on attacking plastic pollution at its source. The 25-year environment plan sets out how we will improve the environment over a generation and includes a commitment to eliminate “all avoidable plastic waste.” It includes developing extended producer responsibility, consistent collection and deposit-return schemes, which we are consulting on now. That was referred to by a number of hon. Members, including eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay, who talked particularly about the deposit-return scheme, and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), who urged speed on these initiatives. To clarify, the extended producer scheme for plastic packaging is due to come into force in 2023-24 and the deposit-return scheme in 2024, so we are moving on this.
In addition, we are consulting on an EPR scheme for fishing gear by the end of 2022. Abandoned and discarded fishing gear is having a devastating effect on the marine environment. It is classed as marine litter and has been highlighted as having the most dramatic and terrible effect. It is pleasing that we are consulting on that. We are taking a whole-lifecycle approach to the way we are dealing with plastic.
My hon. Friends the Members for St Austell and Newquay and for Truro and Falmouth touched on the issue of sewage. I think they will agree that big progress is being made, thanks to great work by many organisations, particularly Surfers Against Sewage. I hope they are supportive of the fact that through the Environment Bill we are now bringing in measures to make it a statutory requirement to produce a plan on storm overflows. Also, water companies will now report data all year round on the state of the water on the coast. The storm overflows taskforce is working at pace on tackling the sewage issue as well. We are moving as fast as we can on that.
Alongside the crucial steps to tackle marine plastic litter, we are undertaking a wealth of actions to protect our marine wildlife and nature and to support a sustainable and thriving fishing industry, referred to by many hon. Members. We have a big opportunity now that we are an independent coastal state. The UK marine strategy provides the framework for us to achieve good environmental status in our UK seas. We have published an updated part 2 of the strategy, and will consult on updating part 3 in the summer. The strategy, together with the climate change objectives of the Fisheries Act 2020 and the marine policy statement, will form the major pillars of our protection of the marine environment.
The UK is a global leader in marine protection across the entire UK marine estate, including UK waters and our overseas territories. At least 60% has been designated marine protection areas. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who painted a charming picture of his childhood by the sea, mentioned “Blue Planet”. The blue planet fund has been critical in our endeavours and has exceeded its target of protecting and enhancing over 4 million square kilometres of marine environments around five UK overseas territories. That is largely thanks to Tristan da Cunha’s designation as a new protection zone in November 2020.
We have an extensive network of 372 marine protected areas, which protect 38% of UK waters, including the majority of the salt marsh and seagrass habitats referred to by many hon. Members. We are now focusing on making sure those areas are properly protected. That is crucial. Of the MPAs, 98 have management measures in place to protect sensitive features from bottom trawling—using bottom-towed fishing gear—which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon and the hon. Member for Bristol East.
We have been able to put those measures in place through concerted endeavours with the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority and the Marine Management Organisation. While we were in the EU, bringing forward management measures for our offshore MPAs proved very difficult. Our leaving the common fisheries policy and the introduction of the Fisheries Act 2020 changed all that. Within days of the Act being passed, powers become available. The MMO launched a consultation on draft byelaws for the four highest priority sites: the Canyons, Dogger Bank, Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge, and South Dorset. We can use the new measures to really protect the seas in a much more meaningful way than was ever possible before. The MMO is reviewing a response to that consultation. We have an ambitious three-year programme for assessing sites and implementing byelaws to manage fishing activity in all the offshore MPAs by 2024. I hope the shadow Minister sees that we are acting on the whole area of marine recovery, especially around our own shores.
I am delighted to announce that the Government response to Lord Benyon’s review into highly protected marine areas is published today. The Government welcome the report and accept the central recommendation that we take forward some pilot sites in English waters. We will identify the locations, and the first will be designated by the end of 2022. I hope that reassures the hon. Member for Bristol East, who asked about that. By setting aside some areas of sea with high levels of protection, MPAs will allow nature to recover to a much more natural state, allowing the ecosystem to thrive in the absence of damaging activities. It will be about a balance—supporting sustainable industries in the marine environment while increasing marine protection.
I was very interested to hear about the no-take area around the Isle of Arran mentioned by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). I have to take slight issue, though, in that the very first no take zone designated was actually Lundy, an island not far off the Bristol coast. When I was an environment correspondent for ITV and HTV, a couple of my greatest memories were of going to Lundy to report on the nature and the wildlife there, but also on the terrible disaster—hon. Members might remember it—when the Sea Empress crashed off the coast of Wales and the oil went towards Lundy, which is a world heritage island. However, it is great that we have these areas, and that they serve as models.
There was a reference to the potential value of highly protected marine areas for blue carbon, and a really strong message was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie). She paints such a great picture of her constituency, and I would love to come and see those seahorses breeding—how absolutely wonderful. Yes, there is potential in all of those things, and they are all areas that are coming under our microscope.
A number of hon. Friends and other hon. Members mentioned marine planning, and we heard very clear, eloquent points about its complexities from my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous). This year, we will publish the final four marine plans, building on those already in place in the south and east of England, Scotland and Wales. That will mean that, for the first time, we will have a complete set of plans covering English waters, and those marine plans will provide a transparent framework that will enable us to manage competing demands in an evidence-based way. As was highlighted by a number of colleagues, evidence and science are crucial, and we have to use them in a way that protects the marine environment while supporting sustainable development, such as offshore wind.
I must point out for clarity that the definition of “natural environment” in the Environment Bill does include the marine environment, so everything in there also relates to this area. I also wanted to assure the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam, that we will be setting the species abundance targets by 2022, in line with the dates set for all of the other targets that we have a legal duty to set.
Penultimately, I am going to touch on sustainable fishing, because that issue is so important. As has been said, fishing is part and parcel of our lives around this coast. The Fisheries Act sets out a legally binding framework to protect and recover stocks, support a thriving, sustainable fishing industry, and safeguard the marine environment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney said, it is so important to engage the fishing industry about this new world for ocean recovery. As set out in the recently published action plan for animal welfare, we will also bring in legislation to ban the import and export of detached shark fins. The UK is also already using its status as a newly independent member of several regional fisheries management organisations to press for sustainable management of international fisheries. That includes supporting robust action to protect vulnerable marine species such as the northern Atlantic shortfin mako shark through the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas and yellowfin tuna through the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. I think I have demonstrated that we are seizing all opportunities to get involved in this space, both domestically and internationally.
I have a second to touch on the subject of deep-sea mining, which was raised by the hon. Member for Bristol East. We have agreed not to sponsor or support the issuing of any exploitation licences for deep-sea mining projects until there is sufficient scientific evidence regarding the impacts on ecosystems and until strong, enforceable standards are developed by the International Seabed Authority. I think that gives reassurance on the important points she raised.
To conclude, we have heard some tremendous speeches, showing that we have so much in common on this issue. Our attention is rightly focused on ocean recovery on World Oceans Day. We have the power to do something about our oceans, as David Attenborough has been quoted as saying. I hope I have demonstrated that the Government are using their powers. I also hope I have given assurances, especially to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), who was somewhat negative on that point. I have laid out a raft of measures to show that we are taking urgent action. Everyone will agree that this is a crucial time to act—in this, the super-year for the ocean.
I am glad to see that there is such wide support for protecting and restoring our oceans on this World Oceans Day, in what I hope will be a marine super-year. Colleagues are right that we can do more to reach 30by30, to recognise the contribution that blue carbon can make to achieving net zero, and to highlight the importance of our oceans to lives and livelihoods.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered World Oceans Day 2021.