Often overlooked, and frequently underestimated our oceans are the beating heart of our planet. They’re home to an unbelievable range of wildlife and support us, as well as our way of life and our industries (and therefore jobs and economies). Our oceans not only produce most of our oxygen, but capture the majority of heat energy and a significant amount of our CO2. They’re essential in the fight against climate change.
The impacts of climate change, pollution and destructive marine industries places increasing pressure on our marine ecosystems, jeopardising their future. The interaction between these two forces is currently unsustainable and could entail significant loss if action is not taken. Coastal habitats like seagrass meadows, saltmarshes and kelp forests store carbon, and provide direct benefits such as coastal defences and improved water quality as well as recreational and health benefits. Coastal ecosystems also have a critical function in carbon sequestration and storing carbon from the atmosphere into sediments for many years. However, their continued loss and degradation undermines their ability to provide these vital services.
The ocean has an exponential role in affecting the World’s climate. Marine habitats capture up to 20 times more carbon per hectare than forest on land. They are currently under two main stresses; a natural response to changing conditions, such as temperature and sea level rise as well as habitat destruction, either for development or due to fishing. Fully restored, our coastal ecosystems could capture a third of the UK’s emissions from 2019. Restoring and preventing further deterioration of coastal ecosystems – i.e. from bottom trawling – could prevent the loss of over 40 millions of tons of CO2, and store hundreds of millions more. This capacity would increase further as protected and restored habitats continue to accumulate more carbon.
An effectively managed network of marine protected areas isn’t just important for wildlife, it supports key sectors like tourism and recreation, safeguards habitats that store carbon and enables fish stock to replenish. Though supposedly we currently have protected zones, their effectiveness is limited and allow even the most destructive types of fishing. It seems in many countries across the world we have a complete lack of economic and political motivation to uphold the laws, treaties and regulations that protect the oceans and the life within them. The UK coastline is currently experiencing an annual loss of 3%, and should this current trend continue, it would be equivalent to more than half the current coverage being lost by 2050. That’s where Sea Shepherd come in.
Since 2005, Sea Shepherd’s UK foundation has supported the Sea Shepherd fleet of conservation vessels on campaigns around the world. Over the last five years, they have concentrated on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Their research has shown that it is clear that mankind is killing all life in the ocean, and for some reason it has been largely unnoticed. Despite the evidential benefits the ocean provides, there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we look at the natural world and the way we have separated ourselves from the very ecosystem we are part of, particularly with the ocean. Enforcing regulations and expanding the areas under protection against illegal and large-scale industrial fishing are the base of Sea Shepherd’s current campaigns, fighting on behalf of our oceans where others will not.