Restoring the UK’s seas from their damaged state could give a £50 billion boost to the economy, create thousands of new jobs and help the climate crisis, a report says.
The study by WWF and Sky Ocean Rescue warns that a third of the UK’s fisheries are overfished, while there have been huge declines in important habitats such as seagrass meadows, oyster reefs and salt marshes.
Just 1% of the waters around the UK are fully protected and in 2019 the seas failed to meet Government standards on good environmental health in 11 out of 15 areas, including those relating to birds, fish and seabed habitats.
If the UK carries on with business as usual, the loss of coastal ecosystems and fisheries would cost the UK £15 billion a year by 2050, the report warned.
But there are huge benefits to be reaped by investing in restoring the seas, it argues.
WWF and Sky Ocean Rescue are calling on UK Governments to commit to a 10-year ocean recovery strategy in the first half of 2021, with a vision and action plan to deliver the required recovery by 2030.
The strategy must include action on restoring lost coastal habitats, fully protecting a third of the UK’s seas, making fisheries and seafood production nature and climate friendly and supporting net-zero climate action in shipping and offshore renewables, they urge.
According to the report, investment in restoring the seas could deliver an additional £50 billion in benefits by 2050 including:
– Healthy coastal ecosystems such as seagrass and salt marshes can capture a third of the UK’s 2018 emissions, worth £10.1 billion, and save more than £6 billion in artificial flood defences by providing natural flood protection.
– Sustainably deploying offshore renewables will bring £26 billion in benefits.
– Better management of marine protected areas can deliver up to £10.5 billion of recreational and other benefits, including scuba diving, sea angling and wildlife watching.
– Rebuilding fish stocks and improving fishing could allow the UK to land an extra 442,000 tonnes of fish every year, worth £440 million and support an extra 6,600 jobs, while there would also be carbon storage and fuel efficiency gains worth millions more.
Overall, the report estimates that restoring the UK’s seas could provide 100,000 new jobs by 2050, mostly in marine renewables.
Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF, said: “We must halt and reverse decades of neglect to fully protect more of our ocean – the beating blue heart of our planet.
“We must invest to unlock the potential of the marine economy, to create tens of thousands of jobs both offshore and onshore. Our Governments must work with us to put ocean recovery at the centre of our journey to net zero”.
Jeremy Darroch, executive chairman at Sky and WWF-UK ambassador said: “It is critical that we invest in positive solutions for ocean and climate recovery that help us build back from the global crisis in the right way.
“Four years ago, Sky Ocean Rescue was launched to tackle plastic pollution in our seas, but today this report highlights how much more needs to be done to save our oceans and halt the climate emergency. ”
Environment minister, Rebecca Pow, said: “Our ocean is a source of life, central to our climate, marine habitats and the livelihoods of so many. That’s why the UK Government is committed to leading efforts to protect our ocean and marine life at home and internationally.
“We have already established a ‘Blue Belt’ covering over 38% of our waters and are leading calls for at least 30% of the global ocean to be protected by 2030.
“However there is still a great deal to be done to restore our ocean to its natural state and I welcome the valuable work of WWF and Sky Ocean Rescue to place a spotlight on this issue.”