Highly Protected Marine Areas: It's time to dive in

There is time for reflection and review, and there is time for action.

The coronavirus pandemic has given us a massive ‘timeout’. It has given us time to stop and review our actions and reflect on how we can do things better.

It has shown us how utterly crucial nature is for our survival.

So I am delighted that today, on World Oceans Day, the UK has released a review calling for the introduction of five pilot Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) in English waters.

But I am also frustrated.

Our Oceans in Crisis

In 2018 I swam the length of the English Channel to call on the UK to properly protect its waters. At the end of the swim, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove, met me and agreed to review the levels of protection. It took another year for the review to begin. And it has taken a further year for this review to be undertaken.

Renowned endurance swimmer and United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Patron of the Oceans, Lewis Pugh in Dover, United Kingdom during The Long Swim campaign on 29 August 2018

During this time, industrial overfishing, plastic pollution and climate change have continued to wreak havoc on our ocean ecosystems.

The Benyon Review is very clear that HPMAs are essential for marine protection and recovery.

So why only five pilot HMPAs? And how much longer will it take?

Listen to the Science

We know that full and proper Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are the most effective way to protect biodiversity in our waters.

There is clear proof from trials in the USA, Mexico, Chile, Spain, France, Italy, Scotland, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, the Seychelles, Indonesia, the Philippines and Australia.

In fact, the UK has also done trials – in its Overseas Territories in the Pacific, Indian, Southern and Atlantic Oceans. So why the need for more proof?

As things currently stand we have 0 – yes, ZERO Highly Protected Marine Areas in the waters around England. Even though we know the enormous benefits on marine wildlife, for our children, for local tourism, for fishing, and for science.

Actions Speak Louder

So while I welcome the findings of the review, it only tells us what we already know.

The time for words and lengthy reviews and pilot programs is over. In a few years’ time, it will be too late to fix the crisis in our oceans. There will be nothing left to save.

So my message to the UK Government is: Please don’t dip your toes in the water. Let’s dive in and protect our waters properly, now.

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