‘Charting progress’: Are the British Seas improving?

This week has seen the publication of a comprehensive report on the state of the UK seas, Charting Progress 2, carried out by the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment community and published by Defra.

There have been “significant improvements” in some areas since 2005. Coastal waters are getting cleaner, fish stocks are improving and species diversity in estuaries is increasing. Fish stocks are improving overall, partly due to reductions in European Union quotas. Furthermore, the proportion of fin-fish stocks harvested sustainably in the UK has risen from 10% in the 1990s to 25% in 2007.

However, this still means that the majority of fish stocks are being harvested at unsustainable levels. Declines due to unsustainable harvests are being compounded by warmer waters, which are causing the cold and warm water zooplankton that fish feed on to move north. Climate change is also causing sea levels to rise, with the mean sea level rising by 1.4mm per year in the 20th century, whilst the picture for waterbirds and seabirds is mixed, with waterbird populations being generally healthy, whilst the numbers of some seabirds are falling, particularly in the north.

Whilst pollution from heavy metals is continuing to fall in UK waters, there are still some localised problems such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which, while stabilising nationally, are still found in places at levels that affect wildlife, including harbour porpoises. Litter levels have also doubled between 1994 and 2007.

Marine environment Minister Richard Benyon said: “The report’s findings show that we are moving in the right direction, but there is more work that needs to be done, especially to protect the UK’s seabirds. I am committed to improving our marine environment by delivering the conservation measures in the Marine and Coastal Access Act and hope to see further improvements in the next report as we gain the benefits from Marine Conservation Zones.”

The full report can be found here

The Government also launched consultations yesterday on Marine Act implementation, seeking views on the Marine Policy Statement, Marine Planning System and Marine Licensing. The BES will be responding to these consultations (deadline 13 October) and more information can be found on our website.