BRITAIN CAN TAKE A LEADERSHIP ROLE IN OCEAN CONSERVATION

This Sunday jaws will drop in amazement as previously unseen goings-on in the ocean are revealed by the first episode of the BBC’s Blue Planet II.  Dolphins will jump through the crest of vertiginous waves, giant trevallies will leap into the air and catch birds. Sir David Attenborough will warn that the ocean is under threat from climate change, acidification, plastics and overfishing.

I am hoping that this new upwelling of awe and concern will prompt this government finally to break its silence about one of the best things it is doing – creating vast marine reserves around its Overseas Territories, Ascension, St Helena, the Chagos archipelago, Pitcairn and Tristan da Cunha.  For Britain has taken a global lead in marine conservation in its “Blue Belt” policy, protecting nearly four million square kilometres by 2020.

Yet hardly a ministerial word has been expended on this fantastic initiative

It is important that someone senior in government takes ownership of this initiative which could deliver so many benefits for Britain, as I say in a pamphlet I am publishing today in the Commons. I am heartened that Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, is coming to the launch.

I hope he will take up my challenge because opportunities need to be grasped, problems need to be solved.  Most relevant to Blue Planet II is the opportunity to create a vast, fully protected reserve around the pristine South Sandwich Islands that would be twice the size of the UK mainland and the home to ten per cent of the world’s penguins.

There is more work to be done to support protection around the remote islands of Tristan da Cunha, including its iconic penguin colonies.

Meanwhile, a crisis has befallen our promise to create the largest marine reserve in the Atlantic around Ascension, until recently, our air bridge to the Falklands.  The infrastructure of the island is collapsing because of historic UK government neglect. So it is important that the £20m pledged to this policy is spent on the islands in question, not circulated around government agencies.

Big marine reserves can make a huge contribution to the health of the oceans, but they are not enough. Britain has an impressive record of speaking up for the conservation of whales, fish and seabirds. But in regional fisheries management organisations, which are sometimes the only form of governance on the high seas, its voice has often been stifled by French and Spanish fishing interests on EU delegations.

An advantage of Brexit – which I voted against – will be that Britain can, with its Overseas Territories, take a leadership position on the conservation of the ocean.  And that is something that can make everyone proud.

A copy of Richard’s “Blue Belt 2.0 British Global Leadership in Ocean Conservation 2017-2022” pamphlet published today can be found here.