Waders at Gibraltar Point © Robin Cosgrove
The Marine Act brought in wide-ranging new powers to plan, licence and manage marine industry. Only if these powers are used in a coherent way, putting the health of the marine environment at the heart of decision-making, will they bring about a return to Living Seas.
The pressure on UK seas to provide services and resources has never been greater. As well as the fishing industry, more and more commercial activities are developing or shifting into the sea, as industry overcomes the technological challenges and realises the economies of operating on a vast scale in the open ocean.
The pressure is on to extract every possible drop from the UK’s dwindling offshore oil and natural gas reserves. Once empty, there are plans to use the oil and gas fields to store imported gas and carbon dioxide captured from terrestrial power stations.
Meanwhile, the UK’s ambitious renewable energy targets are struggling to be met. A shift in government energy policy in November 2015 means that the majority of new, large scale, truly renewable energy developments will be in the form of offshore wind farms. Wave, tidal stream and tidal lagoon development is also expanding.
The construction industry also is increasingly looking to the seas, rather than quarries on land, to provide sand and gravel, while growth in shipping and marine leisure is creating demand for new port and marina facilities.
Marine spatial planning has similarities to land based planning, but because of the complex nature of the marine environment it has many differences as well. In April 2014 the government adopted the first English marine plan – the East Inshore and Offshore Marine Plan. As the first of its kind, it was a big step forward, although we think there is room for improvement. The South Marine Plans are still in preparation and we are engaging fully with this process. By 2021, all marine plans will have to be in place, to meet the requirements of the EU Maritime Spatial Planning Directive. We hope that marine planning will have the environment at its heart, allowing for better management of activities, greater protection of biodiversity and truly sustainable development.
We believe that development at sea should be environmentally sustainable, doing as little harm to the environment as possible, regardless of what the development is. For example, the offshore wind farms and tidal lagoons now being planned are on a huge scale with potentially significant negative impacts on habitats and species.
We do not believe that renewable energy developments, which are meant to help with climate change mitigation and therefore biodiversity protection, should themselves cause unacceptable damage to the very biodiversity which they are aiming to protect.
We aim to support renewable energy development, where the right technology is being used in the right place. We push for use of the best technologies to mitigate impacts and robust monitoring throughout the lifecycle of a development.