At sea


Cathy Lewis

Bringing wildlife back at sea

Our seas

Around half the UK's wildlife lives in the sea - from microscopic plankton to mighty whales. But decades of over-exploitation have left our seas damaged and degraded. However, it's not too late to save them. We need better protection and management of our seas so that species which have declined can become common again. 

Plastic-strewn beaches, fisheries on the verge of collapse, unsustainable infrastructure development and the ever-growing effects of global climate change. These are the pressures altering the balance of our seas today, depleting its resources beyond safe limits and jeopardising what we take from it - from the fish stocks to feed our country to energy to the air we breathe.

Our report, The Way Back to Living Seas, outlines a new approach to the way we manage our seas that will create a UK surrounded by inspiring, life-filled and sustainable seas. This means thriving fish stocks and healthy marine habitats on the seabed, creating a marine ecosystem that will benefit wildlife and people for generations. 

Five challenges facing our seas

Whilst some good progress has been made over the past 10 years there are still massive problems facing our seas. Our fishing industry is not yet sustainable, our network of Marine Protected Areas is not yet complete, marine creatures are killed every day by pollution and our marine planning system does not yet incorporate all the activities in the sea. We believe that the UK can do better in balancing the needs of both people and wildlife.

The five challenges remain:

  1. Not enough protected areas at sea - there are not enough protected wild places at sea. The UK’s network of Marine Protected Areas needs to protect the whole range of wildlife in our seas.
  2. Fishing – after the significant reform of the Common Fisheries Policy we have begun to see some of our fish stocks recover. But there are still significant discard issues.  We need to make sure that this process is continued which will benefit jobs, consumers and wildlife.
  3. Lack of planning of competing interests – fishing, oil rigs, wind farms and gravel extraction from the seabed all take a huge toll on UK seas, fragile seabed habitats and the wildlife that lives in them; we need to plan our seas so that we have space for wildlife to recover and to provide certainty to industry as to where they can develop and fish. 
  4. Severe pollution – sewage, farming chemicals, plastic litter washed out to sea, abandoned fishing nets and noise pollution from new developments at sea are killing wildlife and adversely affecting human health.
  5. Human behaviour – our success in tackling these threats ultimately rests on people’s understanding and accepting the need for change.

Through a new marine planning system based on Regional Sea Plans and a joined-up network of Marine Protected Areas, we can safeguard marine wildlife and help the livelihoods of the many people who depend on the sea.

What we've lost

Bluefin tuna, Scarborough, 1949 - Phil Burton

Bluefin tuna, Scarborough, 1949 - Phil Burton

This picture shows a bluefin tuna landed at Scarborough, Yorkshire in 1949. The North Sea bluefin tuna fishery collapsed in 1963 and today it is effectively extinct here as a commercial fish stock. If we improve how we manage our seas and protect marine habitats, we could see the proper return of bluefin tuna and many other magnificent animals to the UK.

What The Wildlife Trusts are doing

  • Campaigning for Marine Protected Areas - we campaign for parts of the seabed and the sea to be protected from damaging activities
  • Fisheries policy - balanced fishing policies that help to protect our marine environment and ensure a sustainable fishing industry
  • Surveying - we run surveys along the coast and under the sea to gather information on marine habitats and wildlife
  • Advising on development - we help to ensure that developments at sea, like wind farms, avoid the most important parts of the sea for wildlife
  • Inspiring people about the sea - we run events around the coast from talks to rockpool rambles and underwater snorkel safaris