Our sustainable seas

On Thursday 17 January 2019, the Environmental Audit Committee published the results of its Sustainable Seas inquiry. It concluded that there were a number of key areas where the Government needed to take action to safeguard the future of our oceans, on top of steps it is already taking.
The University’s Marine Institute, and academics from across the Faculty of Science and Engineering, submitted written evidence to the inquiry and Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop was invited to give evidence to MPs as part of their deliberations in the Houses of Parliament. It is another example of the University’s world-leading marine and maritime expertise being used to influence government policy.

Marine Conservation

The Environmental Audit Committee report focuses on marine conservation, sustainable fisheries, and deep sea mining.

Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop 

"The UK government doesn’t go far enough with marine conservation and it would be improved if Marine Protected Areas were truly protected and if fisheries management was integrated with wider marine environmental management. This holistic approach would promote sustainable fisheries and protect the important habitats juvenile fish need for protection. More rigorously protected MPAs would also benefit from the ‘spill over effect’ where fish mature and reproduce in MPAs and then travel out of the protected area. Collaboration with our European neighbours is also essential as many fish stocks are mobile, traveling between countries’ waters and not obeying political boundaries. Regionally coherent marine management will promote sustainability."

Professor Martin Attrill

Professor Martin Attrill

"Over the last century, our seas have been devastated by human activity. Industrial overfishing in particular, coupled with dumping our waste at sea, coastal development and land runoff, has resulted in the disappearance of most large animals from our oceans, the degrading of our seabed and the breakdown of many of the functions that keep the seas - and us - healthy. Climate change is now having further impacts on, for example, coral reefs even in the most remote areas. Our oceans are in trouble and they need our help - urgently. The focus needs to be on policies not only to protect what we have left, but to start restoring habitats and animal populations back to near where they used to be."

Dr Kerry Howell

"Deep-sea mining represents a significant threat to deep sea ecosystems. At present we simply lack the basic life history data of deep-sea animals to be able to design effective management measures, in order for this industry to operate in-line with the aims of UN Sustainable Development Goal 14, to which the UK is a signature. Without a solid foundation knowledge of what species live in areas of potential exploitation, it is impossible to work out the best way to mine so as to cause minimal environmental impact. Current knowledge suggests the impacts could be severe and long lasting. We must improve our ecological understanding of deep-sea ecosystems prior to allowing exploitation, apply the precautionary principle, and spatially manage the deep-sea in an holistic way, including consideration of cumulative impacts of mining, fishing and climate change on deep-sea ecosystems."

The threats to our oceans

The Sustainable Seas report includes sections on ocean acidification, chemical pollution and plastics, fields where the University has world-leading academics.

Professor Jason Hall-Spencer

Professor Jason Hall-Spencer

"Ocean acidification is already starting to cause economic problems and concerns in a number of countries. Our current emissions of carbon dioxide have locked us into worsening conditions for generations to come. Recovery of the ocean’s chemistry will take far longer. The University of Plymouth has led in showing the ecosystem effects of ocean acidification, with the important mechanisms driving change being habitat simplification, photosynthetic benefits to certain algae and dissolution during corrosive water events that drive impacts on shellfish and corals. While governments work together to solve the root cause of ocean acidification, action needs to be taken now."

Professor Tom Hutchinson

"Recent evidence underlines the need to address the impacts of synthetic chemicals and physical contaminants (including light, noise and thermal discharges) in order to protect marine resources. This challenge often reflects economic activity (the use and disposal of chemicals in society), geography (run-off from land) and climate change. While there is evidence of ongoing risks from several classes of contaminants, the Ospar and Stockholm Conventions have been successful in reducing the impacts of some Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) chemicals. Unfortunately, for many contaminants the lack of data is a major limitation, and current evidence suggests some of these may have harmful impacts on marine life, but more information is needed.“

Professor Tom Hutchinson

Professor Richard Thompson OBE 

"There is undeniable evidence of the wide-scale accumulation of plastics in our oceans by all manner of plastic items through to microscopic fragments of plastics, the microplastics which were first described in research led by the University of Plymouth. The impacts of this debris are diverse and widely acknowledged. However a key conclusion of this report is the need to tackle this problem at source, on land rather than in the ocean, and this will require systemic change in the way we currently design, use and dispose of plastics. I am pleased to see direct reference to contribution of the University of Plymouth, International Marine Litter Research Unit, in this report."