Reasons to be cheerful #2

Ocean Optimism, Step Up For The Sea

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of negative news about the ocean, and so here are some cheerier things to think about that have been in the news recently. It’s not all bad.

Microbeads are going to be banned in the UK

There was talk a while ago about the government working with the cosmetics industry to phase out microbead use voluntarily, but now the UK will be following the US and banning them completely. This is such great news for the ocean because toiletries are often full of tiny plastic microbeads that are used as an exfoliant. They’re too small to be filtered out by waste water treatment works so they just go straight out to sea where they’re eaten by marine life. Banning microbeads is a simple(ish) way of cutting down on our marine plastic pollution as it’s a problem many people don’t even know about.

Numbers of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are creeping up

Since the rapid increase in the number of very large MPAs at the end of last year, the pace has slowed down but new MPAs are still springing up which is great news for ocean health. In the last couple of months both Cambodia and Malta have taken steps to protect their marine environment: Cambodia has designated its first MPA to protect vulnerable marine species and habitats and Malta has designated eight Special Protection Areas (to protect birds).

Edible 6 pack rings

This is a great idea by Saltwater Brewery in Florida. They have piloted edible and biodegradable 6 pack rings made from barley and wheat left over from beer production. Huge numbers of 6 pack rings end up in the sea and marine life gets tangled in them. These ocean-friendly 6 pack rings can be eaten by marine life, and if not eaten they’ll totally biodegrade rather than drift for hundreds of years as plastic would. Hopefully this can set an example to the industry and cut down on future plastic use. Watch a video about it here.

Protection for deep sea species in the North-East Atlantic

It has recently been agreed that there will be a ban on fishing below 800 metres deep in the North-East Atlantic which is great news for conservationists (and the fish). Deep sea ecosystems are really fragile because they grow so slowly that if they are wiped out by fishing gear they can take many hundreds of years to grow back. However, some conservationists argue that these negotiations have taken a long time to agree on and that protection like this is needed far more widely than just the North-East Atlantic.

#oceanoptimism is on the rise

The power of positivity as a fuel for change is being more widely recognised. Articles like this one talk about how too much negativity can turn people off from important conservation issues as people feel overwhelmed, guilty or think that it’s too late to do anything. Pointing out the good news is so important to try to keep a balance, and to motivate people to stay engaged with the issues and step up for the sea where they can.

Are MPAs becoming fashionable?

Marine Protected Areas

Pitcairns...KermadecsNazca-DesventuradasEaster Island and now Palau.

All these Marine Protected Area designations or proposals have sprung up in the last year or so. It seems that the MPA movement is gaining momentum and with more and more countries proposing or designating large proportions of their national waters to be protected from damaging human activities, it seems almost fashionable to be doing so.

Pew have calculated that, since June 2014, 1.5 million square miles of ocean have been protected, which is 62% of all fully protected MPAs. This is amazing because it means that recognition of the importance of protecting the ocean is spreading rapidly worldwide, and that countries are playing the long game and designating now to ensure that their marine environment is protected for the future.

Just designating it isn’t enough though. Marine conservationists are optimistic about this huge step forward, but the key to success will be ongoing effective management of these designated areas. When such vast areas are designated it doesn’t make any physical difference to the marine environment unless fishing is closely monitored, human activities are properly zoned, local communities are involved and not excluded from the process, and other local factors are considered. An MPA which has been designated on paper but which doesn’t make any actual difference on the ground is called a ‘Paper Park’ and these are useless. Fully protecting a marine reserve, and preventing all these great designations becoming Paper Parks, will require a lot of resources and coordination, but phasing the management in should make these targets more achievable.

Explore global MPAs here.