Rewilding the oceans is as important to achieving ‘net zero’ climate change targets by 2050 as reforestation efforts, according to conservation campaigners.
In a new report, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and Rewilding Britain highlight that Britain’s coastal waters store more carbon than UK forests.
Britain’s coastlines cover an estimated 193,000 square miles and store about 205 million tonnes of carbon, 50 million more than the carbon locked up within all of the standing forests within the UK, the report found.
The two organisations want the Government to develop an ‘ocean charter’ to implement nature recovery plans as well as climate change mitigation policies.
In a new report, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and Rewilding Britain highlight that Britain’s coastal waters store more carbon than UK forests
CURRENT MARINE REWILDING PROJECTS
Essex fish nurseries and saltmarshes
Over the past 20 years more than 60 per cent of saltmarshes have been lost on the Essex coastline, Rewilding Britain says.
These areas support diverse plant and animal communities as well as soak up carbon and reduce flooding.
The Essex Wildlife Trust has been working to protect and restore the habitats, including adding 70 hectares of new area in the last five years.
Regenerating Sussex Kelp forests
Kelp forests sway at the bottom of the coast and draw in 600 million tons of carbon dioxide.
There are only pockets left along the Sussex coast due to fishing practices and storm events damaging them.
Sussex IFCA wants a law to prohibit trawling up to two miles from the coast between Selsey and Brighton.
Restoring native oyster stocks
Oysters clean the water, cycle nutrients and protect against coastal erosion.
Humber once had one of the most prevalent oyster populations but typhoid in 1904 and sewage pollution wiped out stocks.
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust wants to restore and rewild this once vast population by reintroducing juveniles and harvested empty shells.
Campaigners also want to see ‘specific and ambitious’ marine habitat recovery targets as part of the Parish Climate Agreement renewal in 2025.
The agreement commits nations to put in place efforts to limit pollution levels and keep global average temperatures from rising by more than 2.7F by 2050.
To keep temperature rises below 2.7F in accordance with the Paris Agreement, emissions need to fall to 25 billion tonnes annually in the next decade.
It is thought rewilding key marine ecosystems around the world could lock up 1.83 billion tonnes of carbon each year – five per cent of the savings needed globally.
The MCS and Rewilding Britain are calling for Government support to establish sustainable and low-carbon fisheries and aquaculture.
This would include the development of shellfish reefs, which complex, living structures that provide food, shelter and protection for invertebrate and fish species.
In addition, they want a plan to halve fisheries-related carbon emissions by 2030, that includes emissions from fish processing and feed production in its accounting.
The research found that restoring seagrass, saltmarsh, oyster reefs and kelp forests would give Britain a huge leap forward in meeting its carbon cutting goals.
The saltmarsh and seagrass habitat of the British Isles is thought to sequester 43,000 tonnes of carbon annually, the report said, a rate of between two and four times that of tropical forests.
Even in their current depleted state, the UK’s existing stock of saltmarshes and seagrass beds have the carbon storage potential of between 380 and 770 square miles of tropical forests, the report discovered.
It is estimated that globally, saltmarsh and seagrass beds can draw down up to 450 million tonnes of CO2 a year – half the global transport sector emissions.
The UK has about 164 sq miles of saltmarshes, but is losing it at an estimated 247 acres a year – or 0.2 per cent of the total – with losses projected to reach eight per cent by 2060.
The Government has committed to planting 11 million trees by 2022, but now the MSC wants to see similar commitments to the ocean and wetlands.
By 2019, seven million acres of UK waters had some degree of environmental protection, according to the Office for National Statistics.
But the two organisations accuse these of being ‘paper parks’ with little or no enforcement banning the most damaging activities.
Campaigners want to see ‘specific and ambitious’ marine habitat recovery targets as part of the Parish Climate Agreement renewal in 2025
EXTINCTION LOOMS FOR MORE THAN ONE MILLION SPECIES
Nature is in more trouble now than at any time in human history with extinction looming over one million species, experts say.
That was the key finding of the United Nations’ (UN) first comprehensive report on biodiversity.
The report found that species were being lost at a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past.
Many of the worst effects can be prevented by changing the way we grow food, produce energy, deal with climate change and dispose of waste.
The report highlighted things humans were doing that were leading to dramatic species extinction levels:
- Turning forests, grasslands and other areas into farms, cities and other developments.
- Overfishing the world’s oceans. A third of the world’s fish stocks are overfished.
- Permitting climate change from the burning of fossil fuels to make it too hot, wet or dry for species to survive.
- Polluting land and water. Every year, 300 to 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents and toxic sludge are dumped into the world’s waters.
- Allowing invasive species to crowd out native plants and animals.
They want 30 per cent of UK waters to be designated ‘Highly Protected Marine Areas’ by 2030, with strict limitations on activities such as bottom trawling or dredging.
Both fishing methods, along with mining and oil and gas extraction, disturb the seabed, releasing stored carbon into the water column and reducing the ocean’s capacity to store CO2. It also rips out plant life, which is also key to carbon capture.
Currently, bottom trawling and dredging are only banned in two per cent of UK seas.
Even if the two activities were only banned in the UK’s existing marine protected areas, it would still cover 54,000 square miles, safeguarding an estimated 55 million tonnes of blue carbon and allowing the seabed to recover.
Under a business-as-usual scenario, the UK’s sea shelf sediments could lose 13 million tonnes of stored carbon over the next decade, the report found.
Dr Chris Tuckett, director of programmes at the MCS, said: ‘Carbon contained in marine and coastal ecosystems must be considered in the same way as our woodlands and peatbog – critical to the UK’s carbon strategy.
‘We’re calling on the UK Government and devolved administrations to act with urgency to invest in, co-develop and implement a four-nation blue carbon strategy.’
Rebecca Wrigley, chief executive of Rewilding Britain, said: ‘We’re calling for the rewilding and protection of at least 30% of Britain’s seas by 2030.
‘Allowing a rich rainbow of underwater habitats and their sea life to recover offers huge opportunities for tackling the nature and climate crises, and for benefiting people’s livelihoods.’
Total global greenhouse gas emissions were 55.3 billion tonnes in 2018 and are on course to reach 60 billion tonnes by 2030, the report said.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the UK is a global leader int he fight to protect our seas through the ‘Blue Belt’.
Adding that these ‘Marine Protected Areas’ extend across 38% of UK waters.
‘We recognise the important role blue carbon habitats play in supporting adaptation and resilience to climate change,’ the spokesperson added.
‘This is why we are leading calls for a new global target to protect at least 30% of the ocean by 2030 and examining stronger protections for our ‘Blue Belt’ of Marine Protected Areas.’
The report, Blue Carbon – Ocean-Based Solutions To Fight The Climate Crisis, is available on the MCS’s website.
THE PARIS AGREEMENT: A GLOBAL ACCORD TO LIMIT TEMPERATURE RISES THROUGH CARBON EMISSION REDUCTION TARGETS
The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change.
It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6ºF) ‘and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)’.
It seems the more ambitious goal of restricting global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) may be more important than ever, according to previous research which claims 25 per cent of the world could see a significant increase in drier conditions.
In June 2017, President Trump announced his intention for the US, the second largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, to withdraw from the agreement.
The Paris Agreement on Climate Change has four main goals with regards to reducing emissions:
1) A long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels
2) To aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C, since this would significantly reduce risks and the impacts of climate change
3) Goverments agreed on the need for global emissions to peak as soon as possible, recognising that this will take longer for developing countries
4) To undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with the best available science
Source: European Commission