AGM: your questions answered
The questions put to us by members and attendees of our annual conference were both pertinent and poignant. Here are some of the responses that we prepared but didn't have time to deliver in our Q&A session on the night.
How we were involved
Excitingly, for the first time, we were able to attend the Conference of Parties as a Civil Society Observer. That means we were able to actually be in the room where the negotiations were taking place, lobby decision makers about climate issues and influence the text outcomes. Having Marine Conservation Society delegates involved at this high level of politics meant we could take our message on the need for action to protect, restore and invest in our ocean right to the top.
Inside the conference we co-hosted an event called Hope comes out of the Blue to raise the profile of the ocean as an ally in the climate crises. The panel discussion highlighted how coastal habitats and the deeper ocean offer hope to avert the climate crisis by capturing and storing carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas released by fossil fuels and responsible for global heating. Our partners included Whale & Dolphin Conservation (WDC) and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), and we were supported by the United Nations Development Programme.
Outside of the conference, we created noise through various publicity stunts. The week before COP26, we told the prime minister it's time to #WakeUp and #Listentotheocean by playing whale song and ocean sounds very early in the morning outside the House of Commons and Downing Street. Up in Glasgow, we joined the climate march and brought a Voice of the Ocean.
At COP26, we launched the ‘Drop in the Ocean’ report into the lack of finance for the ocean. The investment in ocean-based solutions to the climate crisis is, literally, a drop in the ocean, as evidenced by Deloitte’s research into the topic in association with WDC and us. The crucial role of the ocean in climate mitigation and adaptation is largely unrecognised by business and policymakers. As a result, it is underfunded.
What were the outcomes at COP26?
Overall, it was a rare win for the ocean in a sea of missed opportunities. We were pleased that the Glasgow Climate Pact includes seven paragraphs on protecting, conserving and restoring nature, ecosystems and biodiversity. Importantly, it specifically mentions the ocean's role in biodiversity recovery and carbon stores. This is a huge win for the ocean and a really significant change.
Countries are now required to return annually, rather than every five years, with strengthened Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) and delegates agreed that limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels is still within reach.
Despite these positive outcomes, we were disappointed by the lack of global cohesion and progress in other areas. The ‘phase-out’ of coal has become a ‘phase-down’ and there will be a delay in delivery of £100 billion per year in vital climate funding.
How can we build on the progress that was made?
We will continue to work with and demand action from the UK Government, who will remain President until November 2022 when Egypt takes over as President of the UNFCCC process. We'll also continue to build public awareness of the important role the ocean can play in combating climate change, and how vital it is to restore, protect and properly fund our ocean to ensure it can continue to be an ally in the climate crisis.
We work with young people in a range of settings, both formal (through our schools work) and informal (through our Youth Engagement work).
Over the last year we have been working to review and redevelop our education resources, to create a comprehensive Ocean Literacy programme linked to our core work areas. So far we have redeveloped our website and primary programme, including a new range of in-school workshops and downloadable lessons.
Our face-to-face workshops are delivered by our fabulous team of staff and Sea Champion volunteers, who champion our messages with young people. In the New Year we will be working on our secondary school programme and refreshing our beach learning work.
Earlier this year we developed our first youth engagement strategy which identifies key opportunities across our teams to embed and increase opportunities for young people to not only engage with but, most importantly, to shape our work.
The strategy is broad, covering non-school engagement with people aged five to 25 years and includes developing engagement opportunities and resources for groups such as Scouting, Duke of Edinburgh and John Muir, through to increasing youth involvement in our fundraising, campaigns and volunteering programmes. Our new Youth Engagement Officer has just started and will be taking this work forward in 2022.
- Join the Marine Conservation Society! Membership costs just £5 a month.
- Use your power as a consumer – buy sustainable fish (see our Good Fish Guide for advice); reduce your use of single-use items (coffee cups, cutlery, etc); question what you’re buying and think about where it comes from and how it will be disposed of.
- Listen to Deborah Meaden's guest speaker session on what we can do, including businesses, to protect the ocean.
- Support our campaigns – we need everyone’s help in those key moments when governments or businesses need to know that there is public support for our asks.
- Volunteer with us – join a beach clean; sign up to Seasearch, our volunteer diving and snorkelling programme; do a seaweed survey; even report a jellyfish sighting. There lots of information on our website about the actions that you can take.
- And (did we say?) join us as a Marine Conservation Society member.
Plastics impact everything in the ocean, from the smallest zooplankton to the largest whales.
We have been putting pressure on businesses and governments to focus on stopping pollution at source. This is incredibly important and our Beachwatch data provides key evidence of why we need to do so. Recently, Beachwatch data has been used to show why we need Deposit Return Schemes across the UK and that we cannot have further delays in the implementation of an all-in scheme (where drinks containers of all sizes and materials are included).
We have provided advice and guidance to businesses and governments through publication of various briefs, including one recently on sewage-related debris for Scotland, where wet wipes are the second most common item found on the beaches.
We need to take steps to change this, such as better labelling on products. In 2020, we surveyed retailers to see if they had ‘do not flush’ on wet wipes visible on front of packs. By 2021 we were glad to see that now all retailers had done this, but some still aren’t providing a ‘do not flush’ label on other commonly flushed items.
We are also calling for a ban on plastic in wet wipes, and we were glad to see this taken forward as part of a 10-minute bill in UK Parliament in November 2021. We currently are responding to a call for evidence on wet wipes for England which closes in February 2022.
Through our Stop Ocean Threads campaign we have been lobbying governments and businesses. In December, MP Alberto Costa gave a 10-minute bill reading in bringing forward legislation for all new washing machines to be fitted with a microfibre filter by 2025.
In addition, through meetings and consultation responses we have guided the publication of the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) advice on green claims to ensure that when businesses advertise green claims they can be substantiated. This will hopefully ensure that consumers are able to make informed choices knowing that the products they purchase really are better for the environment.
A panel of ocean experts published a report in 2019 stating that the ocean could provide 20% of the carbon sequestration needs we have to keep us at 1.5 degrees.
Practical projects underway are dotted all over the UK. We are directly involved in native oyster restoration in the Dornoch Firth in Scotland and with Natur am Byth in Wales, with seagrass restoration and enhancement within five south coast English MPAs. The UK has moved beyond isolated piecemeal projects. The ambition of the Re (restoring) Me (Meadows) Ma (Marsh) & Re (Reef) (ReMeMaRe) project coodinated by the Environment Agency shows the greater ambition to restore blue carbon habitats close to shore in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with targets and built in budgets.
A seagrass restoration guide has just been published by NatureScot for Scotland, where the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum, established in 2018, has been leading the way on exploring the benefits of blue carbon. In Scotland, the Marine Conservation Society is also proud to be a partner in an exciting new project, Restoration Forth, returning seagrass and native oysters to the Firth of Forth. Further offshore we are still battling to have bottom trawling banned from Marine Protected Areas to allow blue carbon stores to start recovering on a much larger scale (including carbon assets in fish, seabed habitat, marine mammals and other lifeforms).
It is difficult to restore seagrass: it’s costly and takes a lot of time. Seeds need collecting (requiring many hours of diving), then they need to be carefully stored for geminating onshore, before being planting out.
Development of planting projects we’re involved in within Plymouth Sound appear to have seen a slow germination rate. However, we are learning from this, and a national seagrass restoration manual has just been published to help. With existing beds, we need to educate boaters to drop their anchors away from seagrass beds. Together with the RYA, we're involved in a project called ReMEDIES that is seeing some success in areas such as Plymouth, The Solent, and Falmouth.
Particularly exciting is the development of ‘Advanced Mooring Systems’, which raise the anchor chains off the seabed using floating buoys to stop the chains scouring a scar in the seabed. In addition, no-anchor zones have seen success in Falmouth and Plymouth with acceptance by local boat clubs. Encouraging times.
We are also excited to be a partner in Restoration Forth, with WWF, Project Seagrass and Heriot-Watt University, to restore seagrass (and native oysters) to the Firth of Forth. Seawilding is an excellent trailblazing community initiative in Loch Craignish restoring seagrass (and native oyster) there. COAST on Isle of Arran were instrumental in getting the largest seagrass bed in the Firth of Clyde protected in Whiting Bay, part of South Arran MPA.
- We primarily put pressure on the UK governments who set the laws and fishing opportunity (access to fish).
- The new UK fisheries act (2020) is the main focus of our advocacy work. It will (if legally binding, enforced and fully monitored) set out Fisheries Management Plans – plans that will look at how (across all UK) manage fisheries to restore depleted stocks and operate in a climate=friendly way (reducing impacts on blue carbon, etc). Climate requirement is thanks to our lobbying during the creation of the act (when it was a bill) and is one of few global examples of this kind of requirement.
- We are also, in partnership with other NGOs, really stepping up pressure on the UK governments to get tough on bycatch – not just dealing with catches of “unwanted” fish, but also rare and protected species seabirds, sharks, turtles and cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises).
- We do not just focus on “industrial” fishing – the size of the vessel does not always determine the scale of the damage it may cause. Some small vessels can cause big damage to protected areas and some large vessels do operate sustainably.
- Our Good Fish Guide and our work with retailers and the supply chain, is helping drive the consumer demand for fully sustainable and traceable seafood. This is directly impacting what retailers are willing to sell. The retailers have met (with us) to tell UK Government it needs to sort out UK seafood or they may not be able to sell in to their customers.
- Finally, we are looking at solutions to the problems of the current approach to fishing, working with parts of the industry willing to change or those already changing, helping promote best practice and make sure that it becomes the normal way to produce seafood rather than just a “novel way”.
- The Scotland Team was instrumental in helping secure a Future Fisheries Management strategy for Scotland, the first national fisheries strategy in the UK, and pushing for a transformation of fisheries management in Scotland, particularly inshore. The recent government agreement commits to a cap on inshore fishing effort and an evidence-based reduction in that effort.
Aligned with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Marine Conservation Society supports the protection of AT LEAST 30% of global seas as highly protected marine protected areas (hpMPAs), i.e. those that exclude the most damaging activities from the entirety of the site – by 2030. At present, the total coverage is about 7.5%, so there is a long way to go.
In the UK and UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs), the amount of Marine Protected Area (MPA) coverage is about 45%, so the governments of the UK (nature conservation is devolved) and UK government OT partners have done well with MPA designation. Management is another matter.
Across the UK, if just the offshore MPAs alone were properly protected from activities such as bottom-trawling, we would see about 30% of our seas protected. So we can achieve this target.
It is also crucial to keep in mind the goal that at least a third of this area should be fully protected No-Take Zones, and we were pleased our Scotland team helped secure a commitment for this to be achieved by 2026, which would be leading within UK and Europe if achieved.
Of course marine conservation enforcement is a challenge everywhere, so we must make sure that our regulators and enforcement bodies are properly resourced and penalties are appropriate. In England that means investing properly in the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) for inshore sites, and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) for offshore sites. It is important that a system of statutory remote tracking of fishing vessels is delivered as soon as possible to support enforcement. And we must also ensure that sea-users are fully aware of the restrictions, that these restrictions are appropriately communicated, and that restrictions are introduced with full consultation with sea users and broader local communities for coastal sites to foster a culture of compliance.
In the UKOTs, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has committed about £8m of Blue Belt funding this year, with £1.6m allocated to new UKOTs not currently part of the Blue Belt scheme, including all Caribbean UKOTs. The Blue Belt funding is to help the UKOTs better manage their marine resources, and through our UKOT Conservation Programme we have been working with Caribbean UKOTs to make sure they take advantage of the funding.
Our campaign on the impact of combined sewer overflows on bathing waters was instrumental in ensuring that storm overflows in England and Wales were monitored.
Now over 80% of sewer overflows in England and Wales are monitored, with commitments for 100% to be monitored by the end of 2023 – importantly this information is being publicly shared. It is this information which has recently exposed the extent of sewage pollution being discharged into rivers and has seen the public get behind a movement for clean rivers.
As most of you will be aware, what goes into our rivers also ends up in our ocean and we continue to highlight this. What we're doing now:
- Earlier this year in England, the Marine Conservation Society was one of 18 organisations which published a ‘Blueprint for PR24’ outlining the environmental outcomes that we want to see from the next water company price review. We’ll be working with other environmental organisations to ensure that there is adequate action and investment for the environment in these plans.
- In Wales, the Marine Conservation Society is a member of the independent environment advisory panel for Welsh Water where we continue to raise the importance of actions that protect our coastal habitats and bathing waters.
- But our biggest focus when it comes to sewage is currently in Scotland, where we consistently find that levels of sewage related debris – wet wipes, tampons, etc – are higher than in any other part of the UK. In our recent survey of UK water companies we found that only 11% of 3,133 sewer overflows in Scotland are currently monitored.
- Our survey results with YouGov show that flushing habits (i.e. not flushing the wrong type of wet wipe) are better in Scotland, so with only 11% of Civil Society Organization (CSOs) monitored, the problem is clearly the network rather than consumer behaviour. We have recently published a parliamentary briefing for Scottish Parliament highlighting these issues and outlining our key asks which include progressive reduction targets for spills from sewer overflows and installing monitoring on all sewer overflows by 2024. As well as calls to support reusable sanitary products and phasing out single-use plastic sanitary items, including plastic single-use wet wipes.