The world's oceans are currently facing an unprecedented set of challenges, including climate change and over-fishing. It is more important than ever to take action to ensure our seas are healthy, abundant and resilient. I know that in our area and right across the South West we all benefit hugely from our sea and coastline, which makes this an even more important priority for our region.
On top of the 36 per cent of English inshore and offshore waters currently protected within Marine Protected Areas, the Government has consulted on a further 41 Marine Conservation Zones, potentially safeguarding almost 12,000 square kilometres of marine habitats. No new activities deemed damaging will be allowed to take place in these areas and existing harmful activities will be minimised or stopped to allow important habitats to recover.
I am also pleased that the UK is on track to protect 4 million square kilometres of ocean across our Overseas Territories by 2020, and are backing an Ascension Island bid to protect 100 per cent of its offshore waters.
The Government is working hard to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean and is leading global efforts to tackle the problem through support of the G7 Oceans Plastics Charter, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's New Plastics Economy and the Commonwealth Blue Charter. In April 2018, the UK launched the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance alongside Vanuatu, encouraging its 25 member countries to take steps to eliminate avoidable single-use plastics.
I am delighted that the UK announced on the 24th September a new global alliance to help drive urgent action to safeguard the world’s oceans and protect their wildlife.
The Global Ocean Alliance will push for the trebling of existing globally-agreed targets so at least a third of the ocean is safeguarded in Marine Protected Areas over the next decade. These protections help sensitive species such as seahorses, turtles and corals to thrive, and can help fight climate change by protecting key carbon habitats such as mangrove forests and seagrass meadows.
This builds on the Prime Minister’s announcement last August that the government would invest £7 million in extending the ‘Blue Belt’ – over four million square kilometres of protected marine environment – across the UK Overseas Territories.
I hope that this reassures you that the Government is taking the protection of our seas and oceans seriously.