The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has today launched a new report highlighting an urgent need for conservation action for UK seas. The report, entitled Silent Seas, documents the damaging effects of over-fishing, coastal pollution and inadequate habitat protection and warns that without radical mitigation, UK seas could suffer ecological disaster.

The report reviews the changing state of our seas over the past quarter century, and underlines significant changes that have taken place in the marine ecosystem. For example, numbers of many predatory fish, sharks, skates and rays have been reduced in shallow UK seas, largely through fishing, to the extent that several once common species are now locally extinct in UK waters.  A  hundred years ago large fish such as common skate, angel sharks, Atlantic halibut and cod in excess of a metre long were common in the North Sea.  Now many of these species are considered to be critically endangered.

MCS Director, Mrs  Sam Fanshawe says, “Silent Seas is about the great environmental threat of this century – the systematic decline in the state of our seas due to over-fishing, pollution and neglect.  Not only is Silent Seas a wake up call, it is a call to action by Government, industry and the public to work with MCS to ensure our seas never fall silent or still.”

Through Silent Seas, MCS sounds the alarm that the loss of wildlife could result in fundamental ecological ‘regime shifts’.  In some parts of the world this has already happened. In Namibia’s seas, for example, the removal of huge numbers of fish through over-fishing has led to a dramatic increase in jellyfish, which now dominate the ecosystem.  

Pollution, and plastic pollution especially, is increasingly becoming a significant hazard to marine wildlife.  MCS surveys show that the piles of plastic litter washing up on UK beaches have grown by 126% in the last 14 years, and seabirds, turtles, whales and seals are all killed by marine plastic – either through entanglement, or ingestion causing death through starvation.

MCS Head of Conservation, Dr Simon Brockington who compiled the Silent Seas report says, “Echoing Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”, Silent Seas forsees a world where extinctions of marine creatures begins to rise and the ecosystem starts to fail. Too many fish are taken from the sea, too much rubbish is thrown into the sea, and too little is being done to protect precious marine life and habitats. We have to act now!”

Silent Seas is as much about the solutions as it is about the problems and MCS sets out the key actions that Government, industry and individuals must take to stop the systematic decline in the state of our seas.  These include choosing our seafood from sources that are sustainable and cause least environmental damage; drastically reducing the use of plastic packaging; and establishing strong Marine Acts with real commitment to establish a network of marine protected areas, including highly protected marine reserves.  

“If the Government doesn’t commit to a UK Marine Bill in this year’s Queen’s Speech it could be many years before our international commitments for a network of Marine Protected Areas can be met” added Dr Brockington.