Friday, 1 April 2011

Marine conservation...why education is the answer!

Marine conservation what does it mean? Today it means balancing ecology, economy and sociology to maintain biodiversity. But it has slightly different origins - and originates from way back in the 14th Century.

"Latin servāre meant ‘keep, preserve’ (it was not related to servusslave’, source of English serve and servant). Among the compounds formed from it were praeservāreguard in advance’ and, using the intensive prefix com-, conservāre. This passed into English via Old French conserver. Amongst its derivatives are conservation (14th c.), conservative (14th c.) (first used in the modern political sense by J Wilson Croker in 1830), and conservatory (16th c.) (whose French original, conservatoire, was reborrowed in the 18th century in the sense ‘musical academy’)."

The bit I like about this is the translation from "GUARD IN ADVANCE" . But is this really the case with conservation - in many ways modern conservation is thwarted with some of the problems associated with modern medicine - treat the problem not prevent the illness. Marine conservation is so valuable, there is no denying that. We are now recognising that we did very little to protect our ecosystem before degradation set in. Now we know that biodiversity loss, habitat loss, extinctions and ecosystem change is making the world a very different world than the one our ancestors new. This is a common problem - what is the "baseline" which forefathers/mothers should we look at for a description of "healthy ecosystem". Prof. Callum Roberts has written a fantastic book about our seas and how they used to be decades and centuries before us - dolphins blocking harbours, tuna baring caught off Scarborough - things have changed - our seas are pretty empty and our species are small! "The Unnatural History of the Sea, Prof. C. Roberts".

Now, just as we hit crisis point - we are ready to do something but we have to act fast. The Marine Management Organisation is responsible for setting up a network of Marine Protected Areas in UK waters. They are the organisation that will be responsible for legislation, planning and marine protection. They are based in Newcastle - they are a brand new organisation that are finding their feet. I hope they look to some of their older established siblings of NOAA in the USA for some great examples. (They include marine education in their remit.)

When I visited Midway Atoll in the North Western Hawaiian Islands, I was absolutely amazed at the quantity and quality of fish there. It has been a fisheries exclusion zone for over a decade now and boy does it show! The "ulua" or giant trevally are really giants! The ecosystem is recovering because it has this conservation in place and the apex predators ensure it's a healthy ecosystem. It is a fantastic example of brilliant marine conservation in action. It is a paradise and a mecca for marine conservation. In some ways it is an easy area to manage - Honolulu is approx.1200 miles away so the potential for fishing boats to reach this area is small. The enforcement is not such a complex issue. So is Midway protected - have we safeguarded it for the future? No.

The problem lies in our global system being under pressure - ocean acidification if the trajectories are true will have major impact on coral reefs. They will die. The slowly acidifying waters will mean that the function of creatures will be impaired some creatures will be unable to grow their calciferous shells because of the high pH. There is global pollution that will impact the flora and fauna and climate change that pushes creatures into new regions. It can only be protected if our global society decides to protect our land, atmosphere and ultimately seas. Whatever we do to the land is felt in the sea. What we do in sea is invisible to land. It is the seas downfall and also it's beauty which makes conservation of the seas so difficult. We cannot see what is going on below the surface - we have to "Learn To Sea" through better understanding and knowledge.

Here in the UK we will witness  a really positive move forward in our protection of seas. It is positive... there is no denying that. But are we too late? MCZs will protect important nursery grounds for bass, commercial fisheries and important species and habitats for biodiversity. Will we be able to enforce them, will we be able to protect them from those who have greater economic gain from exploiting them than leaving them alone? In today's time of economic limitations, I honestly doubt that.

BUT if we would only recognise that in our modern society that relies on seas and oceans for transport, protein, recreation, oxygen, oil etc etc we as a society know so little about our seas. If you ask the average man/woman/child on the street where oxygen comes from - trees/plants is the answer. This is a massive failing. They don't realise that half of our atmospheric oxygen comes from phytoplankton. The sea is our lungs, it is our heart and without it we will not survive. We must know and understand the value and importance of healthy seas and oceans. If we don't understand this there will be little support for any protected areas whether it be from government officials, fisherman or the general public.

We all need to be educated about our seas. If not we can carry on putting in protected areas but acidification, marine litter, climate change and overfishing will alter our marine ecosystem to such an extent that our seas will be as uninhabitable as our planet. But the biggest killer of seas - IGNORANCE.

Please support marine education and ask for your school, local council etc etc to do the same. It's time that we learn to sea.

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