Giant “pumice raft” encountered in the Pacific Ocean

BBC News reports, 26th August 2019: A vast “raft” of volcanic rocks stretching over 150 sq km (58 sq miles) is drifting through the Pacific Ocean, scientists say. The sea of pumice — the size of 20,000 football fields was first reported by Australian sailors earlier this month.

Experts say the mass probably came from an underwater volcano near Tonga which erupted around 7th August according to satellite images. Sailors have been warned to stay clear of the potential hazard.

Pumice is a lightweight, bubble-rich rock that can float in water. It is produced when lava goes through rapid cooling and loss of gases. Large “rafts” of the volcanic rock are more likely to form when a volcano is located in more shallow waters, say experts.

An Australian couple sailing their catamaran to Fiji were the first to report the “pumice raft”, after inadvertently entering the rubble at night. “The waves were knocked back to almost calm and the boat was slowed to one knot,” Michael Hoult and Larissa Brill wrote online on 16th August. “The rubble slick went as far as we could see in the moonlight and with our spotlight.”

They were temporarily stuck after rocks jammed their rudder, but then were able to navigate out of the field.

They have since sent samples of the pumice stone — which range “from marble to basketball size” — to researchers at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia. Associate Prof Scott Bryan, a geologist studying the samples at QUT, said such pumice masses could be seen about once every five years in the region.

“It is a phenomenon reported over time, usually as islands in the middle of the ocean that people encounter but then can’t find again,” he told the BBC.  “It can be as if the whole surface [of the ocean] has turned to land”.

Associate Prof Bryan said satellite images showed the field had since divided into two main surface masses, with many trailing “ribbons” of rock. “At the moment there are more than a trillion pieces of pumice all floating together, but over time it will break up and disperse across the area,” he said. The pumice is currently drifting westwards towards Fiji, and is likely to pass New Caledonia and Vanuatu. It has also been forecast to reach Australia.

“It possibly could reach Australia in a year’s time, but we don’t know if it could even last,” said Dr Martin Jutzeler from the University of Tasmania.

Experts say the pumice is likely to become home to marine life as it drifts across the Pacific on ocean currents. “A lot of life… can attach themselves to the pumice and be transported thousands of km away. So it’s a way to renew ecosystems somewhere, but it also can introduce invasive species,” Dr Jutzeler said. If it reaches Australia, that could be a boon for the damaged Great Barrier Reef, some experts say.

“This is a potential mechanism for restocking the Great Barrier Reef,” Associate Prof Bryan said”.  Based on past pumice raft events we have studied over the last 20 years, it’s going to bring new healthy corals and other reef-dwellers.”

Coral regeneration has collapsed in the world’s largest reef system following unprecedented bleaching events in 2016 and 2017.


Source: BBC News 26th August 2019.  For further details, see


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Judicial Review decision : aggregate dredging may proceed at Goodwin Sands MCZ

The campaign group, Goodwin Sands SOS (Save Our Sands), has reported 11th September 2019 that their judicial appeal to the High Court has failed to secure a judgement against the granting of the licence to the Dover Harbour Board (DHB) by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO – the statutory licensing authority) to allow the dredging of sand from the Goodwin Sands to enable the Harbour Board to secure marine sand as a construction material for its port regeneration scheme.

The Goodwin Sands is an extensive sand bank system in the English Channel located 6 miles (10 km) offshore from Deal, Kent.  The Goodwin Sands were a candidate Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) under the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MCAA 2009) at the time of the licence’s consideration by the MMO and have subsequently been designated a full MCZ by Natural England under the MCCA 2009. 

The MCZ’s principal designated features and management objectives are (amongst others): subtidal sand and coarse sediment which need to be managed to maintain in a favourable condition, along with blue mussel beds and Ross worm (sabellaria spinulosa) reefs which need to be managed in order to enable them to recover to a favourable condition.

The dredging licence which the Dover Harbour Board may now operate allows DHB to extract 3 million tonnes of sand up to the end of December 2022. However the construction programme in the port has already commenced and so construction has required some sand to be sourced from elsewhere – first, whilst the licensing process itself was extended by a legal challenge by Marinet with respect to the archaeological remains, principally focused on the crashed military aircraft along with their lost crews from World War II which in Marinet’s belief warranted protection from disturbance under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 and then, secondly, following the determination decision by the MMO because the licence’s implementation has been stalled by the judicial review challenge by Goodwin Sands SOS. 

This has meant that the Harbour Board may need to extract only around two-thirds of its licence allocation of 3 million tonnes.

In its press release of 11th September 2019 announcing the judicial review decision, Goodwin Sands SOS has stated:


Dear Goodwin Sands SOS supporters,

The Honourable Sir Duncan Ouseley has dismissed Goodwin Sands SOS claim for the marine aggregate dredging licence granted to Dover Harbour Board for the Goodwin Sands to be quashed.  SOS’s legal advisors have advised against appealing the decision.

We are naturally very disappointed at this decision.  It was a tough legal challenge but we had to pursue every avenue to save this precious and unique environment.  However, the campaign is far from over. This Judicial Review related only to a specific environmental matter. The dredging’s impact upon war graves and the internationally important underwater cultural heritage (UCH) remains to be resolved by the MMO and Historic England.

The Archaeological Written Scheme of Investigation (AWSI), yet to be formulated, should provide protection for our heritage and we shall fight to ensure that it does, if necessary by further legal action.  Furthermore, the issue of allowing dredging of a protected habitat in a Marine Conservation Zone also needs addressing at the highest level without delay, as it makes a complete mockery of the whole MCZ programme. Protection must mean protection.

Despite losing this round of the Judicial Review, we can be proud of our many achievements:

• it has prevented the destruction by dredging of at least one and possibly two military aircraft crash sites and the same number of potentially valuable shipwrecks. These lie in the original dredge zone and had not been detected by Dover Harbour Board’s consultants.  Damaging military aircraft crash sites is unlawful under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.

• it has forced the Marine Management Organisation to allow the public to comment on the revised draft AWSI before the pre-dredge surveys can start.

• it has highlighted the considerable failings in the marine licensing process which must be addressed

• it has created the Goodwin Sands Conservation Trust which will educate the public and raise awareness of the cultural, environmental and historical significance of the Sands. The Trust’s main goal is to inscribe the Goodwins as the first UNESCO marine cultural World Heritage Site.
Dredging the Goodwins will have three important impacts:

• it completely undermines the protection supposedly provided by Marine Conservation Zones. The subtidal sand targeted for extraction was designated a Protected Habitat on 31st May 2019.   The Marine Management Organisation concluded that removing 3 million tonnes of this sand would not hinder the conservation objectives as Natural England have advised them that the habitat will recover within five years.

• it poses a serious risk to our underwater cultural heritage.  Dover Harbour Board’s contractors have not positively identified any of the targets lying in the dredge zone and have dismissed all of them as being of no human interest i.e. part of a shipwreck or aircraft crash site.  DHB has no idea what they are because they will not ground truth these targets by diver and / or ROV [remotely operated vehicle] inspection.

• it jeopardises the inscription of a potential World Heritage Site

Dover Harbour Board’s marine licence allows them to dredge up to 3 million tonnes of dry aggregate until 31st December 2022.  It will be used as landfill for their Dover Western Docks Revival project. No official purpose has been given for the reclaimed land but many consider it will be used as a lorry park.

We would like to thank all the many advisors who have so willingly and generously given their professional advice over the past three years.  In particular, Paul Taylor and Richard Buxton of Richard Buxton solicitors and Marie Demetriou QC and Daniel Piccinin of Brick Court Chambers, who submitted a compelling legal argument on what was essentially a very narrow point.

We would also like to thank you fantastic supporters who so far have raised almost £50K for the legal fees and whose words of encouragement have helped to keep them persevering for the duration of this lengthy and challenging campaign.

Your continued support is vital to our eventual success.

Please share this link with anyone who you feel, like you, that the Goodwin Sands are worth protecting.


Marinet observes: The Goodwin Sands SOS legal team fought their judicial review case on the grounds of whether the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations 2007 had been correctly applied with regard to the topography of the Goodwin Sands.                  

Topography was defined as “the depth and distribution of the sediment” (in this case sand) which was “fundamental to the structure of the feature and bears a direct influence on the associated fauna.” 

The legal team argued that the decision of the MMO and the government’s Joint Nature Conservation Committee/Natural England should have been to progress the evaluation of the topography of Goodwin Sands MCZ beyond Stage 1 of the EIA Regulations to Stage 2 which, if that had been done, would have likely resulted in the refusal or severe limitation of the licence to dredge.

Stage I of the Regulations requires that authorisation (a licence) cannot be granted unless the licence applicant satisfies the authority, here the MMO, under subsection (6) of the EIA Regulations, in what is called a Stage 1 assessment, “that there is no significant risk of the act hindering the achievement of the conservation objectives stated for the MCZ”.                          

The MMO and regulatory partners (JNCC/NE) argued to the Court that they had made a proper assessment of the topography under Stage 1 of the EIA Regulations whose outcome had determined that progress to Stage 2 was not required and, despite the arguments of the Goodwin Sands SOS legal team, the Court found in favour of the MMO’s decision and thus that the licence had been soundly issued.

A legal process pursued by Marinet, earlier during the licence consultation period prior to its determination by the MMO, had argued that the remains of World War II military aircraft and their crew (regardless of nationality) which had crashed on the Goodwin Sands and for which the Sands were their final resting place should be protected and prohibited from disturbance under the Protection of Military Remains Act (PMRA) 1986.  Marinet argued that the Goodwin Sands as a whole warranted this PMRA protection and not just the dredge site.  Marinet sought to sustain the argument that the Goodwin Sands as a whole were effectively a military grave (burial site) under the terms of PMRA 1986 and thus prohibited from disturbance.  Marinet’s lawyers were unable to sustain this belief in the minds of the Ministry of Defence, the authority responsible for implementing the PMRA, and Marinet did not have the very substantial financial resources additionally required to take this decision to Court for review.

Both Marinet and Goodwin Sands SOS share the conviction that the decision by government to allow dredging, and indeed other marine activities such as fishing, in MCZs serves only to undermine the integrity of the conservation regime which MCZs and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 ostensibly seek to establish.  However the 2009 MCAA legislation contains this fundamental weakness in its legal structure and decisions like this one in respect of the Goodwin Sands have occurred before and will be repeated again in the future until the 2009 Act is reformed.

Goodwin Sands SOS is currently seeking to secure the implementation of Highly Protected Marine Area (HMPA) status to the Goodwin Sands MCZ.  The UK government presented a report in 2018 to Parliament which examines the status of UK Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), of which MCZs are one such type, and in section 3.4 of this 2018 report to Parliament the status and role of Highly Protected Marine Areas is considered.  HMPAs, if deployed, effectively prohibit any activity within a MPA (MCZ) other than for the purpose of the site’s conservation. The UK government is currently conducting a review of HMPAs and is inviting contributions from the public.


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Was the present collapse in North Sea cod stocks forecast in 2018 and ignored?

Our Fish campaigns to end over-fishing and to deliver sustainable fisheries management in EU seas.  It is an initiative of Funding Fish, a registered charity in England and Wales.  Our Fish published the following press release on 11th March 2019:

A freedom of information request to the UK’s fisheries management body (the Marine Management Organisation) has revealed that despite the landing obligation having applied to all catches of North Sea Cod from January 2018, zero tonnes of unwanted undersize cod were landed by the UK fleet from 1st January — 15th November, in comparison to at least 7,500 tonnes accounted for in the quota setting [See: Endnote: 1].

The landing obligation required all UK fishers to count and land unwanted undersize North Sea cod since January 2018, but data provided to Our Fish by Marine Management Organisation (MMO) suggests that while an enormous 5,200 tonnes of extra quota was given to fishers to cope with the burden of landing extra fish, it appears to have been used to land even more adult fish, mostly in Scotland and England [2].

“Of an estimated 5,200 tonnes of expected undersize cod, absolutely zero had been landed by November 2018. The UK instead landed a total catch of 21,596 tonnes of adult cod.

“This suggests that, extrapolating the percentage of undersize fish, at least 7,500 tonnes of undersize fish were illegally discarded, and the UK’s total catch of North Sea cod could actually have been over 29,000 tonnes, or around one third above the quota”, said Rebecca Hubbard, Program Director for Our Fish.

“This unreported catch would represent an enormous waste of valuable fish, and significantly worsen over-fishing of the iconic North Sea cod stock. This is extremely concerning; in recent years North Sea cod was thought to be recovering, however the outlook is again looking very poor with scientists recommending a huge cut for 2019 fishing limits.”[3]

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advised that for cod in the North Sea, Skagerrak and the English Channel, total catches should be no more than 53,058 tonnes in 2018 [4].

This included an estimated 17,333 tonnes of unwanted bycatch — equivalent to 32% of all cod landings in those areas. The discard ban requires that this 17,333 tonnes is landed and counted against quota to inform science, and to incentivise not catching it in the first place.

The EU Council approved a total catch limit of 43,156 tonnes for 2018 for the North Sea — including a “top-up” of 13,414 tonnes, which was designed to allow the unwanted catch to be landed without it using up all fishing vessel’s existing quota [5].

Of this total for the North Sea, the UK was allocated 16,808 tonnes, including a “top-up” of 5,224 tonnes to account for fish that would have to be landed because of the discard ban.

According to data released under a freedom of information request by the MMO to Our Fish, the UK fleet recorded landings of 21,596 tonnes of cod up until 15th November 2018, but none of those landed were unwanted sizes i.e. all of the fish landed was wanted and saleable [6,7].

Assuming the UK landed it’s entire North Sea and Skaggerak Cod quota of 16,808 tonnes, extrapolating the “top-up” would equate to at least 7,500 tonnes of undersize cod — adding up to a total of some 29,000 tonnes caught.

“The UK government appears to be aware that large-scale unreported, illegal fishing for an important stock like cod is taking place within its fishing fleet, yet the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and Marine Scotland seem to be turning a blind eye. It is incomprehensible and indefensible that such rampant non-compliance would be simply ignored”, she continued. “The UK fishing industry reportedly supports remote electronic monitoring as a requirement for EU vessels accessing UK waters after Brexit, however it is clear from this data, that the UK needs to start implementing this technology with its own fleet first.” [8]

“Our Fish has written to the European Commission, requesting that they take at least 7,500 tonnes off the UK 2019 North Sea Cod quota to account for the unreported undersize cod from 2018 [9].

“We are also urging the UK to hold aside quota for discards in the 2019 cod quota, and only release it if discards are landed in ports, and all catches are documented through remote electronic monitoring or onboard observers in medium-very high risk discarding fleets,” said Ms Hubbard.

The iconic North Sea cod stock, considered a favourite for UK consumers, was heavily over-fished for most of the 80s and 90s, but due to strong intervention, had started to show signs of recovery in the last ten years. However, forecasts of the state of the stock again worsened in 2018, and ICES proposed a radical cut to the TAC of almost 50% from 2018 levels. [10].

Despite a commitment to end over-fishing, the annual fishing limit (TAC) for North Sea Cod in 2019 was set 25% above scientifically advised levels by the EU Agrifish Council [11].

The lack of landings of unwanted catches in the UK has also been confirmed by other members of the fish processing industry, who were expecting to receive the unwanted catches to process into other fish by-products (the Landing Obligation requires that unwanted and undersize catches are only used in industries outside of direct human consumption markets, such as fishmeal, fish oil, pet food, food additives, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics).

Pelagia General Manager Mike Hryckowian, in correspondence with Our Fish, said there has been a tiny volume sold into the fishmeal sector in Aberdeen (serviced by Fraserburgh and Peterhead) and zero volume into Grimsby (serviced by all English ports) [11].

I am absolutely certain that if discards were to be landed our factory would receive some if not all of them, because we are one of the few, if not the only, establishment in England capable of dealing with every type of fish discard and in any volume.[12]

The low uptake of product into fishmeal production in both Aberdeen and Grimsby fishmeal plants consolidates the landings data provided by the Marine Management Organisation.

The issue of non-compliance with the landing obligation does not only apply to the UK fishing fleet. The European Commission has proposed the introduction of remote electronic monitoring systems, including CCTV, into the EU fleet in order to properly monitor and enforce the landing obligation, through the revision of the Control Regulation [14] The European Parliament Pech Committee is expected to vote on the Commission’s proposal on 25th March or early April [15].

Note: See Our Fish Q&A below for deeper analysis.
Source: Our Fish press release, 11th March 2019. For further details, see

FOI request from Our Fish to MMO on cod landings, 15th November, 2018
Receipt for FOI request from MMO, 15th November, 2018
FOI reply from MMO, 13th December, 2018
File provided by MMO, 13th December, 2018: ATI1946 BMS cod landed between 2013 and 2018
Our Fish Letter to EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella, 27th February, 2019
• Update 18th March 2019: European Commission responds to Our Fish, promising to “further investigate the issues raised” by Our Fish.
• Update 6th May 2019: Letter from Graham Black, Director, Marine Scotland, responding to Our Fish.

Notes and References:
[1] Marine Management Organisation 2018, ATI1946 BMS cod landed between 2013 and 2018. Available at:
[2] See notes at the end with calculations
[3] ICES Advice on fishing opportunities, catch, and effort, Greater North Sea Ecoregion. Cod.27.47d20. Published 29th June 2018. Available at:
[4]  ICES, 2017, Advice on fishing opportunities, catch, and effort. Greater North Sea Ecoregion cod.27.47d20. Published 30th June 2017. Available at:
[5] COUNCIL REGULATION (EU) 2018/120 of 23rd January 2018 fixing for 2018 the fishing opportunities for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks, applicable in Union waters and, for Union fishing vessels, in certain non-Union waters, and amending Regulation (EU) 2017/127. Available at:
[6]  Marine Management Organisation 2018, ATI1946 BMS cod landed between 2013 and 2018. Available at:
[7]  The UK also swapped in 3,989 tonnes of cod and swapped out 500 tonnes for 2018, so the total cod quota available for landing by the UK fleet should be approximately 20,308 tonnes.
[10] ICES Advice on fishing opportunities, catch, and effort, Greater North Sea Ecoregion. Cod.27.47d20. Published 29th June 2018. Available at:
[11] New Economics Foundation, 2019, Landing the Blame. Available:
[12] Pers Comms, Mike Hryckowian, 2018, General Manager, Pelagia,
[13] Pers Comms, Mike Hryckowian, 2018, General Manager, Pelagia,
[14] Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL amending Council Regulation (EC) No 1224/2009, and amending Council Regulations (EC) No 768/2005, (EC) No 1967/2006, (EC) No 1005/2008, and Regulation (EU) No 2016/1139 of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards fisheries control COM/2018/368 final.
[15] PECH(2019)0219_1. Fisheries Committee, DRAFT AGENDA, Meeting, Tuesday 19th February 2019, 9.00 – 12.30 and 14.30 – 18.30, Brussels


● How does this revelation differ from the recent UK House of Lords report? There are some comparable findings between the Our Fish FOI findings and the House of Lords: Implementation and enforcement of the EU landing obligation inquiry:
• Ports not registering undersize fish landings
• Reports that fisheries continuing to discard
• MMO saying it has deducted 20 tonnes of cod from one operator for illegal discards they recorded via the Fully Documented Fisheries scheme (FDF)
NOTE — The MMO stated in the House of Lords that they only give quota top-up to fleets with FDF, however, as per the below data, this does not align with the landings data we received in the FOI.
What the House of Lords report doesn’t cover (key points in bold):

● The UK govt was given at least 5,200 tonnes as top-up for undersize cod to be landed in 2018 (as part of their 16,808t quota); ZERO of this has been landed (exact data provided by MMO from monthly landings)
• Even after swaps are taken into account, the UK fleet should only have access to approximately 20,308t cod in 2018, including undersized fish, but it landed 21,596t of cod which included ZERO undersize
• This equates to over-fishing of at least 7,500t by the UK fleet in 2018
• Our Fish  is asking the EU Commission to deduct at least 7,500t of cod from the UK’s quota in 2019

For North Sea cod, the LO was fully applied from 1st Jan 2018, and the landings data for all of 2018 is not released by ICES until after May, in aggregated form in their stock assessments — therefore it can only be accessed by reviewing monthly landings until that time.
This is over-fishing as a result of illegal discarding (or high-grading) of undersize north sea cod by the UK fishing fleet, for which it specifically received quote from the EU, and the UK should therefore pay back the equivalent quota for the cod that it has subsequently over-fished.

● How did you find out about this missing 7,500 tonnes of undersized cod?

Following reports that virtually no discards were being landed in 2018 in UK ports, and commentary from the European Fisheries Control Agency that there was a very high risk of non-compliance with the landing obligation in the North Sea, Our Fish submitted a freedom of information (FOI) request to the UK Marine Management Organisation on 15th November 2018 for all of the landings data on cod from the UK fleet, including for under MCRS (minimum conservation reference size), which should now be landed according to the Landing Obligation (LO). According to the TAC approved by the EU Council, which allocated a “top-up” of around 30%, this data should show at least 7,500 tonnes of undersize cod, but it shows zero.
(Marine Management Organisation 2018, ATI1946 BMS cod landed between 2013 and 2018. Available at:

● How much undersized north sea cod were landed in previous years?

Although the landing obligation didn’t require all North Sea Cod to be landed in previous years, there was some reporting in 2016 (for reasons unknown to Our Fish). Besides this small amount of 1.8 thousand tonnes in 2016 (equivalent to about 10% of that year’s landings), nothing else was recorded from 2015 onwards. Since 2018, under the LO, all undersize cod should be recorded and landed.

● What is the minimum size for north sea cod? How is undersized defined?

35cm is the minimum conservation reference size for North Sea Cod. This minimum size is set to incentivise small, juvenile fish are not caught and can grow to maturity, ensuring that the fish stock can continue to reproduce sustainably into the future. Fish below minimum conservation reference size (undersize) must now be landed but cannot be sold for human consumption.

● What exactly is wrong here?

No undersize North Sea Cod were landed by UK fishers in the UK between 1st January and 15th November, 2018 — even though the Landing Obligation (LO) requires them to be landed.

● Why would they land undersized cod?

Undersized cod should be landed and counted against quota as part of the LO. The estimated tonnes of undersize catches are based on scientific observations of previous fishing and discarding patterns. As the UK has landed 21,596 tonnes of North Sea cod in 2018, at least 7,500 tonnes would be undersized.

● Is this Overfishing?

The UK’s cod fishery has not undergone a rapid and broad scale improvement in selectivity, so most undersize cod was probably still caught and discarded — but not reported. The UK landed 21,596 tonnes of cod according to the MMO data, this means that around 29,000 tonnes of North Sea Cod was probably caught (including at least 7,500 tonnes of undersize). Instead of following the rules aimed at ending over-fishing, this is an example of gaming the system to carry out even more over-fishing.

● Why did the UK catch 21,596 tonnes if North Sea cod, if it had quota for 11,600 tonnes of allowable sized catch and 5,200 undersized, totalling 16,968?

The UK fleet has landed the full 16,968 tonnes allocated in the original TAC regulation, however they have also swapped in 3,989 tonnes of cod and swapped out 500 tonnes for 2018, so the total cod quota available for landing by the UK fleet should be approximately 20,308 tonnes. The extremely concerning thing is that of the 21,596 tonnes of cod landed, despite at least 5,200 – or 7,500 tonnes if the top-up is included – being allocated for landing undersize cod, zero was landed.
Available at

● Have rules of the landing obligation been broken?

Yes. The landing obligation is clearly being ignored and rules broken – the true impact of that is unknown because we don’t have any onboard monitoring to show total catch, but it is likely to be at least 7,500 tonnes of illegal discards (see calculations in endnotes).

● Surely if the UK fishing fleet is not landing any undersized cod, this is a good thing? Doesn’t it mean that UK fisheries are extremely selective?

It is impossible for the UK fleet to have completely eliminated unwanted, undersized cod in less than one year. It is also highly unlikely that they have significantly eliminated unwanted catches because there has been a lot of resistance from fishers to adopt all of the selectivity measures available.

● How would you rank the wrongdoing here? Crime? Infraction?

This is illegal unreported fishing across a wide part of the UK fishing fleet.

● What are the punishments for this kind of wrongdoing?

The EU Control Regulation rates non-compliance with the landing obligation as a serious offence, and therefore individual cases of illegal discarding would normally be dealt with through way of sanctions to the individual fishers. In this case, this is not possible because we have evidence of broadscale non-compliance, but we do not have evidence of individual discarding and misreporting (for this, monitoring at sea is required).
(COUNCIL REGULATION (EC) No 1224/2009, article 90 1(c): “the failure to land any species subject to a quota caught during a fishing operation, unless such landing would be contrary to obligations provided for in the rules of the common fisheries policy in fisheries or fishing zones where such rules apply.”
Available at: )

● Is what you are presenting proof, or evidence, or something less?

This is evidence that the majority of the UK fleet fishing are not counting or landing North Sea Cod undersize cod, according to the Landing Obligation. It is also evidence that the UK has used “top-up quota” intended for assisting the industry to comply with the Landing Obligation, to simply land more saleable cod, and therefore over-fish their quota by one-third. Because there is no recording of the actual discarding of undersize cod, individuals cannot be prosecuted.

● Who are the wrongdoers?

According to risk assessments from the EU Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA), the demersal trawlers including otter trawls/seines and beam trawls, have medium-high risk of non-compliance with the landing obligation or misrecording in the North Sea and Skaggerak. It is therefore likely these fishing fleets, and especially those from Scotland and England (see below), who are most responsible.
(EU 2018, Annual report of the EFCA for year 2017.
Available at: )

● Where in the UK are they operating?

The Scottish fishing fleet gets 70% of the UK’s North Sea Cod quota (16,856 tonnes in 2018), and English fishers receive the majority of the rest, with a tiny amount going to Northern Ireland and Wales (6,560 tonnes in 2018).

● In what waters does this wrongdoing occur?

The quota is taken from the North Sea (ICES Subarea 4), Skagerrak (ICES area subdivision 20) and the Eastern English Channel (ICES Division 7d). Based on ICES estimates and the “top-up”, the bulk of the discards would be in the North Sea. See calculations and endnotes.

● Couldn’t this just be an accounting or reporting error? Couldn’t the 21,596 tonnes landed include the 7,500 tonnes of undersized cod?

All undersize cod have to be recorded as such, and cannot be sold for human consumption, according to the Landing Obligation. It would be a pretty big error — 7,500 tonnes to 0.

● If this is wrongdoing, why didn’t they cover it up more?

The UK government, and the agencies of the Marine Management Organisation and Marine Scotland, are clearly not making a serious effort to monitor and enforce the landing obligation, so fishers don’t feel like they need to follow the rules. Instead of embracing 21st century technology, transparency and accountability to consumers and the public, the UK fishing industry and government is clearly still dominated by a cave-dwellers mentality.

● Who is responsible for enforcement against this kind of behaviour? Have they done their job correctly?

The UK government — particularly the agencies of the Marine Management Organisation and Marine Scotland — should be monitoring and enforcing the landing obligation for North Sea cod. The Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has overall responsibility for fisheries management. With this very clear data, they must be turning a blind eye.

● If this discrepancy has been recorded, yet not reported, who should it have been reported to, by whom?

This information, from the UK’s Marine Management Organisation (MMO), which was accessed through a freedom of information request, is based on landings data from ports all across the UK. Port Authorities must be aware that there are no substantial landings of discards, and could have reported it to the authorities. However it is hard to believe that the UK government and fisheries management authorities don’t know about this, as they should be regularly reviewing this data.
(Marine Management Organisation 2018, ATI1946 BMS cod landed between 2013 and 2018. Available at:

● If the Landing Obligation is an EU regulation and the UK is leaving the EU anyway, none of this matters, right? It’s not really a crime if it will no longer be illegal?

The UK is still operating under the EU Common Fisheries Policy, and certainly was in 2018, so this is definitely evidence of illegal, unreported activity. Going forward, the UK government has said it is committed to a ban on discards, so presumably, the UK fleet should still be counting and landing all unwanted, undersize cod.

● Now that this is out in the open, what happens next?

This depends on how willing the UK government and the EU Commission are to respond to these findings.

What Our Fish wants: The UK government, and indeed all EU member states, need to urgently upscale their at-sea monitoring and control systems to stop this illegal behaviour and ensure that the correct catch data is being reported for management purposes.
Remote electronic monitoring systems with CCTV are already used in part of the UK fleet voluntarily, however this needs to be made mandatory, and extended into higher-risk sections of the fleet. The EU Commission should reduce the UK’s North Sea Cod quota for 2019 by at least 7,500 tonnes, as payback for over-fishing their cod allocation in 2018.
The UK should also hold aside quota for discards in the 2019 cod quota, and only release it if discards are landed in ports, and all catches are documented through remote electronic monitoring (CCTV) or onboard observers in medium-very high risk discarding fleets.

● Illegality is one thing, but what are the environmental ramifications of this wrongdoing?

Ongoing discarding without proper reporting and catch accountability can have huge impacts on fish stocks and management. If this 9,000 tonnes of undersize fish were discarded, that’s equivalent to the UK over-fishing its allocation by almost one third. For a stock like North Sea Cod which has been historically over-fished and is struggling to rebuild, it could have devastating impacts and contribute to another crash in the population. It also undermines the reliability of scientific data, the stock assessments, quota allocations and fisheries management that depend on that science, introduces illegality into the seafood supply chain, and destroys consumer trust in the fishing industry.

• Who should journalists call to find out more, or to find out what action will be taken?

We suggest they speak to the European Commission, DEFRA, the MMO and Marine Scotland.

NOTES – Calculations (tonnes):

◦ 2018 TAC for North Sea + Skaggerak + Channel = 43156+7995+1733 = 52,884
◦ 2018 Top-up for unwanted discards for North Sea + Skaggerak (0 channel) incl in TAC = 13414+3746 = 17,160
◦ UK portion of TAC = 16,808+160 = 16,968
◦ UK portion of top-up = 5,224

For North Sea only:

◦ 2018 TAC = 43,156
◦ 2018 top-up for unwanted discards = 13,414
◦ UK portion of TAC = 16,808
◦ UK portion of top-up = 5,224
◦ UK Landings of above-size cod Jan-Nov 2018 = 21,596
◦ Unaccounted for top-up for undersize cod not landed in the UK = at least 7,500


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ICES foresees the North Sea cod stock collapse in its June 2019 evaluation

 BBC News reports, 28th June 2019: The assessment by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) says cod is being “harvested unsustainably”. It has recommended a 63% reduction to the available catch to just 10,457 tonnes and follows a 47% cut last year.

A discard ban is being partly blamed which increases the amount of cod fishermen can catch but forces them to land it. Until the change, around 20% of fish caught was thrown back into the sea dead. Some groups suggest the practice of discarding has continued, meaning even more fish are being caught.

Significant pressures have also come from climate change.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF), said: “There’s no escaping the fact that this unexpected downturn in the cod stock will be damaging for our fleet.

“However, we have proved before and we will prove again that through a series of responsible, practicable measures to be agreed with government fisheries managers we can overcome the challenge, albeit that this time as we understand it climate change is a very significant factor.

“The fishing industry has a long and noble tradition of adapting to the ever-shifting dynamics of the natural world, and while it won’t be easy, we will do what is necessary to help restore the stock.”

The advice will now be the subject of negotiations between the coastal nations which border the North Sea. It will likely result in a reduction to the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for 2020 but it will not necessarily be as strict as the advice suggests.

Some conservationists are even suggesting that emergency measures should be introduced this year.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “The scientific advice on certain species is challenging, as we expected it to be. This is particularly restrictive for our North Sea and West Coast cod fishermen.

“As ever, the focus of the Scottish government has been to find a balance between protecting industry from the introduction of restrictive measures, whilst taking a responsible and scientific approach to protecting our precious marine life. By doing so we create a sustainable environment for the fishing industry in the long run. And it is the responsibility of all the nations who fish these waters to respond collectively.”

Cod stocks collapsed in 2006 after a long period of decline which began in the 1970s.

A cod recovery plan was agreed which saw numbers beginning to recover and in 2017 it received a “blue tick” from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The certification meant cod could be eaten “with a clear conscience”.

But stock levels have since fallen rapidly.

Erin Priddle, MSC programme director for UK and Ireland, said: “While we understand that the outcome of today’s advice is disappointing for the sector, we look forward to industry introducing a suite of measures to secure the long term sustainability of this iconic and ecologically important stock. Protecting North Sea cod for this and future generations must be a key priority for all involved.”

Nick Underdown, from Open Seas, said: “We need a long-term fix for this, not empty reassurances by the big fishing lobby that the problem will go away.

“The problem is not just over-fishing, trawling the seabed close to shore destroys nursery grounds for fish, and indiscriminately catches young cod before they can mature.

“We need to protect spawning habitat urgently, remove damaging bottom trawling from inshore seas, and end the wasteful bycatch of juvenile fish.

“Until our politicians have the courage to do this, our fishing industry will keep lurching from crisis to crisis.”

Helen McLachlan, fisheries programme manager at conservation organisation WWF, said: “Cod play a crucial role in maintaining healthy oceans. This is a real crisis for our seas and fixing it will require an emergency response from governments.”


Source: BBC News, 28th June 2019. For further details, see


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MSC suspends North Sea cod stock‘s sustainable fishing certificate

BBC News reports, 25th September 2019: The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) said certificates for North Sea cod fisheries would be suspended as stocks were below the “safe biological level”.

A “blue tick” had been awarded in 2017, meaning cod could be eaten “with a clear conscience“.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) said the suspension was “devastating” but that stock levels were “worrying”.

The Scottish government said the loss of accreditation for cod stocks was “very disappointing”.
The fish had been considered under threat for more than a decade after stocks were said to have fallen to about 40,000 tonnes in 2006. The industry agreed measures to help regenerate the population, including new nets and closing spawning areas to fishing.

However in June, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) warned cod was being “harvested unsustainably”. Ices said stocks in the North Sea had plummeted to critical levels, and recommended a catch reduction.

Erin Priddle, MSC programme director for UK and Ireland, said: “The decline in the North Sea cod stock is a worrying development, with the latest stock models suggesting that the fishery has not recovered as well as previously thought.

“The MSC programme was established to recognise and reward sustainable fisheries and is designed to identify when certified fisheries are not performing as they should against our standard.

“While this news is devastating for industry, it is a testament to the MSC standard working as it should. Now, more than ever, we need coordination and cooperation for the sustainability of our oceans and the marine life within.”

Mike Park, chairman of the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG), said: “The industry are concerned that, notwithstanding their best efforts to continue to rebuild North Sea cod, some developments are taking place that seem beyond their control. That said, they are committed to introducing balanced and proportionate measures in an attempt to reverse the decline.”
The announcement was “no surprise” said environmental charity WWF, which added that governments must ensure the UK’s fisheries are better managed.

“That starts with a new, ambitious and effective Fisheries Bill in Westminster, with a clear duty to fish sustainably and prove accountability with onboard monitoring,” said Helen McLachlan, the charity’s fisheries programme manager.

“At the moment, less than 1% of fishing boats are monitored at sea and this has to change. Onboard cameras and sensors are essential to avoid the further decimation of fish populations.

“We must recover and protect the UK’s seas, if we are to build climate resilience and a long-term future for our marine wildlife and the fishing fleets and coastal communities that depend so heavily on it.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “The loss of accreditation for this iconic stock is very disappointing. We are working with the industry and with other fishing nations to establish the multi-national response needed to ensure sustainable fishing while maintaining economic fleet viability.
“We are long-standing champions of the Scottish fishing industry and will continue to ensure the needs of industry, coastal communities and the marine environment are met, with sustainable and inclusive growth across all sectors.”

BBC News, 25th September 2019. For further details, see
Marinet observes: Those who have followed Marinet’s work over the years will know how we have documented the decline in the North Sea cod stock between 1880 and 2010 due to over-fishing, revealing that levels are now barely 1% or 2% of what they once were.

You will also have observed how we have advocated to the EU Commission during its 2012-2014 reform procedures for the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) that marine reserves be established in fish spawning and nursery grounds in order to restore stocks to as near historic levels as current ecological conditions will allow (i.e. taking account of warming waters, destruction of seabed habitat and other changes).

You will also have observed that we have informed ICES and fisheries administrators that it is essential that Descriptor 3 of the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive be implemented in full and that net sizes used by fishermen must be enlarged to ensure that adult fish survive beyond one year of sexual maturity before being fished from the sea.

Has any of this advice and exhortation made any difference?

The fact that the North Sea cod stock in EU waters has collapsed again in 2018-2019 — whilst remaining healthy in Norwegian and Icelandic waters — would suggest that the EU Commission and its fisheries administrators have heeded none of this advice.

Why is this?

It is probably because the fishing industry lobby is too wealthy and powerful, meaning that fisheries administrators (including fisheries ministers) are impotent in terms of their ability to control real politik and hence are unable to curtail the industry’s activity. Why else would fishing quotas continuously be set in exceedance of scientific advice in around 50% of stocks? Why else would the installation of CCTV have not been installed on all fishing vessels and scrupulously monitored to ensure quotas are strictly observed?

If you’ve got a better explanation other than the role of the industry itself in this madness, we’d like to hear it.

Why would the fishermen themselves pursue such an insane approach?

It is probably because the small independent fisherman no longer exists and the fishing industry is now in the hands of a small cartel where around two-thirds of the UK quota is owned by around 25 businesses and this cartel just sees fish stocks in economic terms, not ecological terms.  In other words, the cartel is interested only in the profit today, and hang tomorrow.

So, what is need for change?

The answer is either collapse, as happened in Canada’s Newfoundland cod fishery — the world’s largest cod fishery — leading to a total prohibition of fishing, but the stock has never recovered so there is no redemption there.  Or, government has to exert its sovereign powers as a government and insist on a sound, ecosystem-based approach which respects the integrity of the sea and its fish stocks, as has happened in Norway and Iceland.

Will it happen here, in the North Sea?

The EU does not look like a good bet.  Its track record is terrible.  Can the UK do what Norway and Iceland have done, assuming we leave the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy?

The answer to that question actually depends on you, the voter.  In other words, it is time for you to make democracy count.


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Sussex Wildlife Trust launches Sussex by the Sea conservation project

The Sussex Wildlife Trust reports, September 2019 Newsletter: This summer I went paddle-boarding off the coast of our nature reserve at Seaford Head. On the cliffs above me I could hear the calls of gulls and kittiwakes. The sea was flat and clear, and I could see crabs vying for territory, anemones swaying with the current, and goby fish swimming along channels in the chalk reef — and I knew that somewhere nearby, hidden amongst the kelp, there were tiny seahorses, performing morning courtship dances to each other

Now it’s time for us to take positive action to help our seas, and the wealth of beautiful wildlife hidden beneath the waves.

Together with our partners we’re planning a major marine conservation project called Sussex by the Sea, after the song that’s an anthem for the pride we feel for our county. 

Our plans for Sussex by the Sea will include conducting marine wildlife surveys; giving children a day out on the beach exploring the shoreline for mermaid’s purses, crabs and shells; and working alongside local fishermen to retrieve old fishing gear from the sea that could trap and kill wildlife.

Sussex by the Sea is based on a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, but we need to raise £20k of match-funding to make this important project happen*.

Your support could help initiate a real sea-change resulting in the gift of clean, healthy seas, rich in wildlife for everyone to enjoy, including our beautiful seahorses.

*If the bid is not successful, your donation will be used by Sussex Wildlife Trust to fund its marine conservation work.

Beachy Head West MCZ

Beachy Head West Marine Conservation Zone stretches along the coastline from Brighton Marina to Beachy Head, with a gap at Newhaven. It extends half a nautical mile seaward from the mean high water line, covering approximately 24km2. This area includes the Heritage Coast within the South Downs National Park, the eastern half of the Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere (the Living Coast) and part of the Seven Sisters Voluntary Marine Conservation Area.

One of the main reasons for site designation was the extensive intertidal wave cut chalk platforms and subtidal chalk ridges, which are among the best examples of marine chalk habitat in the south-east. Chalk reef is a fragile and unusual marine habitat which supports abundant wildlife, including threatened species such as blue mussel beds and native oysters. The site also contains rare short-snouted seahorses and is known to be a key nursery and spawning ground for several fish species.

The site forms part of the ‘blue belt’ around the English coast, designated as an ecologically coherent, well-managed, network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Beachy Head West was designated within the first tranche of MCZ sites in November 2013. The MCZ consists of two spatially separate sites; Brighton Marina to Newhaven and Newhaven to Beachy Head with a gap at Newhaven port. The MCZ borders the South Downs National Park and covers part of the Seven Sisters Voluntary Marine Conservation Area and certain Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) from Seaford to Beachy Head and Brighton to Newhaven Cliffs.

DEFRA information, including MCZ factsheet and designation order with site boundary coordinates

Beachy Head West Byelaw

Sussex IFCA’s role with regard to Beachy Head West MCZ is to introduce appropriate management of the fisheries activities that have a negative impact on the features of conservation importance; chalk habitat, blue mussels, native oysters and short-snouted seahorses. An MPA Byelaw with an associated Beachy Head West MCZ Schedule is now in force.

The MPA byelaw can be found here. This is the over-arching MPA byelaw with Schedule one for Kingmere MCZ and Schedule two for Beachy Head West MCZ.

Additional guidance on the byelaw specific to Beachy Head West can be found here.

Additional navigational guidance for fishers can be found here.

A leaflet summarising the management of Beachy Head West MCZ  can be found here

The associated Beachy Head West Schedule Impact Assessment can be found here.

Sussex IFCA has introduced a combination of both voluntary measures and regulation of commercial and recreational fishing that promotes compliance and support from the community, whilst meeting the conservation requirements of Beachy Head West MCZ. The supporting voluntary code of conduct promotes good practice and aims to enhance the conservation outcomes for the site. Voluntary code of conduct proposals for commercial and recreational fishers can be found here.

These management measures are specific to Beachy Head West MCZ. Other management measures may apply, check here.


Beachy Head West is a diverse mix of bedrock, boulders and cobbles supporting seaweed communities with areas of sand and mud. To see more information on the habitats and video clips of seabed surveys click here for our interactive map.

The chalk supports a great diversity of animals, including rock-boring worms, barnacles, anemones, crustaceans (e.g. velvet swimming crabs, lobsters, prawns) and molluscs (e.g. rock-boring piddocks, top shell snails, periwinkles, limpets). Protected animals include short-snouted seahorses, blue mussel beds and native oysters.

The site has 14 designated features, including:
Sediments: Intertidal coarse sediment, Infralittoral sandy mud, Infralittoral muddy sand, Subtidal mixed sediment, Subtidal sand and Subtidal mud.
Rock: Low energy infralittoral rock and thin sandy sediment, Littoral chalk communities, Subtidal chalk, Moderate energy circalittoral rock and High energy circalittoral rock
Species: Short-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus), Native oyster (Ostrea edulis) and Blue mussel beds (Mytilus edulis).

There is more information about these habitat classifications on the EUNIS website.

Short-snouted seahorses can be found within the shallow waters of this MCZ during the summer months. Beachy Head West MCZ acts as an important nursery and spawning ground for this species. Their excellent eyesight allows them to hunt for small crustaceans which they suck up through their snouts. Only two seahorse species are found in UK waters, the short-snouted seahorse and the long-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus).

Blue mussel beds are found at Seaford Head and Beachy Head from the high water line, right out to sea, often densely packed on the chalk ridges. The rough chalk at Beachy Head West MCZ provides a great habitat to allow blue mussel larvae to settle. Broken shells, alongside sand and mud present as a thin layer on hard rocks can also provide a suitable habitat for blue mussels.

Education Conservation Areas (ECAs)

The Education Conservation Areas (ECAs) are intertidal no-take zones. These are zones where no extractive activity can occur. Research within these areas will improve understanding of the populations that exist when there is no intertidal gathering. These areas will provide an excellent education resource. The ECAs tie in with the marine sections of the South Downs National Park and Living Coast Biosphere Reserve.

Fishing Activity

Fishing activity is well documented within the site, with over 15 years of vessel sightings data collected by Sussex IFCA. A report on the fishing effort for the whole District is available here.

The main commercial fishery is potting and netting. Towed gear fishing i.e. trawling and dredging, is not permitted within the site. 

Trawling is now prohibited within the MCZ. Prior to the implementation of the Byelaw in 2016, trawling occurred at low intensity, with only 1-2 fishing vessels known to occasionally operate within the site boundary. In areas around the site, outside of the MCZ boundary, the activity occurs at a higher level of intensity.

Parlour and inkwell pots are used seasonally at high intensity within the site to target lobsters, with a typical bycatch of brown crab and whelk. Areas between Beachy Head lighthouse to Seaford Head and Newhaven West Breakwater to Portobello outfall are notably popular for lobster potting.

Netting within the MCZ is highly seasonal, depending on the target species.

Angling predominantly occurs through small vessels and shore angling within the MCZ. Angling occurs at low intensity, with medium seasonal intensity occurring around the edge of the site.

The highest intensity of angling has been reported towards the extreme eastern area around Beachy Head.


Various research has been conducted within the MCZ. More information is in our Research Plan and Annual Research Report. Sussex IFCA collaborates with partner organisations to monitor the features of Beachy Head West MCZ.

Fishing Effort

Since 2001, when Sussex IFCA officers are conducting a sea patrol and they see a fishing vessel, they record its position and the fishing gear it is using.

Fishing activity in and around Beachy Head West MCZ was analysed to understand the fishing pressure on the features.

A report on the fishing effort for the whole district is available here.

Other Activities

Sussex IFCA only has jurisdiction over fishing activities within MCZs. We are working with partner organisations to support a whole ecosystem approach for the multi-sectoral use of the site.

There is a licence issued by the Marine Management Organisation for dredged material disposal within the MCZ. You can find out more on the MMO’s website by searching their database with the case number MLA/2014/00511/2.

Source: Sussex Wildlife Trust Newsletter, September 2019.


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New seaweed farming industry launched in Alaska

The Guardian reports 11th June, 2019: While farmers in much of the US spend the late spring patiently waiting for their crops to mature, a small band of sea farmers have taken to the cold ocean waters of Alaska to harvest the state’s newest cash crop: kelp.

Huge demand for seaweed, hauled up in slimy green bunches from the Pacific Ocean, has kick-started an industry that existed as a mere fantasy only five years ago.

There’s lot of interest in sustainability,” says Beau Perry, head of Blue Evolution, a California-based company at the centre of Alaska’s nascent seaweed boom. “As we deal with climate change and the movement towards plant-based diets, all of those trends play towards seaweed being a new sort of star ingredient.”

In recent years, farmers in Alaska have begun growing sugar kelp and ribbon kelp – two species that occur naturally in the ecosystem of remote communities like Kodiak and Ketchikan. With a $6bn (£4.7bn) global market for seaweed, residents are hopeful that kelp farming is a sustainable way to cultivate — and harvest — the coveted aquatic plant.

“There’s huge potential in Alaska. There’s so much space and it really fills an interesting niche,” says Alf Pryor, co-owner of Kodiak Kelp Company. “There’s a lot of potential for tons of different kinds of products. I see it taking off pretty quickly.”

A career salmon fisherman, Pryor along with his wife, Lexa Meyer, were drawn into the kelp business recently as a way to supplement their income. But interest in kelp farming is now so intense that Pryor believes a new farmer might have to wait up to three years for the necessary permits.

Unlike in other parts of the world, where wild kelp is harvested by ships, Alaska’s aquatic plants are grown by farmers in a months-long process, which begins in the dead of winter.

After Pryor and Meyer find roughly 50 plants they consider ideal for breeding, the wild kelp samples are sent to a facility run by Blue Evolution. The company extracts spores from the kelp and grows seedlings on pieces of string known as “seed pipes”. These pipes are given to farmers, who then wind the string along long ropes, which dangle from a free-floating frame in the ocean. Over a six-month period, the spores mature before they are harvested in late spring.

Pryor’s experience as a gill-net fisherman helped him to switch to mariculture, including redesigning a 25ft skiff to harvest kelp more efficiently. Even with his technical knowledge, he’s found that farming requires constant vigilance, including a sharp eye for drifting rafts of bull kelp, rogue groupings of wild seaweed that can crash into the ropes of young kelp and tangle into the plants.

“It’s kind of a constant battle, trying to keep stuff out of the farm,” says Pryor, who monitors the young plants once a week over the winter with his team.

In early May, the couple harvested nearly 200,000 pounds of kelp from their operation, which spans 18 acres and uses nearly 50,000 feet of rope — one of the largest hauls of kelp in the history of Alaska.

Blue Evolution hopes to buy “at least 50 tonnes” of seaweed from farmers like Pryor and Meyer, says Perry — a five-fold increase on the company’s purchase last year, and a figure he hopes to double next year.

The plant is of particular interest as studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of seaweed in animal feed as a way of reducing methane emissions. It is also being tested for properties that can mimic fossil fuels or plastics.

In coastal towns like Kodiak, where the fishing industry is the main employer and incomes are seasonal, the burgeoning kelp farming industry is seen as a way for families to find work during slow periods.

“For small coastal communities, [seaweed farming] could be a big deal,” says Pryor. “Just from the farm that we did this year, we put between 30 and 40 people to work.”

Alaska’s experiment with kelp is nothing new: each year, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of seaweed are harvested around the world, with China and Japan leading global exports. But in recent months, the harvesting of wild plants has been dogged by controversy.

In summer 2018, the proposed wide-scale harvest of wild kelp led to a fierce row in Scotland, where environmental groups say the dredging of kelp forests could cause irreparable harm to marine life off the coastline because the plants play such a crucial role in preserving a healthy ecosystem.

In Alaska, companies are required to follow strict government rules on cultivation: strains of seaweed crops, taken from wild plants, must be grown within 50km of the source plant. This ensures genetic strength and diversity are maintained, says Perry, with salmon hatcheries in the state following similarly strict guidelines.

On the whole, any environmental damage from the cultivation of farmed seaweed — which requires wild plants be picked for spore extraction — appears to be “minimal”, says Matthew Bracken, an associate professor of biology at the University of California Irvine.

“Kelp have major benefits for the environment both naturally growing and growing in these cultures,” says Bracken. “When the sun is shining, [kelp plants] are going to absorb carbon dioxide from the water … And given increases in [carbon dioxide] concentrations in the ocean generally, this is a good thing.”

Because seaweed is seen as a tool for mitigating the damaging impacts of ocean acidification, Perry believes the product is good for the environment – and for business.
But for Bracken, the surge in cultivation also highlights major advances in understanding the life cycle of a kelp, which has long mystified researchers.

“It’s not like plants where you just put seeds in the ground. They have a complex life. You have to really understand that well and be able to then magnify it,” says Bracken. “It can teach us a lot about how life works.”

Source: The Guardian 11th June 2019. For further details, see


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Seaweed farm at Scarborough given licence to proceed

BBC News reports, 18th June 2019: A seaweed farm off the east coast has been backed by a local authority.
Scarborough company, SeaGrown, has licensed a 25-hectare site three miles into the North Sea to harvest seaweed from sunken platforms.

Scarborough Council said it would act as the “accountable body” for a grant for the seaweed hatchery. Councillors said they were pleased to “back a good news story”, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The Scarborough Council’s cabinet committee said the authority would be a guarantor for £472,150 to SeaGrown Ltd from the Coastal Communities Fund.
Buoys and chains would be anchored at the site, with seaweed grown on submerged lines.

The project aims to be the first UK company to introduce farmed seaweed into new markets such as bioplastics, biotextiles and pharmaceuticals by 2021, the company said.

SeaGrown was founded by former Scarborough fisherman Wave Crookes and his partner, Laura Robinson, a marine scientist.

The firm hopes to create nine jobs in the first two years, rising to 23 within five years and more indirect jobs within the seaweed supply chain.

The farmed seaweed would be transferred to Scarborough harbour then, if plans are approved, to a new facility in Eastfield Business Park, the LDRS reported.

In 2015, seaweed’s global market was estimated at about £9.6bn.

Source: BBC News, 18th June 2019. For further details, see


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High-Seas fish biodiversity is slipping through the governance net

With negotiations resuming at the United Nations to construct a new High Seas Treaty to supplement the UN Law of the Sea, we provide here an article by Guillermo Ortuno Crespos et al, published in Nature Ecology and Environment Vol. 3 pages 1273-1276 (2019) which seeks to cover the following issues: “States at the United Nations have begun negotiating a new treaty to strengthen the legal regime for marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Failure to ensure the full scope of fish biodiversity is covered could result in thousands of species continuing to slip through the cracks of a fragmented global ocean governance framework.”
The article, published 26th August 2019, states:

Over the past 70 years, commercial fisheries have expanded farther and deeper into the open ocean. [Ref.1,2,3,4 Note: either click on the ref. number for an online link or alternatively see the end of the article for the reference details] impacting many forms of marine biodiversity that exist in areas beyond national jurisdictions (ABNJ; generally, the area beyond 200 nautical miles from shore). [Ref 5,6]
The growth of other industries, such as shipping, has further expanded the presence of humans in the open ocean, while new activities, such as seabed mining, are on the horizon1.
These impacts are compounded by the effects of a changing climate, deoxygenation and ocean acidification. [Ref 7,8,9]

In 2017, after more than a decade of informal discussions at the United Nations (UN) regarding gaps in the legal framework for the conservation and management of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (known as the BBNJ process), states agreed to convene an intergovernmental conference for the negotiation of an legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (an ‘implementing agreement’) [Ref 10]

The agreement to launch the negotiations was partly achieved by the consensus that any new instrument “should not undermine existing legal instruments and frameworks and relevant global, regional and sectoral bodies”. [Ref 10] This has generally been assumed to mean that the new instrument should complement and strengthen the existing framework and prevent the adoption of weaker or dissonant management measures. However, a small number of states wish to see commercial fisheries (including all forms of fish biodiversity, which they group as a commercial resource whether or not it is harvested) excluded from a new agreement and are concerned that any new provisions will inevitably undermine existing fisheries management bodies.

However, there is a significant difference between the number of fish species subject to management and the number of fish species in ABNJ that may be impacted by commercial fishing activities. As fish are a major component of marine biodiversity in ABNJ and have a major role in marine ecosystem functioning, it is important to understand what regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) are in fact responsible for monitoring and managing.
Here, we contrast fish biodiversity estimates in ABNJ with a comprehensive database of existing fish population assessments to help delineate the current competencies of RFMOs and identify areas of improvement that could be addressed both through the new agreement as well as by strengthening the mandates and actions taken by such bodies.

We first describe the overarching legal framework for high-seas fisheries, then enumerate how many fish species are either targeted, affected or simply unstudied and potentially at risk of slipping through the cracks of the current management arrangements.
The final section analyses how these gaps are relevant to ongoing negotiations at the UN for a new treaty and concludes with specific recommendations.

Governance of high-seas fish

The 1982 UNCLOS defines the scope of maritime rights, jurisdictions, duties and activities in the ocean. In the high seas, beyond 200 nautical miles from shore, UNCLOS recognises the right of all states to engage in fishing. This right is subject to obligations, including a duty to cooperate in the adoption of management measures through the establishment of subregional or regional organisations (UNCLOS, Part VII, Articles 116 and 117).

The UN adopted a new implementing agreement under UNCLOS in 1995 for the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (UN Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA))11. The UNFSA provided an enhanced set of obligations for fisheries and ecosystem conservation and a stronger framework for cooperation through establishing RFMOs (regional management fisheries organisations, see here for additional information about RMFOs) as the principal mechanisms for fisheries management in ABNJ.

The UNFSA (The UN Fish Stocks Agreement) obliges states, acting individually and cooperating through RFMOs, to “assess the impacts of fishing, other human activities and environmental factors on target stocks and species belonging to the same ecosystem or associated with or dependent upon the target stocks” and assess impacts on “non-target and associated or dependent species and their environment” (UNFSA, Part II, Articles 5 and 6).

Further, they are required to: develop data collection and research programmes and plans to ensure the conservation of such species and protect habitats of special concern; protect biodiversity in the marine environment; and apply the precautionary approach widely, ensuring that caution is taken when information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate (UNFSA, Part II, Articles 5 and 6).

These obligations are substantial obligations, both in terms of assessing the impacts of fishing on non-target, associated or dependent species and even more so in regard to assessing the impacts of other human activities and environmental factors on these species.
The implementation of these obligations could be significantly enhanced by mechanisms established under a new treaty. These obligations, however, have never been formalised through specific taxonomic lists across RFMOs.

High-seas fisheries have been shown to have both direct and indirect impacts (for example, through trophic linkages) on a wide range of species beyond those targeted. [Ref 5]
Nevertheless, management and monitoring efforts remain focused largely on species of commercial importance without a systematic approach to assessing the status of or minimising the catch of, or impacts on, BBNJ (biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction) as a whole.
Recent studies regarding tuna management, for example, have shown that, although many of the elements necessary for ecosystem-based management are already present in the RFMO frameworks, they have been “implemented in an ad hoc way, without a long-term vision and a formalised plan”. [Ref 12]
Similar progress as well as significant shortcomings have been shown to exist within non-tuna RFMOs. [Ref 13]
This raises a basic question: what species are being actively assessed and managed by RFMOs and who is responsible for monitoring the impacts of fishing on fish species and biodiversity not actively being assessed and managed by RFMOs?

Scope of management in ABNJ

While UNCLOS and the UNFSA provide both a framework and detailed obligations of states for the governance and management of fisheries in ABNJ, they do not describe the specific scope of BBNJ that fall under the mandate of RFMOs.
To provide insight into the scope of unmanaged fish species, we describe known fish biodiversity in ABNJ and assess the degree to which their populations are being monitored. We calculated this by contrasting high-seas fish biodiversity estimates, from the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS;, with the RAM Legacy Stock Assessment Database [Ref 14], which reflects the number of (mostly target) harvested species that are being monitored and managed. [Ref 15,16]

We also contrasted the list of high-seas fish biodiversity against the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which provides another source of information about extinction status and abundance trends for some species.
Of the 4,018 fish species in the high seas recorded in OBIS, 42.4% did not show up on the IUCN Red List based on the scientific name taken from the OBIS record (which is drawn from the World Registry of Marine Species).
Of the 2,315 species with IUCN Red List records, the abundance trend of <1% was increasing, 17% were stable, 7% were decreasing and the remaining ~75% were either unknown or unavailable. Collectively, this means that 85.7% of the high-seas fish species do not have any information on population trends under the IUCN.
Of the same group of species with IUCN Red List records, 1,903 were labelled as Least Concern of extinction, which we found surprising since 57.8% of high-seas fish under OBIS have less than 10 records in the historic series.
The IUCN Red List portal suggests that “Least Concern or Data Deficient species may warrant reclassification” as more data become available (

The call by the UNFSA for RFMOs to assess the impacts of fishing on species belonging to the same ecosystem is quite daunting given the taxonomic diversity of high-seas ecosystems.
More ambitious taxonomic mandates of existing RFMOs are needed where such bodies have mandates that restrict their application to species potentially impacted by fisheries under their management.
The new high-seas treaty can help ensure that complementary management or monitoring frameworks can be developed for those species that are not currently being assessed (that is, approximately ~95% of fish biodiversity in ABNJ).
It is not economically feasible to conduct stock assessments for the almost 4,000 unmonitored species; however, other forms of abundance and status assessment are available.
It is also important to note that this study is limited to high-seas fish biodiversity, whereas the direct and indirect impacts of human activities in ABNJ extend to other taxonomic groups, including sea birds and marine invertebrates.

How much do we know about fish in ABNJ?

OBIS (Ocean Biogeographic Information System is a global open-access information clearinghouse for marine biodiversity observations.
OBIS contains records of 4,018 species observed in ABNJ, comprising the known fish biodiversity in the high seas. It is also worth noting that most of these recorded species are grossly understudied, as only a quarter (n = 1,098) have more than 10 records and almost a third (n = 1,224) have only one record in OBIS.

The abundance assessments available as part of the RAM Legacy Stock Assessment Database14 included 51 different methods of assessment, including stock assessments. Abundance or stock assessments, which are generally data intensive and require sophisticated modelling efforts, are primarily conducted for commercially valuable species.
These constraints have resulted in only 193, or 4.8%, of the observed fish species in ABNJ being assessed.
Most high-seas fish species (~95%) are not known to be targeted [Ref 17] or assessed by any RFMO or fishing state, yet may still be at risk from the impacts of fishing. [Ref 7]
It is important to note that in most cases a stock is only one population of a species, thus our estimate of percent species assessed would be far smaller if we considered individual stocks as opposed to entire species. We note that this knowledge gap affects fish biodiversity across various habitat types in the high seas including the deep-water column.

Species with slow growth and late maturity, as well as species with large range migration patterns, are particularly vulnerable to mismanagement and ecological extinction. [Ref 18]
One illustrative example is the status of migratory or possibly migratory chondrichthyan species (sharks, rays, skates, and sawfish and chimaeras).
A UN report found that out of the 1,093 species in the class Chondrichthyes, 153 are migratory or possibly migratory. [Ref 19] Of those migratory sharks and rays, 46% were classified as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered under the IUCN Red List and a further 23% were Data Deficient19.

We found that only 9 of the 153 (5.8%) migratory chondrichthyans had stock assessments or analogous assessment methods recorded in the RAM Legacy Stock Assessment Database, of which six are Vulnerable or Endangered according to the IUCN.
None of the nine species have had catch limits established.
The geographic and taxonomic limitations of existing abundance assessment repositories makes it difficult to ascertain the exact proportion of fish biodiversity in ABNJ that has been assessed.

Species assessment status. Representation of the number of stock assessments (n = 193; from the RAM Legacy Stock Assessment Database) for fish species in the high seas (n = 4,018; OBIS). High-seas fish species are separated by general habitat type (from The species comprising the group ‘Other’ (n = 87) were not assigned a habitat type on

Strengthening management

As UN members begin negotiating a landmark international treaty for high-seas biodiversity conservation, we stress the need to discuss and adopt an instrument that establishes or enhances mechanisms to assess impacts of fisheries non-target species.
These should include fish species and need to complement mechanisms already established by RFMOs.

If fisheries are exempted from a new high-seas treaty, fisheries impacts on non-fish biodiversity will also slip through the gaps of the new global ocean governance net.
Moreover, coverage of high-seas fish biodiversity through the new agreement could complement and enhance the strengthening of existing mechanisms and requirements for ecosystem approaches across all sectors including fisheries.
By providing common principles, obligations and standards for states, together with a more rigorous global review process to assess implementation and overall progress, the BBNJ treaty can help ensure that all organisations with management competency in ABNJ (including RFMOs) effectively and consistently apply an ecosystem approach and avoid or prevent adverse impacts on biodiversity as a whole.
The new agreement could also call for global mechanisms to fill geographic (for example, the Arctic or the Southwest Atlantic) and taxonomic governance gaps where regional and sectoral bodies cannot be developed, or mandates cannot be extended.
While the taxonomic mandates of existing RFMOs could be expanded, it is improbable and unrealistic to expect that this expansion would functionally lead to monitoring efforts across all “species belonging to the same ecosystem or associated with or dependent upon the target stocks” (UNFSA, Part II, Article 5).

Complementary approaches under the new treaty may include a call on regional seas organisations and global or regional observing systems to provide monitoring and assessment of cumulative impact on biodiversity (including fish biodiversity).
Any new agreement could also provide a global framework for how the interests of states not engaged in resource extraction in ABNJ may be considered in sectoral management bodies.

In addition, to implement an ecosystem approach to the conservation of high-seas biodiversity across all sectors, the new treaty will need to contain strong provisions for
(1) establishing and implementing cross-sectoral marine protected areas and applying other area-based management tools,
(2) requiring and guiding environmental impact assessments and strategic environmental assessments across all high-seas taxa and ecosystems13.

However, if fish are not considered part of the biodiversity covered by a new treaty, no area-based management tools or environmental impact assessments will be designed and implemented for their conservation under the agreement.
On the contrary, by including fish as part of the agreement whether explicitly or implicitly, the agreement would probably enhance the capacity of states and RFMOs to assess the impacts of fisheries, other human activities and the environment on non-target, associated or dependent species or species belonging to the same ecosystems.
This would enhance implementation of the UNFSA, probably lead to better conservation of such species and, crucially for RFMOs, help identify impacts of other activities on fish populations, including cumulative impacts, and actions needed by other sectors to conserve fish biodiversity as well.

Mechanisms to enhance cooperation and data sharing among sectors and competent organisations will be critical to the successful implementation of an ecosystem approach through the new instrument.
In particular, there is a strong role for existing entities such as OBIS and the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) to support the development of data standards and means of dissemination to operationalise data sharing and improve data streams used by fisheries managers and other sectors.
Such a recommendation could be supported globally as part of the UN Decade for Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. Institutionalising cross-sectoral support for coordinated monitoring programmes is the only possible means of moving towards more holistic assessment and conservation of the remaining ~95% of fish biodiversity, as well as high-seas biodiversity as a whole.

As fisheries management can benefit from improved biodiversity data being fed into their data streams from groups such as OBIS and GOOS, so too should RFMO members contribute to the data streams used to manage other sectors via global data clearinghouses; which may require reinforcing the coverage of fisheries observer programmes to enable the collection of biodiversity data across regions and fisheries.
A new treaty could provide consistent obligations across sectors for member countries to transparently share detailed biodiversity data (for example, catch/bycatch documentation by RFMO member countries) to the global community at appropriate spatial, temporal and taxonomic resolutions.

RFMOs are in a unique position to both benefit from and contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of BBNJ under a new international legally binding instrument. They have a specific mandate to monitor and manage the impacts of fisheries on target species and associated species or species belonging to the same ecosystem, which should not be undermined, but rather their capacity to implement this mandate enhanced by a new treaty.
However, the taxonomic vagueness of their mandate and current assessment efforts has created a governance vacuum for ~95% of fish biodiversity in ABNJ. Despite being fish species, they are not assessed by fisheries management organisations, nor are they being considered as part of the biodiversity to be monitored by a new international treaty.
To close the legal gaps under existing frameworks that allow thousands of fish species potentially impacted by fisheries and other activities to slip through the cracks of global ocean governance, fish biodiversity needs to be addressed in the new BBNJ treaty.

Also, see Marinet commentary below.

Source: Nature Ecology and Environment Vol. 3 pages 1273-1276 (2019). For the full article, see

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Marinet observes: Is there a future for our seas and oceans which sustains their biodiversity and ecological structure?

Is it possible to visualise a future where mankind has developed its management of overall global economic activity and its consequential environmental impact so that the marine world is no longer ravaged by the threats from over-fishing, acidification and their ilk?

These are questions that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (viz. Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement) and the UN Law of the Sea and its proposed “High Seas Treaty” are being asked to address.

In turn, will they provide the answers thus enabling mankind to regulate its economic activity to ensure that global ecological structures at planetary level (both in the terrestrial, atmospheric and oceanic spheres) can stabilise and endure?

These are the key questions for us in the 21st Century.

As far as the oceans are concerned, Marinet observes that the concluding sentences of the article reported here indicate what is required of the proposed UN “High Seas Treaty”:

“RFMOs [regional management fishery organisations] are in a unique position to both benefit from and contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of BBNJ [marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction] under a new international legally binding instrument. They have a specific mandate to monitor and manage the impacts of fisheries on target species and associated species or species belonging to the same ecosystem, which should not be undermined, but rather their capacity to implement this mandate enhanced by a new treaty.

However, the taxonomic vagueness of their mandate and current assessment efforts has created a governance vacuum for ~95% of fish biodiversity in ABNJ [marine areas beyond national jurisdiction]. Despite being fish species, they are not assessed by fisheries management organisations, nor are they being considered as part of the biodiversity to be monitored by a new international treaty.

To close the legal gaps under existing frameworks that allow thousands of fish species potentially impacted by fisheries and other activities to slip through the cracks of global ocean governance, fish biodiversity needs to be addressed in the new BBNJ treaty.”

In other words, management instruments exist — the regional management fishery organisation (RMFOs) — as well as a legal framework to support their legitimacy (e.g. UN Law of the Sea and its associated Implementing Agreements), but at the present time none of these instruments are functioning adequately e.g. RMFOs are presently uninvolved with around 95% of fish biodiversity and are uninvolved with the human activity that is impacting on this biodiversity and other marine non-fish species.

Will the proposed new UN “High Seas Treaty” (currently under negotiation) be the game changer that is required?

Marinet wants to be an optimist. However reality informs us that there are significant players at UN level who want to see fisheries management in the high seas ruled out of the new Treaty, and we also have to note that a recent proposal of the conservation lobby in connection with this new Treaty wants to see Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) being used as a significant instrument in the management of human activity in the ocean (e.g. 30% of the ocean being designated as MPAs) but has designed its proposal in such a way that it excludes management of fishery activity. In addition, the UN has established an International Seabed Authority with a brief to govern the exploration and then the licensing of the mining of the deep ocean seabed for minerals, see here.

So if this is an accurate portrait of the omens, what does someone like you — who obviously cares or you wouldn’t still be reading this — do?

If we knew a simple answer to that question, we’d tell you. However may we tentatively suggest that because it is Marinet that is putting this question to you, then the possibility of you working in conjunction with Marinet might enable both of us to find the answer. If that makes sense, please get in touch.


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Ocean Acidification due to elevated atmospheric CO2 levels : an explanation

We provide here an article, based on a Smithsonian Institute background paper, which explains the process leading to the current reduction in the alkalinity of the ocean (acidification) and the related hypotheses and thinking about the consequences.

This reduction in the ocean’s alkalinity is directly attributable to elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, 50% of these elevated levels having been generated by worldwide human activity over the last 30 years.

It is believed that the measurement of ocean alkalinity, a complicated science which has only been developed in very recent times (during the last 100 years), has measured a fall in ocean alkalinity from pH 8.2 to pH 8.1. As the pH scale is logarithmic, this 0.1 pH decline represents a reduction of around 25% in the ocean’s alkalinity.

It is believed, based on projections made using present scientific methodology, that if the current levels of increase in atmospheric levels of CO2 continue, then additional absorption of CO2 by the oceans may lead to a further drop in pH levels by 0.4 pH or greater.

The significance of this, which is largely untested scientifically because there appears to be no parallel in historically observable/detectable geological experience, is that marine life with internal calcium carbonate skeletons (e.g. fish, mammals) and external calcium carbonate skeletons (e.g. crustacean, zoo- and phytoplankton) may find their ability to extract calcium carbonate from sea water diminished (e.g. a kind of osteoporosis).

Marinet is publishing this item, based on the Smithsonian Institute article, because Marinet believes that this dimension of the global CO2 phenomenon is remaining largely ignored at the present time when it is, in fact, as great an imperative to driving reform in fossil fuel use in the 21st Century as atmospheric and terrestrial climate change — if not more so, as the relevance of the ecological health of the ocean is fundamental to life on this planet and, if compromised, the consequences could be of a very profound order.

Smithsonian ocean acidification

Ocean Acidification


by The Ocean Portal Team
Reviewed by Jennifer Bennett (NOAA)

Ocean acidification is sometimes called “climate change’s equally evil twin,” and for good reason: it’s a significant and harmful consequence of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere [See the end notes to this article for Historic Global Atmospheric CO2 levels during the course the last 1000 years] that we don’t see or feel because its effects are happening underwater. At least one-quarter of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released by burning coal, oil and gas doesn’t stay in the air, but instead dissolves into the ocean. Since the beginning of the industrial era, the ocean has absorbed some 525 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, presently around 22 million tons per day.

At first, scientists thought that this might be a good thing because it leaves less carbon dioxide in the air to warm the planet. But in the past decade, they’ve realized that this slowed warming has come at the cost of changing the ocean’s chemistry. When carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater, the water becomes more acidic and the ocean’s pH (a measure of how acidic or basic the ocean is) drops. Even though the ocean is immense, enough carbon dioxide can have a major impact. In the past 200 years alone, ocean water has become 30 percent more acidic — faster than any known change in ocean chemistry in the last 50 million years.

Scientists formerly didn’t worry about this process because they always assumed that rivers carried enough dissolved chemicals from rocks to the ocean to keep the ocean’s pH stable. (Scientists call this stabilizing effect “buffering.”) But so much carbon dioxide is dissolving into the ocean so quickly that this natural buffering hasn’t been able to keep up, resulting in relatively rapidly dropping pH in surface waters. As those surface layers gradually mix into deep water, the entire ocean is affected.

Such a relatively quick change in ocean chemistry doesn’t give marine life, which evolved over millions of years in an ocean with a generally stable pH, much time to adapt. In fact, the shells of some animals are already dissolving in the more acidic seawater, and that’s just one way that acidification may affect ocean life. Overall, it’s expected to have dramatic and mostly negative impacts on ocean ecosystems — although some species (especially those that live in estuaries) are finding ways to adapt to the changing conditions.

However, while the chemistry is predictable, the details of the biological impacts are not. Although scientists have been tracking ocean pH for more than 30 years, biological studies really only started in 2003, when the rapid shift caught their attention and the term “ocean acidification” was first coined. What we do know is that things are going to look different, and we can’t predict in any detail how they will look. Some organisms will survive or even thrive under the more acidic conditions while others will struggle to adapt, and may even go extinct. Beyond lost biodiversity, acidification will affect fisheries and aquaculture, threatening food security for millions of people, as well as tourism and other sea-related economies.

Acidification Chemistry

At its core, the issue of ocean acidification is simple chemistry. There are two important things to remember about what happens when carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater. First, the pH of seawater water gets lower as it becomes more acidic. Second, this process binds up carbonate ions and makes them less abundant — ions that corals, oysters, mussels, and many other shelled organisms need to build shells and skeletons.

A More Acidic Ocean

This graph shows rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, rising CO2 levels in the ocean, and decreasing pH in the water off the coast of Hawaii. (NOAA PMEL Carbon Program (Link))

Carbon dioxide is naturally in the air: plants need it to grow, and animals exhale it when they breathe. But, thanks to people burning fuels, there is now more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than anytime in the past 15 million years. Most of this CO2 collects in the atmosphere and, because it absorbs heat from the sun, creates a blanket around the planet, warming its temperature. But some 30 percent of this CO2 dissolves into seawater, where it doesn’t remain as floating CO2 molecules. A series of chemical changes break down the CO2 molecules and recombine them with others.

When water (H2O) and CO2 mix, they combine to form carbonic acid (H2CO3). Carbonic acid is weak compared to some of the well-known acids that break down solids, such as hydrochloric acid (the main ingredient in gastric acid, which digests food in your stomach) and sulphuric acid (the main ingredient in car batteries, which can burn your skin with just a drop). The weaker carbonic acid may not act as quickly, but it works the same way as all acids: it releases hydrogen ions (H+), which bond with other molecules in the area.

Seawater that has more hydrogen ions is more acidic by definition, and it also has a lower pH. In fact, the definitions of acidification terms — acidity, H+, pH — are interlinked: acidity describes how many H+ ions are in a solution; an acid is a substance that releases H+ ions; and pH is the scale used to measure the concentration of H+ ions.

The lower the pH, the more acidic the solution. The pH scale goes from extremely basic at 14 (lye has a pH of 13) to extremely acidic at 1 (lemon juice has a pH of 2), with a pH of 7 being neutral (neither acidic or basic). The ocean itself is not actually acidic in the sense of having a pH less than 7, and it won’t become acidic even with all the CO2 that is dissolving into the ocean. But the changes in the direction of increasing acidity are still dramatic.

So far, ocean pH has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1 since the industrial revolution, and is expected by fall another 0.3 to 0.4 pH units by the end of the century. A drop in pH of 0.1 might not seem like a lot, but the pH scale, like the Richter scale for measuring earthquakes, is logarithmic. For example, pH 4 is ten times more acidic than pH 5 and 100 times (10 times 10) more acidic than pH 6. If we continue to add carbon dioxide at current rates, seawater pH may drop another 120 percent by the end of this century, to 7.8 or 7.7, creating an ocean more acidic than any seen for the past 20 million years or more.

Why Acidity Matters

The acidic waters from the CO2 seeps can dissolve shells and also make it harder for shells to grow in the first place. (Laetitia Plaisance)

Many chemical reactions, including those that are essential for life, are sensitive to small changes in pH. In humans, for example, normal blood pH ranges between 7.35 and 7.45. A drop in blood pH of 0.2-0.3 can cause seizures, comas, and even death. Similarly, a small change in the pH of seawater can have harmful effects on marine life, impacting chemical communication, reproduction, and growth.

The building of skeletons in marine creatures is particularly sensitive to acidity. One of the molecules that hydrogen ions bond with is carbonate (CO3-2), a key component of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) shells. To make calcium carbonate, shell-building marine animals such as corals and oysters combine a calcium ion (Ca+2) with carbonate (CO3-2) from surrounding seawater, releasing carbon dioxide and water in the process.

Like calcium ions, hydrogen ions tend to bond with carbonate — but they have a greater attraction to carbonate than calcium. When a hydrogen bonds with carbonate, a bicarbonate ion (HCO3-) is formed. Shell-building organisms can’t extract the carbonate ion they need from bicarbonate, preventing them from using that carbonate to grow new shell. In this way, the hydrogen essentially binds up the carbonate ions, making it harder for shelled animals to build their homes. Even if animals are able to build skeletons in more acidic water, they may have to spend more energy to do so, taking away resources from other activities like reproduction. If there are too many hydrogen ions around and not enough molecules for them to bond with, they can even begin breaking existing calcium carbonate molecules apart — dissolving shells that already exist.

This is just one process that extra hydrogen ions — caused by dissolving carbon dioxide — may interfere with in the ocean. Organisms in the water, thus, have to learn to survive as the water around them has an increasing concentration of carbonate-hogging hydrogen ions.

Impacts on Ocean Life

The pH of the ocean fluctuates within limits as a result of natural processes, and ocean organisms are well-adapted to survive the changes that they normally experience. Some marine species may be able to adapt to more extreme changes — but many will suffer, and there will likely be extinctions. We can’t know this for sure, but during the last great acidification event 55 million years ago, there were mass extinctions in some species including deep sea invertebrates. A more acidic ocean won’t destroy all marine life in the sea, but the rise in seawater acidity of 30 percent that we have already seen is already affecting some ocean organisms.

Coral Reefs

Branching corals, because of their more fragile structure, struggle to live in acidified waters around natural carbon dioxide seeps, a model for a more acidic future ocean.(Laetitia Plaisance)

Reef-building corals craft their own homes from calcium carbonate, forming complex reefs that house the coral animals themselves and provide habitat for many other organisms. Acidification may limit coral growth by corroding pre-existing coral skeletons while simultaneously slowing the growth of new ones, and the weaker reefs that result will be more vulnerable to erosion. This erosion will come not only from storm waves, but also from animals that drill into or eat coral. A recent study predicts that by roughly 2080 ocean conditions will be so acidic that even otherwise healthy coral reefs will be eroding more quickly than they can rebuild.

Acidification may also impact corals before they even begin constructing their homes. The eggs and larvae of only a few coral species have been studied, and more acidic water didn’t hurt their development while they were still in the plankton. However, larvae in acidic water had more trouble finding a good place to settle, preventing them from reaching adulthood.

How much trouble corals run into will vary by species. Some types of coral can use bicarbonate instead of carbonate ions to build their skeletons, which gives them more options in an acidifying ocean. Some can survive without a skeleton and return to normal skeleton-building activities once the water returns to a more comfortable pH. Others can handle a wider pH range.

Nonetheless, in the next century we will see the common types of coral found in reefs shifting — though we can’t be entirely certain what that change will look like. On reefs in Papua New Guinea that are affected by natural carbon dioxide seeps, big boulder colonies have taken over and the delicately branching forms have disappeared, probably because their thin branches are more susceptible to dissolving. This change is also likely to affect the many thousands of organisms that live among the coral, including those that people fish and eat, in unpredictable ways. In addition, acidification gets piled on top of all the other stresses that reefs have been suffering from, such as warming water (which causes another threat to reefs known as coral bleaching), pollution, and overfishing.

Oysters, Mussels, Urchins And Starfish

Ochre seastars (Pisaster ochraceus) feed on mussels off the coast of Oregon.
(Susanne Skyrm/Marine Photobank)

Generally, shelled animals — including mussels, clams, urchins and starfish — are going to have trouble building their shells in more acidic water, just like the corals. Mussels and oysters are expected to grow less shell by 25 percent and 10 percent respectively by the end of the century. Urchins and starfish aren’t as well studied, but they build their shell-like parts from high-magnesium calcite, a type of calcium carbonate that dissolves even more quickly than the aragonite form of calcium carbonate that corals use. This means a weaker shell for these organisms, increasing the chance of being crushed or eaten.

Some of the major impacts on these organisms go beyond adult shell-building, however. Mussels’ byssal threads, with which they famously cling to rocks in the pounding surf, can’t hold on as well in acidic water. Meanwhile, oyster larvae fail to even begin growing their shells. In their first 48 hours of life, oyster larvae undergo a massive growth spurt, building their shells quickly so they can start feeding. But the more acidic seawater eats away at their shells before they can form; this has already caused massive oyster die-offs in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

This massive failure isn’t universal, however: studies have found that crustaceans (such as lobsters, crabs, and shrimp) grow even stronger shells under higher acidity. This may be because their shells are constructed differently. Additionally, some species may have already adapted to higher acidity or have the ability to do so, such as purple sea urchins. (Although a new study found that larval urchins have trouble digesting their food under raised acidity.)

Of course, the loss of these organisms would have much larger effects in the food chain, as they are food and habitat for many other animals.

Benjamin Drummond + Sara Steele


This pair of sea butterflies (Limacina helicina) flutter not far from the ocean’s surface in the Arctic. (Courtesy of Alexander Semenov, Flickr)

There are two major types of zooplankton (tiny drifting animals) that build shells made of calcium carbonate: foraminifera and pteropods. They may be small, but they are big players in the food webs of the ocean, as almost all larger life eats zooplankton or other animals that eat zooplankton. They are also critical to the carbon cycle — how carbon (as carbon dioxide and calcium carbonate) moves between air, land and sea. Oceans contain the greatest amount of actively cycled carbon in the world and are also very important in storing carbon. When shelled zooplankton (as well as shelled phytoplankton) die and sink to the seafloor, they carry their calcium carbonate shells with them, which are deposited as rock or sediment and stored for the foreseeable future. This is an important way that carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere, slowing the rise in temperature caused by the greenhouse effect.

These tiny organisms reproduce so quickly that they may be able to adapt to acidity better than large, slow-reproducing animals. However, experiments in the lab and at carbon dioxide seeps (where pH is naturally low) have found that foraminifera do not handle higher acidity very well, as their shells dissolve rapidly. One study even predicts that foraminifera from tropical areas will be extinct by the end of the century.

The shells of pteropods are already dissolving in the Southern Ocean, where more acidic water from the deep sea rises to the surface, hastening the effects of acidification caused by human-derived carbon dioxide. Like corals, these sea snails are particularly susceptible because their shells are made of aragonite, a delicate form of calcium carbonate that is 50 percent more soluble in seawater.

One big unknown is whether acidification will affect jellyfish populations. In this case, the fear is that they will survive unharmed. Jellyfish compete with fish and other predators for food—mainly smaller zooplankton—and they also eat young fish themselves. If jellyfish thrive under warm and more acidic conditions while most other organisms suffer, it’s possible that jellies will dominate some ecosystems (a problem already seen in parts of the ocean).

Plants And Algae

Neptune grass (Posidonia oceanica) is a slow-growing and long-lived seagrass native to the Mediterranean. (Gaynor Rosier/Marine Photobank)

Plants and many algae may thrive under acidic conditions. These organisms make their energy from combining sunlight and carbon dioxide — so more carbon dioxide in the water doesn’t hurt them, but helps.

Seagrasses form shallow-water ecosystems along coasts that serve as nurseries for many larger fish, and can be home to thousands of different organisms. Under more acidic lab conditions, they were able to reproduce better, grow taller, and grow deeper roots — all good things. However, they are in decline for a number of other reasons — especially pollution flowing into coastal seawater — and it’s unlikely that this boost from acidification will compensate entirely for losses caused by these other stresses.

Some species of algae grow better under more acidic conditions with the boost in carbon dioxide. But coralline algae, which build calcium carbonate skeletons and help cement coral reefs, do not fare so well. Most coralline algae species build shells from the high-magnesium calcite form of calcium carbonate, which is more soluble than the aragonite or regular calcite forms. One study found that, in acidifying conditions, coralline algae covered 92 percent less area, making space for other types of non-calcifying algae, which can smother and damage coral reefs. This is doubly bad because many coral larvae prefer to settle onto coralline algae when they are ready to leave the plankton stage and start life on a coral reef.

One major group of phytoplankton (single celled algae that float and grow in surface waters), the coccolithophores, grows shells. Early studies found that, like other shelled animals, their shells weakened, making them susceptible to damage. But a longer-term study let a common coccolithophore (Emiliania huxleyi) reproduce for 700 generations, taking about 12 full months, in the warmer and more acidic conditions expected to become reality in 100 years. The population was able to adapt, growing strong shells. It could be that they just needed more time to adapt, or that adaptation varies species by species or even population by population.


Two bright orange anemonefish poke their heads between anemone tentacles. (Flickr user Jenny Huang (JennyHuang)/EOL)

While fish don’t have shells, they will still feel the effects of acidification. Because the surrounding water has a lower pH, a fish’s cells often come into balance with the seawater by taking in carbonic acid. This changes the pH of the fish’s blood, a condition called acidosis.

Although the fish is then in harmony with its environment, many of the chemical reactions that take place in its body can be altered. Just a small change in pH can make a huge difference in survival. In humans, for instance, a drop in blood pH of 0.2-0.3 can cause seizures, comas, and even death. Likewise, a fish is also sensitive to pH and has to put its body into overdrive to bring its chemistry back to normal. To do so, it will burn extra energy to excrete the excess acid out of its blood through its gills, kidneys and intestines. It might not seem like this would use a lot of energy, but even a slight increase reduces the energy a fish has to take care of other tasks, such as digesting food, swimming rapidly to escape predators or catch food, and reproducing. It can also slow fishes growth.

Even slightly more acidic water may also affects fishes’ minds. While clownfish can normally hear and avoid noisy predators, in more acidic water, they do not flee threatening noise. Clownfish also stray farther from home and have trouble “smelling” their way back. This may happen because acidification, which changes the pH of a fish’s body and brain, could alter how the brain processes information. Additionally, cobia (a kind of popular game fish) grow larger otoliths — small ear bones that affect hearing and balance — in more acidic water, which could affect their ability to navigate and avoid prey. While there is still a lot to learn, these findings suggest that we may see unpredictable changes in animal behavior under acidification.

The ability to adapt to higher acidity will vary from fish species to fish species, and what qualities will help or hurt a given fish species is unknown. A shift in dominant fish species could have major impacts on the food web and on human fisheries.

Studying Acidification: In The Past

An archaeologist arranges a deep-sea core from off the coast of Britain.
(Wessex Archaeology, Flickr)

Geologists study the potential effects of acidification by digging into Earth’s past when ocean carbon dioxide and temperature were similar to conditions found today. One way is to study cores, soil and rock samples taken from the surface to deep in the Earth’s crust, with layers that go back 65 million years. The chemical composition of fossils in cores from the deep ocean show that it’s been 35 million years since the Earth last experienced today’s high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. But to predict the future — what the Earth might look like at the end of the century — geologists have to look back another 20 million years.

Some 55.8 million years ago, massive amounts of carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere, and temperatures rose by about 9°F (5°C), a period known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Scientists don’t yet know why this happened, but there are several possibilities: intense volcanic activity, breakdown of ocean sediments, or widespread fires that burned forests, peat, and coal. Like today, the pH of the deep ocean dropped quickly as carbon dioxide rapidly rose, causing a sudden “dissolution event” in which so much of the shelled sea life disappeared that the sediment changed from primarily white calcium carbonate “chalk” to red-brown mud.

Looking even farther back — about 300 million years — geologists see a number of changes that share many of the characteristics of today’s human-driven ocean acidification, including the near-disappearance of coral reefs. However, no past event perfectly mimics the conditions we’re seeing today. The main difference is that, today, CO2 levels are rising at an unprecedented rate — even faster than during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.

In The Lab

GEOMAR scientist Armin Form works at his lab during a long-term experiment on the effects of lower pH, higher temperatures and “food stress” on the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa. (Solvin Zankl)

Another way to study how marine organisms in today’s ocean might respond to more acidic seawater is to perform controlled laboratory experiments. Researchers will often place organisms in tanks of water with different pH levels to see how they fare and whether they adapt to the conditions. They’re not just looking for shell-building ability; researchers also study their behaviour, energy use, immune response and reproductive success. They also look at different life stages of the same species because sometimes an adult will easily adapt, but young larvae will not — or vice versa. Studying the effects of acidification with other stressors such as warming and pollution, is also important, since acidification is not the only way that humans are changing the oceans.

In the wild, however, those algae, plants, and animals are not living in isolation: they’re part of communities of many organisms. So some researchers have looked at the effects of acidification on the interactions between species in the lab, often between prey and predator. Results can be complex. In more acidic seawater, a snail called the common periwinkle (Littorina littoreabuilds a weaker shell and avoids crab predators — but in the process, may also spend less time looking for food. Boring sponges drill into coral skeletons and scallop shells more quickly. And the late-stage larvae of black-finned clownfish lose their ability to smell the difference between predators and non-predators, even becoming attracted to predators.

Although the current rate of ocean acidification is higher than during past (natural) events, it’s still not happening all at once. So short-term studies of acidification’s effects might not uncover the potential for some populations or species to acclimate to or adapt to decreasing ocean pH. For example, the deepwater coral Lophelia pertusa shows a significant decline in its ability to maintain its calcium-carbonate skeleton during the first week of exposure to decreased pH. But after six months in acidified seawater, the coral had adjusted to the new conditions and returned to a normal growth rate.

Natural Variation

Off the coast of Papua New Guinea, CO2 bubbles out of volcanic vents in the reef. The excess carbon dioxide dissolves into the surrounding seawater, making water more acidic — as we would expect to see in the future due to the burning of fossil fuels. (Laetitia Plaisance)

There are places scattered throughout the ocean where cool CO2-rich water bubbles from volcanic vents, lowering the pH in surrounding waters. Scientists study these unusual communities for clues to what an acidified ocean will look like.

Researchers working off the Italian coast compared the ability of 79 species of bottom-dwelling invertebrates to settle in areas at different distances from CO2 vents. For most species, including worms, mollusks, and crustaceans, the closer to the vent (and the more acidic the water), the fewer the number of individuals that were able to colonize or survive. Algae and animals that need abundant calcium-carbonate, like reef-building corals, snails, barnacles, sea urchins, and coralline algae, were absent or much less abundant in acidified water, which were dominated by dense stands of sea grass and brown algae. Only one species, the polychaete worm Syllis prolifers, was more abundant in lower pH water. The effects of carbon dioxide seeps on a coral reef in Papua New Guinea were also dramatic, with large boulder corals replacing complex branching forms and, in some places, with sand, rubble and algae beds replacing corals entirely.

All of these studies provide strong evidence that an acidified ocean will look quite different from today’s ocean. Some species will soldier on while others will decrease or go extinct — and altogether the ocean’s various habitats will no longer provide the diversity we depend on.

Field Experiments

By pumping enormous test tubes that are 60-feet deep and hold almost 15,000 gallons of water with carbon dioxide to make the water inside more acidic, researchers can study how zooplankton, phytoplankton and other small organisms will adapt in the wild. (© Yves Gladu)

One challenge of studying acidification in the lab is that you can only really look at a couple species at a time. To study whole ecosystems — including the many other environmental effects beyond acidification, including warming, pollution, and overfishing — scientists need to do it in the field.

The biggest field experiment underway studying acidification is the Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification (BIOACID) project. Scientists from five European countries built ten mesocosms — essentially giant test tubes 60-feet deep that hold almost 15,000 gallons of water — and placed them in the Swedish Gullmar Fjord. After letting plankton and other tiny organisms drift or swim in, the researchers sealed the test tubes and decreased the pH to 7.8, the expected acidity for 2100, in half of them. Now they are waiting to see how the organisms will react, and whether they’re able to adapt. If this experiment, one of the first of its kind, is successful, it can be repeated in different ocean areas around the world.

Looking to the Future

If the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stabilizes, eventually buffering (or neutralizing) will occur and pH will return to normal. This is why there are periods in the past with much higher levels of carbon dioxide but no evidence of ocean acidification: the rate of carbon dioxide increase was slower, so the ocean had time to buffer and adapt. But this time, pH is dropping too quickly. Buffering will take thousands of years, which is way too long a period of time for the ocean organisms affected now and in the near future.

So far, the signs of acidification visible to humans are few. But they will only increase as more carbon dioxide dissolves into seawater over time. What can we do to stop it?

Cut Carbon Emissions

When we use fossil fuels to power our cars, homes, and businesses, we put heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Sarah Leen/National Geographic Society)

In 2013, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million (ppm) — higher than at any time in the last one million years (and maybe even 25 million years). The “safe” level of carbon dioxide is around 350 ppm, a milestone we passed in 1988. Without ocean absorption, atmospheric carbon dioxide would be even higher — closer to 475 ppm.

The most realistic way to lower this number — or to keep it from getting astronomically higher — would be to reduce our carbon emissions by burning less fossil fuels and finding more carbon sinks, such as regrowing mangroves, seagrass beds, and marshes, known as blue carbon. If we did, over hundreds of thousands of years, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and ocean would stabilize again.

Even if we stopped emitting all carbon right now, ocean acidification would not end immediately. This is because there is a lag between changing our emissions and when we start to feel the effects. It’s kind of like making a short stop while driving a car: even if you slam the brakes, the car will still move for tens or hundreds of feet before coming to a halt. The same thing happens with emissions, but instead of stopping a moving vehicle, the climate will continue to change, the atmosphere will continue to warm and the ocean will continue to acidify. Carbon dioxide typically lasts in the atmosphere for hundreds of years; in the ocean, this effect is amplified further as more acidic ocean waters mix with deep water over a cycle that also lasts hundreds of years.


The bright, brilliant swirls of blue and green seen from space are a phytoplankton bloom in the Barents Sea. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

It’s possible that we will develop technologies that can help us reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide or the acidity of the ocean more quickly or without needing to cut carbon emissions very drastically. Because such solutions would require us to deliberately manipulate planetary systems and the biosphere (whether through the atmosphere, ocean, or other natural systems), such solutions are grouped under the title “geoengineering.”

The main effect of increasing carbon dioxide that weighs on people’s minds is the warming of the planet. Some geoengineering proposals address this through various ways of reflecting sunlight — and thus excess heat — back into space from the atmosphere. This could be done by releasing particles into the high atmosphere, which act like tiny, reflecting mirrors, or even by putting giant reflecting mirrors in orbit! However, this solution does nothing to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and this carbon dioxide would continue to dissolve into the ocean and cause acidification.

Another idea is to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by growing more of the organisms that use it up: phytoplanktonAdding iron or other fertilizers to the ocean could cause man-made phytoplankton blooms. This phytoplankton would then absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and then, after death, sink down and trap it in the deep sea. However, it’s unknown how this would affect marine food webs that depend on phytoplankton, or whether this would just cause the deep sea to become more acidic itself.

What You Can Do

A beach clean-up in Malaysia brings young people together to care for their coastline.(Liew Shan Sern/Marine Photobank)

Even though the ocean may seem far away from your front door, there are things you can do in your life and in your home that can help to slow ocean acidification and carbon dioxide emissions.

The best thing you can do is to try and lower how much carbon dioxide you use every day. Try to reduce your energy use at home by recycling, turning off unused lights, walking or biking short distances instead of driving, using public transportation, and supporting clean energy, such as solar, wind, and geothermal power. Even the simple act of checking your tire pressure (or asking your parents to check theirs) can lower gas consumption and reduce your carbon footprint. (Calculate your carbon footprint here.)

One of the most important things you can do is to tell your friends and family about ocean acidification. Because scientists only noticed what a big problem it is fairly recently, a lot of people still don’t know it is happening. So talk about it! Educate your classmates, coworkers and friends about how acidification will affect the amazing ocean animals that provide food, income, and beauty to billions of people around the world.

Additional Resources

NOAA Ocean Acidification Program
What is Ocean Acidification? – NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) Carbon Program
Impacts of Ocean Acidification – European Science Foundation
Covering Ocean Acidification: Chemistry and Considerations – Yale Climate Media Forum
An Introduction to the Chemistry of Ocean Acidification – Skeptical Science
Frequently Asked Questions about Ocean Acidification – BIOACID
Ocean Acidification at Point Reyes National Seashore (Video) – National Park Service

News Articles
Sea Change (Seattle Times)
Bad acid trip: A beach bum’s guide to ocean acidification (Grist)
What Does Ocean Acidification Mean for Sea Life? (Ensia)
10 Key Findings From a Rapidly Acidifying Arctic Ocean (Mother Jones)

Scientific Papers
Ocean Acidification and Its Potential Effects on Marine Ecosystems – John Guinotte & Victoria Fabry
Impacts of ocean acidification on marine fauna and ecosystem processes – Victoria Fabry, Brad Seibel, Richard Feely, & James Orr


Historic Global CO2 Levels in the Atmosphere since 1000 AD



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We’re Listening – A new perspective emerging in marine dredging

To borrow the catchphrase of Dr Frasier Crane “I’m listening” I wanted to share the experience Stephen Eades and I had on 20th June in London that brought this to mind.

For years Marinet attended the East Channel Dredging Association (ECA) meetings where we constantly raised the issue about discharged dredging waters from the dredging vessels and their potentially damaging plume effects of mud and sediment on marine habitats. Constantly we were fobbed off with ECA saying that this was not an issue.

So you can imagine our surprise and pleasure when attending the book launch of Dredging for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Institution of Civil Engineers HQ, 1 St George Street in London we were presented with eight chapters engaging directly with lots of the environmental and design issues we have brought to the attention of Mark Russell BMAPA (British Marine Aggregate Producers Association) years ago.

This book is a collaboration between CEDA (Central Dredging Association) and IADC (International Association of Dredging Contractors) and is a guide to how to deliver sustainable dredging projects.

It is as you can imagine, an economic-driven document. But central to the guidance is that best practice is learnt through past lessons drawn from projects which presented learning points.

Stakeholder involvement is key to understanding what is a successful outcome, along with the question: have additional benefits been gained beyond what was first anticipated? By accepting this premise and paying closer attention to it at the planning stage and during delivery of the project saves time and finance in the long run.

Also, a key focus in the design of dredging projects should be how the project brings “added value” to natural, economic and social systems.  The book explains that added value in economic and social terms means making clear how the economy becomes richer as a result of the project and, in social terms, how the local community and wider society derives benefits which were not enjoyed before.

How dredging brings added value to natural systems when dredging is essentially mining and removing material and natural habitat is a key question Marinet sought to explore further at the CEDA book launch. 

CEDA acknowledges that environmental and ecological damage is caused in the short-term but if the project is designed properly it can still leave in the dredging area sufficient features of the original habitat to enable marine life to re-colonise and once again prosper. Where dredging is removing spoil, at times contaminated spoil, from estuaries to maintain shipping access to ports the dredged spoil can be used to rebuild coastal areas, such as salt marshes which are currently being eroded and disappearing.

Marinet recognises this opportunity to build added value for natural systems and to limit dredging to a scale that allows natural systems to recover, but the key is the actual evidence — documented scientific evidence assembled at end of licence — which demonstrates this and, most importantly, is published and placed in the public domain to inform debate and serve as an example for the future.

CEDA agrees that greater emphasis on evidence-based reporting of the outcome of dredging projects is clearly desirable and probably not yet adequate and, in response to a suggestion by Marinet that EIA Regulations need to be stronger in this regard, said there is probably room for legislative improvement too.

Both of I and Stephen felt that, although not fully in the brief, the direction of the industry and CEDA is on track. We feel that this book will provide clear help in the evaluation of future dredging applications and with it we can hold the applicant to greater account.

The greatest challenge the industry now has to face is, in common with the UK health service (NHS), the need to get all involved in the evaluation of projects so that blame is not the main issue but constructive learning is.

David Levy


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When is a Marine Protected Area real or an illusion?

Marinet reports: The UK Government has announced, 31st May 2019, that the Marine Conservation Zone Network for England — part of the UK’s “Blue Belt” programme of marine protected areas (MPAs) has been extended by 41 new sites, bringing the overall total to 91 sites.

The UK government’s news release states: “With 50 zones already designated in 2013 and 2016, the UK now has 355 Marine Protected Areas of different types, spanning 220,000 square km — nearly twice the size of England.

“Marine Conservation Zones are just one type of the many Marine Protected Areas in place around the UK to conserve rare, threatened and nationally important habitats and species for future generations.

“The UK government has called for 30% of the world’s ocean to be protected by 2030 and has co-chaired the creation of the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance with Vanuatu.

“The government will also publish an international strategy later this year setting out further action to conserve and sustainably use the ocean.”

The statement that the UK government has called for 30% of the world’s ocean to be protected by 2030 is, observes Marinet, an interesting one. This announcement was first made by the UK government, 24th September 2018.

The UK government’s announcement states: “Globally, less than 10 per cent of the world’s seas are currently designated as Marine Protected Areas. Global targets for marine protected areas are set by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, with parties agreeing to protect 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020.

“Now, the UK is backing ambitious calls to treble internationally-agreed targets for protected areas, meaning 30 per cent of the world’s seas would be safeguarded as MPAs by 2030. The UK will join almost 200 other countries in November [2018] in Egypt to begin negotiations on a new global target, and will push to treble the current figure to 30 per cent by 2030.

“This approach would see a third of the world’s oceans protected. As is the case now, MPAs will consist of a range of management measures.”

The 30% MPA figure for the world’s oceans by 2030 is a key component, Marinet observes, of the current discussions considering the proposed UN High Seas Treaty, see Marinet Briefing Paper titled Is the new proposed High Seas Treaty up to the job? Marinet commentary, April 2019.

The proposal to create around one-third of the High Seas (i.e. all of the ocean beyond 200 nautical miles from any coastline and thus classified as Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, ABNJ) is both ambitious and encouraging. Unless such protection is afforded the current decline in the ocean’s health and the search to solve the causes of the degradation which we have afflicted upon it will come to nought.

The UK’s proposal for 30% MPA coverage has been supported by a top-level scientific/ academic study from UK universities [York, Oxford and Edinburgh] titled 30X30 A Blueprint for Ocean Protection and published by Greenpeace (Germany). The report states [page 11]:

Our [30% MPA] network … deal[s] with environmental change and uncertainty [in the ocean and wider man-induced global ecological pressures] in three ways:

(1) by portfolio building (i.e. representing a range of habitats, places and conditions across the world’s oceans) as a bet hedging/risk reduction approach,

(2) through large coverage which promotes connectivity, stepping stones, corridors for travel and refuges of last resort, and

(3) with the novel use of historical sea surface temperature data. In this new approach to climate change resilience, we identified two kinds of areas for extra protection: places with relatively high natural temperature variability, which represent ecosystems that may be inherently resilient to future change because species are adapted to fluctuating conditions, and places with low variability, where change may be slower and ecosystems have more time to adapt.

Collectively, these network design principles increase the chances of species and ecosystems surviving and adapting to global change.

The ambition of this proposal is considerable. However Marinet observes that there are weaknesses. One of these centres on fishing and the other on governance and enforcement.

In the case of fishing the report states [page 43]: The data revealed that at least 55% of the ocean is covered by fishing activities, a global footprint that is at least four times as large as that of agriculture, and it was estimated that fishing vessels travelled more than 460 million kilometres in 2016 — a distance equivalent to going to the moon and back 600 times, and [page 45/46] … it is only recently through new technologies such as satellite tracking and the use of AIS (Automatic Identification System) and vessel monitoring systems (VMS) that it has been possible to determine the composition of the high seas fishing fleet.

The four most commonly used fishing gears in the high seas are: longlines, purse seine, squid jiggers and trawls, with six countries (China, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Spain and South Korea) accounting for 77% of the global high seas fishing fleet and 80% of all AIS/VMS-inferred fishing effort.

Longlines can be up to 100km in length and carry several thousand baited hooks. By contrast, a purse seine is a net set around a school of fish which is drawn up beneath them like a traditional purse.

Tuna fishing on the high seas takes high levels of unwanted, unmanaged or discarded bycatch. Precise estimates of bycatch are difficult to quantify for the high seas because of the difficulties of collecting data due to poor observer coverage, especially in longline operations. Above water, longline fisheries have been estimated to kill 50,000–100,000 seabirds annually despite implementation of mitigation methods and massive reductions in some fisheries, most notably in the Southern Ocean.

Of 61 species of seabirds affected by longline fisheries, 26 are threatened with extinction, including 18 of the 22 species of albatross. Sea turtles, marine mammals, elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) and at least 650 species of bony fish also get caught on longline fishing gear.

The global tuna fishery is very large, with annual catches of tuna and tuna-like species levelling off at around 7.5 million tonnes after a maximum peak in 2014. The seven most economically important species of skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis), yellowfin (Thunnus albacores), albacore (Thunnus alalunga), bigeye (Thunnus obesus) and bluefin (Thunnus orientalis, Thunnus thynnus, Thunnus maccoyii) are traded globally and, based on information gathered on tuna fisheries and markets for 2012 and 2014, believed to contribute at least US$42bn in end value to the global economy each year.

Purse seines are the most commonly used to catch tuna, and helicopters, bird sonar, GPS [satellite Global Positioning Systems] and drones are used to help boats to locate schools around which to set the nets. In addition, fish aggregating devices (FADs) are widely used to attract tuna and other target species which concentrate around them for the ease of fishing. FADs are simply floating objects such as logs or mats of seaweed and it has been estimated that between 81,000 and 121,000 of them were deployed globally in 2013, with at least a fourfold increase in both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans in the seven years between 2007 and 2013.

Various negative impacts, including exacerbation of over-fishing, high catches of juvenile tunas, high bycatch of vulnerable species such as turtles and sharks, modification of tuna habitat and the introduction of litter into the ocean are all associated with tuna fishing using FADs.

May Lim and a group of researchers in the Philippines have modelled the effect of FADs in the western Pacific and concluded that “when the fishery is already over-fished, using FADs can only accelerate fisheries collapse”. As fisheries expanded further into the high seas, fishing gear reached into increasingly deeper waters, creating a linear increase in the mean depth of fishing of 62.5m per decade, corresponding to an increase of about 350m for the period since 1950.

Bottom trawling, which involves dragging a large net and heavy gear across the sea floor, is generally considered the most destructive fishing method and is known to significantly impact fragile deep-sea habitats. Slow growing and slow to reproduce deep-sea species such as pelagic armourhead (Pseudopentaceros wheeleri), orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus), alfonsino (Beryx splendens), oreos (Pseudocyttus maculatus, Allocyttus niger) and grenadiers (Coryphaenoides rupestris) have all been targeted by this method, often with catastrophic results.

As an analogy, deep-sea bottom trawling is often compared to clear-cutting forest on land because both indiscriminately remove everything in their path, in the case of trawling destroying thriving communities that would have contained animals such as corals, sponges, sea stars, sea cucumbers and anemones. Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has also noted the potential consequences of deep-sea trawling on biogeochemical cycles and concluded that it “represents a major threat to the deep seafloor ecosystem at the global scale”.

Since 2006, a number of UN General Assembly Resolutions have called on States to stop authorising bottom fisheries on the high seas unless sufficient action has been taken to prevent damage to vulnerable marine ecosystems and to ensure that fisheries targeting deep sea fish stocks are being managed sustainably. A review of the implementation of these resolutions in 2016 shows that significant shortcomings remain, leaving many areas containing vulnerable marine ecosystems open to trawling and many deep sea-species depleted.

As FAO [UN Food and Agriculture Organisation] statistics demonstrate, the world’s fisheries are in a poor state. Ineffectual fisheries management is partly responsible, with high seas fisheries management failing due to a highly complex and fragmented governance regime which among other things is too slow and unwieldy to keep up with changes in fisheries practice.

In particular the RFMOs [Regional Fisheries Management Organisations] which manage particular fisheries in their appointed regions have shown poor performance. This can be attributed to factors such as: lack of fishing compliance with international rules, lack of enforcement capability, excess capacity and inappropriate subsidy of fishing fleets, prioritisation of short-term economic interest over long-term conservation and a lack of political leadership to engage effectively in multilateral cooperation.

An evaluation of the world’s 18 RFMOs noted they have “failed to contribute through consultation and cooperation to the optimal utilisation, rational management and conservation of the fishery resources of the Convention area”. In a study which examined how RFMOs measure up with respect to bycatch governance, it was found there has been nominal progress in transitioning to an ecosystem approach to fisheries management, including accounting for broader, indirect ecosystem-level effects of bycatch mortality.

While almost all RFMOs have conservation as part of their mandate, the priority of their membership has been for exploitation. As well as the unsustainable fishing that takes place under the auspices of RFMOs there is also the problem of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing or IUU fishing.

This practice of illegal fishing encompasses activities that violate national, regional or international laws such as fishing out of season; harvesting prohibited species; using banned gear or techniques; catching more than a set quota; and fishing without a licence.

Unreported fishing is that which is not declared, or is misreported, to the relevant authority or RFMO.

Unregulated fishing relates to fishing in areas where no regulations for this occur or on unregulated stocks, as well as the activities of vessels that are not flagged to a state. The unregulated category also includes the non-party problem whereby states which carry out high seas fishing fail to participate in governance arrangements for where they fish, effectively ‘freeloading’. In relation to this, it is worth noting that as of July 2018, there are 168 Parties to UNCLOS [UN Convention on the Law of the Sea] yet only 89 signed up to the provisions of the UN Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA), which establishes general principles including an ecosystem approach, and specifically mandates the application of the precautionary approach to fisheries conservation and management.

In addition to the environmental problems of IUU fishing, the practice also has far-reaching social consequences that disadvantage legal fishers and can be associated with terrible practices such as slavery at sea and other criminal acts. Global losses from IUU fishing have been estimated at between US$10bn to US$23.5bn annually, which is between 10 and 22% of total fisheries production.

The problem of IUU fishing has received growing attention over recent years and there have been some positive moves, most significantly with the 2009 Agreement on Port State Measures to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU Fishing which entered into force on 5th June 2016.

Therefore, as can be seen above, the 30×30 MPA Report (A Blueprint for Ocean Protection) is very clear about the huge adverse impact that fishing is having on the ocean, whether that fishing activity is legally undertaken or not. There are many pressures on the ocean at the present time, from climate change and acidification to pollution in its numerous forms to the emerging proposals for widespread deep ocean mining for minerals (see Marinet publication: Mining The Deep Ocean : Does catastrophe lie ahead?). However fishing has to rank amongst the first three in any list simply because it is destroying fish populations to levels of commercial, if not actual, extinction and is seriously damaging marine diversity and ecological structures in a widespread manner. Further, this over-exploitation of fish stocks is robbing future generations of mankind of a vital food resource.

Therefore one would expect this MPA Report and a putatively serious UN High Seas Treaty to be addressing the issue of fishing head-on. To do anything other than this is to admit a serious flaw in both the Report and the Treaty’s design.

The MPA Report states in its Executive Summary [page 3]: Areas intensively used by high seas fishing fleets were avoided [for MPA network design] to reduce possible disruption to fishing activity. An interim moratorium on seabed mining is proposed to ensure that options are left open as a network of protection is built – and [page 12]: The resulting network designs only displaced around 20% or 30% of existing fishing effort, demonstrating that networks representative of biodiversity can be built with limited economic impact. Many of the costs of establishment will in any case be offset by gains from protection, such as fish stock rebuilding and improved ecosystem health.

Therefore whilst this scientific/academic 30% MPA proposal for the global ocean has many strengths and is a peerless advocate of the importance of a comprehensive MPA network in the regeneration of the biodiversity and health of the ocean and similarly recognises the wrecking nature of current global fishing levels and practices, the 30% MPA proposal has baulked at the issue of restraint of the fishing industry. The 30% proposal has consciously designed a MPA network that largely leaves fishing areas outside its protected network of sites and thus is allowing the “economic function” of the fishing industry in its current form to continue to hold sway. In short, little changes.

Whilst one of the two principal weaknesses of the 30% MPA Report is its approach to fishing the other is governance. In other words, is there an international governmental structure, both in terms of administration and, crucially, in terms of enforcement which will deliver and manage the MPA network to ensure that the integrity of the whole ocean is respected? If there is not, all these proposals are almost meaningless from this perspective (preservation of the integrity of the ocean) and, probably worse still, an illusion which deceives by claiming to be something which it is not and never can be.

Governance is not an issue to which the 30% MPA Report gives anything other than fleeting attention until the very end in its Conclusion [page 80]:

The effectiveness of all high seas management, including MPAs, as well as monitoring, control and surveillance will be directly related to the mechanisms and governance structure established by the new UN-negotiated international legally binding instrument.

While technology will make it increasingly easier to monitor human use of ABNJ [Areas Beyond Natural Jurisdiction i.e. the High Seas], the political will to sign and ratify, and then adopt and enforce MPAs and management measures will be required.

In reality, coordinating the selection, establishment and management of a joined-up global high seas MPA network in a composite selection approach is probably impossible within the current fragmented regulatory framework. That view is supported by the failure, despite years of trying, to protect specific places such as the Sargasso Sea under the present governance system.

A new global institutional framework developed through an international legally binding instrument for ABNJ will therefore be required to facilitate MPA selection, establishment and management. Collaborating in MPA design across jurisdictions has also been shown to lead to substantial efficiencies over uncoordinated action.

Taking a global, rather than regional, approach to high seas MPA design through this new global institutional framework, would help minimise the total area that any future high seas MPA network would cover and its associated socio-economic impact.

Finally, effective high seas biodiversity protection will also require greatly enhanced management ambition and capacity outside of MPAs. The international legally binding instrument for ABNJ currently being negotiated by the UN presents the opportunity to augment and strengthen the ability of organisations that manage different areas of the sea and the human activities in it to effectively adopt and enforce sound regulations.

This would give industry clearer direction as to where it can and cannot operate, while delivering sustainable management in areas that remain open to human use.

It is clear that the 30% MPA report, whilst full of good intention with regard to the question of governance (how to establish and enforce respect for the ecological integrity of the ocean), is inchoate in its thinking as to the form this governance would take and how it would be delivered — other than to emphasise that it will require political will and expects the proposed UN High Seas Treaty to be the vehicle for this.

Thus the 30% MPA Report displays all the characteristic failings of the academic, scientific and, all to frequently, NGO community : they are not prepared to address the challenge of politics and how we actually deliver a world where the needs of the planet are foremost before all else. This is the unavoidable, imperative reality that politics from now on has to address. A politics which must be built on the uncompromising belief in the ecological integrity of the planet first, mankind and its economic wealth second.

Unless this is so, mankind is deluding itself because the reality behind our current economic model is little other than a fool’s paradise.

Marinet has set out a blueprint for the model of governance for the UN High Seas Treaty in its recent publication Is the new proposed High Seas Treaty up to the job? Marinet commentary, April 2019 which is a distilled statement of principles drawn from the Marinet supported publication Conserving the Great Blue : Overturning the Dominant Ocean Paradigm by Deborah Wright.

Essentially, we need to regard the ocean as sovereign in ecological terms. If we accept that future politics has to be based on the premise that mankind can no longer build a future for itself on this planet unless the primacy of the planet’s ecological integrity is respected absolutely, then it follows that all activities we undertake in the ocean have to be in accord with total respect for the ecological integrity of the ocean. In other words, the ocean is not a marine protected area in part (a network of places where that ecological integrity is respected and so managed) but rather the ocean in its entirety is a marine protected area.

This means no human activity in the ocean can take place which does not respect this fundamental integrity; and in the performance of that activity must display such respect. If it cannot then either the activity is never allowed to occur or if the activity violates the ocean’s integrity whilst actually operating, then it is compelled to cease.

In other words governance is universal throughout the ocean (no blind spots) and is always, without exception, subject to the full force of the law (judicial authority is absolute).

This requires the inclusion of the Crime of Ecocide as the fifth element in the UN Rome Statute along with a UN High Seas Treaty which establishes and empowers a governmental body via an Oceans Protocol with full administrative and enforcement powers and which acts in a manner similar to the way in which the UN Montreal Protocol (Vienna Convention) operates for the elimination of ozone depleting chemicals from the planet’s atmosphere. With these two pillars in position, administrative and judicial, then the High Seas Treaty can deliver the universal governance of the ocean which the new politics must deliver to secure an assured future for both the planet and mankind.

What we are talking about here is the ability to live on Earth in the Age of Consequences. In this Age, the present, we have passed beyond the tipping point — marked by a fundamental shift in the ecological order of the planet on land, in the ocean and in the atmosphere.

In this new reality things have changed fundamentally. In this new era, the Age of Consequences, the primary requirement is no longer to direct our intelligence to finding solutions which will prevent a fundamental shift in the ecology of the planet but rather, because this shift has already occurred and is irreversible, we must live empathetically with the ecology of the Earth whose core ecological dynamics we have irreversibly transformed. If we do not do this, we do not survive and we become another casualty as well as a primary agent in the forecasted sixth mass extinction.

The 30% MPA Report has not addressed this reality. It still believes that the marine protected area concept can serve as a palliative for an economic model where exploitation of the planet’s ecological integrity remains the norm; and, because it has not addressed the need for the institutions of global governance to understand that the imperative of evolution applies to them as it does to everything else, it has failed to see that the only solution lies in the whole ocean becoming a single marine protected area.

Thus the MPA solution in the 30% Report cannot work. Its networks of marine protected areas, both conceptually as an idea for the avoidance in the collapse of the ocean’s ecological integrity and practically as a tool which will first halt and then reverse that collapse, are not real. They are an illusion.

This is a hard truth. But until it is recognised, nothing will change.

Unless this happens we will continue to be confronted by such headlines as occurred in the 2nd March 2018 edition of the National Geographic : The World Has Two Years to Meet Marine Protection Goal. Can It Be Done?

This National Geographic report records a familiar story:

The UN is nearing its decade-long goal of protecting 10 percent of the global ocean by 2020. But the world may fall short.

Scientists agree that marine protected areas, or MPAs, are essential for environmental health: they ensure fishers have healthy stocks by preventing resource depletion; they protect endangered species; they make ecosystems more resistant to climate change; and they maintain biodiversity.

At a UN conference held last June [2018], the executive secretary for the Convention on Biological Diversity announced approximately 5.7 percent of the ocean was protected. But a new study published in Marine Policy paints a less optimistic picture.

As of early 2018, only two years away from the UN target, the world is not even halfway there, according to the study. (The assessment was supported in part by the National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas project.)

The scientists found that 5.7 percent figure also included regions that were in various stages of becoming marine protected areas (MPA). In some cases, the areas were simply being proposed. In others they were still under discussion and not fully approved.

“Calling an area that allows commercial fishing ‘protected’ is like calling a logging concession a ‘protected forest.’ It’s worse than an euphemism; it’s a lie,” says Enric Sala, study author and National Geographic’s Explorer-in-Residence who leads the Pristine Seas project.

In their own assessment, researchers found only 3.6 of the ocean was in an implemented marine protected area and only two percent of the ocean was in an MPA that was entirely restricted access.

“MPA is king of a catch-all term. There are a lot of different categories within MPAs. It could be anything from a national marine sanctuary that may allow commercial fishing all the way down to full protection, which is completely closed to all destructive activities,” says Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, an ecologist from Oregon State University and a study author.

Completely closing off a region allows scientists to use it as an experimental control, she says. With that, they can better assess the damage to marine areas that remain subject to human influence.

“The data is overwhelmingly conclusive that positive effects happen when you close an area,” she adds.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature sets international guidelines for MPAs. The IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas then acts like a recording system of who is adhering to these guidelines and where. This information is documented in the World Database of Protected Areas (WDPA).

“The challenge is that the WDPA has to report whatever countries report,” she says. “It may be that they announce [an MPA], but they’re really early on [in the process]. That’s part of what’s leading to some of the challenges in accurately accessing how much of the ocean is protected.”

As a remedy, the paper suggests that more transparency and accountability could help these large international organizations sift publicity stunts from tangible conservation.

“Countries are rushing to ‘achieve’ their commitments, and many countries … are already cheating and claiming protection, but they are not really protecting new areas,” says Sala. “The world must not accept bogus claims. They will not bring back marine life.”

Grorud-Colvert notes that raising the current two percent of protection to eight percent in only two years likely won’t happen. But if all the proposed areas actually do become implemented, 7.3 percent of the ocean would be protected.

Echoing Grorud-Colvert is one of her fellow study authors. “My personal view is that we’re not likely to make it,” says Rashid Sumaila, an environment economist from the University of British Columbia. “If we don’t even hit 10 percent, we’re far away from what we need.”

Thirty percent, he notes, is the real amount of protection scientists agree should be implemented in the ocean. The U.N. goal to reach 10 percent was a baby step to get there.

To understand why more countries haven’t acted to create MPAs, Sumaila says you have to look at the economics of marine conservation.

In remote regions — take Midway Atoll, the first U.S. MPA created under the Obama administration, for example — fishing is not a widescale operation.

In regions that do have massive fishing industries, establishing an MPA is more difficult.

A study published last month showed industrial fishing alone occupies more than half the global ocean, so conflict with the fishing industry and conservationists is a frequent source of friction.
“They want to front load the benefits,” he says of governments resistant to implementing MPAs. “In fishing communities life is hard. Income is generally low already.”

Subsidies, he suggests, are one way to ease the burden. Distributed efficiently, he says his own economic data has showed countries will receive a return on investment in the long-term. “It’s possible biologically and economically,” Sumaila adds. “The question is how do you organise it.”

There is a candour, observes Marinet, in the views of the academic/scientific authors of the National Geographic article which is to be greatly welcomed. It calls a spade a spade. It reveals that much of the talk, and particularly the commitment to creating a comprehensive and genuinely real network of marine protected areas, is presently little short of an illusion.

The authors do believe in something better, both in terms of overall MPA integrity and in terms of scope (the need for a 30% MPA network), but like others we have reviewed in this Marinet commentary they are at a loss to know how it is to be accomplished. They do not cross the political line, let alone theoretically explore what it would mean if they were to cross this line.

What crossing the line means is the governance of the world by a new economic order which is no longer ruled by “free market” capitalism or “authoritarian” capitalism but rather by a new economic model founded, both in terms of principles and practice, on what may be termed as EcoLogic.

This means that the primacy of the integrity of the ecological needs of the planet are to be regarded as a precondition for the existence of all human activity, whether that be use of the land, ocean or atmosphere. This precondition covers all forms of human endeavour and technology. In EcoLogic, the Earth’s Rights precede the Rights of mankind. We are no longer absolute in our actions, but subordinate to the Earth’s Rights; and the system of governance we design for ourselves has to make this subordinate position legally enforceable and beyond compromise.

This is the central issue the Proposed UN High Seas Treaty has to address.

This means that we recognise that the ocean is sovereign and that all the ocean, in every corner and at every depth, is a marine protected area whose ecological integrity is absolute. It means we recognise that the economic model for human activity for all future use of the ocean, indeed of the planet, is henceforth based on the primacy of the Earth’s Rights and the subordinate standing of the Rights of mankind.

To be clear, this new economic model is based on the principles of EcoLogic and no longer on variants of capitalism. Furthermore, all of this is incorporated into international law and is enforced without fear or favour.

This is the nature of the transformation that is required by living in the Age of Consequences.

This transformation is our mark in history which demonstrates that mankind has grasped the full meaning of our species’ own evolution because such now is the ecological dynamics of our planet that this is the precondition for our survival in the 21st century and beyond.

So, are the MPAs we are creating today real or an illusion?

It is vital that we do not avoid answering this question. In searching for the answer, it will lead us forward to ask the genuinely key question of whether mankind is destined to survive or perish — and in arriving at our and your answer to that question it is Marinet’s conviction that you will perceive what is needed, in the most profound existential sense, for us to access and enduringly embrace a life affirming answer.

Marinet Limited,
June 2019.


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Who owns the UK fishing industry and its fishing quotas?

Prior to the UK’s entry into the European Economic Community (EEC/EU) in 1974 and the establishment of the fishing quota system under the auspices of the European Common Fisheries Policy in 1983 UK fisheries were an open resource to UK fishermen. That is to say, UK fishermen could fish within and beyond the UK’s territorial limits without restriction (except of course within other countries’ territorial limits) and do so without restriction on their catches for all fish species.

However entry into the EEC in 1974 meant that the UK’s fish stocks became a European Community resource to be shared with other EEC countries rather than a national resource primarily available to UK fishermen; and, when the quota system was adopted in 1983 by the CFP which rationed and apportioned the right to fish stocks between EEC member countries, the fish resource was effectively privatised — that is to say, one could no longer fish on an open basis but only upon possession of a licence and under the terms of that licence. Licences were tradeable and could be bought and sold between fishermen.

Thus, for the first time, the question in UK fishing industry could be seriously asked as to who owns the UK fishing industry and the right to fish its stocks?

In addition, as the quota system has taken ever increasing hold upon the Common Fisheries Policy and its determination of fishing rights (largely introduced to conserve stocks which were being heavily over-fished) so has the significance of this question of ownership intensified. In simple terms, unless one holds a quota one cannot fish; and so for fishermen the greater the number of quotas held the more important and effective the ability to fish has become.

How the quota system works

The Common Fisheries Policy sets quotas for how much of each species can be caught in a certain fishing area (known as ICES areas whose stocks are assessed annually or bi-annually by scientists employed by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea — ICES). Each country is annually given a quota based upon the total available for each species (Total Allowable Catch — TAC) and the size of this nationally allocated quota is further referenced to the historical fishing patterns of each country. The overall TAC is fixed annually by the EU Council of Ministers (with recommendations from the EU Commission and its scientific body and from ICES and its scientists). After quotas are fixed by the Council of Ministers, each EU member country is responsible for policing its own quota. Each country distributes its quota allocation among its own fishermen using different systems.

 Who owns the UK’s fishing quotas?

Now that the ability to fish is controlled by the quota system the question of who ‘owns’ these quotas becomes pertinent (‘owns’ means allocated, but these allocations are commercially tradeable between fishermen) and equally relevant is the question, widely argued by many small boat fishermen, of whether the allocation of the national quota by the UK government to UK’s small boat fishermen is fairly determined and distributed. At present, small boat fishermen receive just 6% of the national quota.

Greenpeace, in an Unearthed report, published 11th October 2018, has analysed the ownership of the UK’s fishing quotas. The report considers the issue from a nation-wide perspective as well as from the standpoint of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland individually. Their findings are recorded below.

The investigation found:

  • Over a quarter (29%) of the UK’s fishing quota is owned or controlled by just five families on the Sunday Times Rich List.
  • This group also has minority investments in companies and fishing vessel partnerships that hold a further 8% of the country’s fishing quota. This means companies holding over a third (37%) of the UK’s fishing quota are wholly or partly owned by this tiny handful of wealthy families.
  • Over half (13) of the UK’s 25 largest quota-holders are linked to one of the biggest criminal over-fishing scams ever to reach the British courts. These 13 businesses have shareholders, directors, or vessel partners who were convicted (in cases heard between 2011–2012) following the “Operation Trawler” police investigation into industrial-scale landings of illegally over-quota fish (or “black fish”) in Scotland.
  • Those with the biggest hoards of quota can make millions leasing their fishing quota without casting a net. One company — which holds over half (55%) of Northern Ireland’s quota — recently disposed of its boat and earned £7m in a year from its quota while waiting for a new one. (See Northern Ireland section below).
    Scotland (the UK’s largest fishing nation, with two-thirds of all quota):
  • In Scotland, the concentration of fishing rights in the hands of Rich List families is even more acute. Five families on the Sunday Times Rich List own or control a third (33%) of all Scottish quota. When taking into account minority stakes, companies wholly or partly owned by these families hold close to half (45%) of all Scottish quota.
  • In 2012 four members of one of these families, the Tait family, received fines and confiscation orders totalling more than £800,000 for their role in landing undeclared fish as part of the “black fish” scandal. Unearthed’s investigation reveals that the Tait family’s Klondyke Fishing Company is now the third-largest quota holder in the UK and has paid out dividends totalling £56m over the past five years. Peter Tait, 50, reportedly purchased Scotland’s most expensive house in 2014.
  • Brexit Flotilla: the Christina S trawler was a flagship in the “Brexit Flotilla” of boats which sailed up the Thames with Nigel Farage in 2016, calling for Britain to leave the EU to improve access to fish. Ernest Simpson (71) and his son Allan Simpson (49), who are partners in the partnership that operates the vessel, were ordered to pay more than £850,000 in fines and confiscation orders for their role in the black fish scam.
  • The Christina S vessel partnership, in which English Rich List fishing baron Andrew Marr also has a stake, is the sixth-largest quota holder in Scotland.
    England (the UK’s second-largest fishing nation, with 24% of all quota):
  • In England, around half (49%) of fishing quota is held by Dutch, Icelandic and Spanish companies, with a further 30% owned by English and Scottish Rich List families.
  • More than half (53%) of England’s fishing quota is in the hands of just three companies.
    Northern Ireland (the UK’s third-largest fishing nation, with 9% of all quota):
  • Over half (55%) of Northern Ireland’s quota is hoarded onto a single trawler: The Voyager.
  • The Voyager Fishing Company is one of the top 10 quota-holders in the UK.
  • In late 2015, the owners disposed of this vessel and ordered a replacement. Despite not having a vessel for the full financial year following this, the company collected nearly £7 million from leasing out quota, reporting operating profits of £2.5 million.

Greenpeace’s view of what the Unearthed report has revealed is summarised by Will McCullum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK:

“This stunning sell-off of British waters by our own Government is a national disgrace and an economic, social and environmental tragedy.

“Successive governments have presided over a monumental mismanagement of this precious public resource — destroying the livelihoods of local and inshore fishermen, eroding coastal communities and encouraging unsustainable fishing, while allowing a wealthy cabal of fishing barons to become the UK’s ‘Codfathers’. How long before the Government stops blaming other countries, looks at its own broken system, accepts responsibility for fixing it and creates a fairer and more sustainable distribution of fishing quota across the UK?

“Many of these companies were amongst those touting the opportunity to ‘take back control’ of our waters by leaving the EU. They’re taking politicians and regular fishermen for a ride, because they know exactly who’s in control. And the same politicians who slammed Europe for breaking Britain’s fishing sector are the ones restricting the majority of fishing quota to this handful of wealthy families. It’s a betrayal of Britain’s fishermen.

“When Greenpeace took the Government to court in 2015, they had the gall to say that the UK’s fishing industry was all in order. They were slammed by a European Court for claiming fishing quota was distributed in a transparent and objective way.

“With the odds stacked against them, is it any wonder that fishermen across the UK have been run out of business, or that coastal economies have collapsed and the communities that they support have been hollowed out?

“If the Government cares about coastal communities they need to use the Fisheries Bill to reduce the power of these ‘Codfathers’. We need a fair distribution of fishing quota to local, low-impact, fishers to boost coastal economies, reduce the environmental impact and help rebuild fading seaside towns.”


Source: Greenpeace news release, 11th October 2018. For further details see


Marinet observes:
There is no doubt that UK fisheries are in crisis.

It is a crisis born of a collapse in stocks due to over-fishing, mismanagement of stocks by successive government and some fishermen both before and especially during membership of the Common Fisheries Policy; and, as the Greenpeace Unearthed report has revealed, due to the fact that the privatisation of the right to fish has largely fallen into the hands of a small number of companies whose principal maxim is profit whilst the small boat fisherman, more likely to take a less profit-orientated and a more sustainable ecosystem-based approach to fishing, has been marginalised and is no longer a force within the UK fishing fleet.

Marinet has recorded its view of how the UK fishing industry should be managed in a publication UK seas in crisis : will Brexit change things?

It is clear that radical reform is required. The question is whether the new opportunity provided by Brexit — a return of sovereignty to the UK in the management of its fisheries — will be realised by the exit arrangements; and if this is so, whether government will have the will power and sense of principle in economic and social terms to institute reform in the matter of who is allocated the rights to fish.

Should this not occur then it is clear that the long-term decline in the ecological health of our seas will continue. This is because fisheries are key in their ecological well-being.

Failure to address these issues means the prospects for our seas, which are already bleak, will darken even further.


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Sicily’s Aeolian archipelago should be a MPA, says Oceana

Oceana news release, 22nd May 2019: Recognition of the high biodiversity value of the sea surrounding the Aeolian Islands goes back decades, with the region first being formally identified by the Italian government in the 1980s as a potential area for protection.

More recently, in 2016, the government announced a commitment to designate an MPA in the Aeolians, but no protective measures have been put in place to date.

Oceana is calling on Italy to create a marine protected area (MPA) in the Aeolian archipelago, a Mediterranean wildlife hotspot where Oceana has documented more than 900 marine species over 1,100 km2, an area the size of Rome.

A new report by the international marine conservation organisation shows that the underwater volcanic slopes and deep-sea waters of the Aeolian Islands are home to a rich diversity of marine life, including 16 species threatened with extinction.   

The call to protect the marine biodiversity of the Aeolian archipelago — situated off the northern coast of Sicily — comes after a 2018 Oceana research mission to study its deep-sea ecosystems, which had previously been little explored or studied. 

During the month-long expedition, marine scientists discovered giant oysters, black corals that can live up to 2,000 years, a species of glass sponge found only twice before in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the largest known forests of the most threatened coral in the Mediterranean: “Critically Endangered” bamboo coral.

Preserving this area would also be the first time Italy protects hydrothermal vents, features that are found near deep-sea volcanoes and which house rare organisms.

“Finding such an incredible, vibrant and unique array of marine wildlife in such a relatively small area confirms that the waters of the Aeolian Islands are a biodiversity hotspot”, said Ricardo Aguilar, director of research and expeditions at Oceana.

“These waters were known for iconic species such as loggerhead sea turtle, sperm whale, and bluefin tuna, but our research has now discovered that the deep waters of the Aeolians hold spectacular and endangered marine life.

“On World Biodiversity Day, Oceana is urging Italy to show it cares about its seas and officially declare the Aeolian Islands a marine protected area. There really is no excuse now not to do so,” added Aguilar.

The at-sea research by Oceana contributed to a wider Aeolian Islands project that is being carried out by the Blue Marine Foundation in collaboration with the Aeolian Islands Preservation Fund.

Oceana’s work was made possible thanks to the generous support of IF International Foundation, Fondation de Bienfaisance du groupe Pictet, SmileWave Fund and several individual donors.


Source: Oceana news release, 22nd May 2019.  For further details, see


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Deep ocean mining will destroy vital new medicines, say scientists

The Guardian reports, 20th May 2019: When Prof Mat Upton discovered a microbe from a deep-sea sponge was killing pathogenic bugs in his laboratory, he realised it could be a breakthrough in the fight against antibiotic resistant superbugs, which are responsible for thousands of deaths a year in the UK alone.

Further tests last year confirmed that an antibiotic from the sponge bacteria, found living more than 700 metres under the sea at the Rockall trough in the north-east Atlantic, was previously unknown to science, boosting its potential as a life-saving medicine. 

But Upton, and other scientists who view the deep ocean and its wealth of unique and undocumented species as a prospecting ground for new medicines, fear such potential will be lost in the rush to exploit the deep sea’s equally rich metal and mineral resources.

“We’re looking at the bioactive potential of marine resources, to see if there are any more medicines or drugs down there before we destroy it for ever,” says Upton, a medical microbiologist at the University of Plymouth. He is among many scientists urging a halt to deep-sea mining, asking for time to weigh up the pros and cons.

“We know sponges are a very good source of bioactive bacteria so I would say they would be a good source of antibiotics and anti-cancer drugs too. In sustainability terms, this could be a better way of exploiting the economic potential of the deep sea.”

Oceanographers using remotely operated vehicles have spotted many new species. Among them have been sea cucumbers with tails allowing them to sail along the ocean floor, and a rare “Dumbo” octopus, found 3,000 metres under the Pacific, off the coast of California.

Upton estimates it could take up to a decade for a newly discovered antibiotic to become a medicine — but the race towards commercial mining in the ocean abyss has already begun.

The deep sea, more than half the world’s surface, contains more nickel, cobalt and rare earth metals than all land reserves combined, according to the US Geological Survey.

Mining corporations argue that deep-sea exploration could help diversify the supply of metals, including cobalt for electric car batteries, presently mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where child labour is common. Demand for copper, aluminium, cobalt and other metals, to power technology and smart-phones, is soaring.

So far, 29 licences for exploration activities have been granted by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN body made up of 168 countries, to promote and regulate deep-sea mining. No commercial exploitation licences have been granted yet, but one firm, Global Sea Mineral Resources, has said it needs regulations in place by next year to start mining in 2026.

Last week the ISA’s legal and technical commission gathered in Pretoria, South Africa, for a workshop to develop environmental standards for a draft mining code, which will create the framework for exploitation. Michael Lodge, the organisation’s secretary general, has promised regulations will be finalised by 2020.

But many fear this is moving too fast. Mining could devastate fragile ecosystems that are slow to recover in the highly pressurised darkness of the deep sea, as well as having knock-on effects on the wider ocean environment. Critics have called for a 10-year ban on commercial mining.

Kristina Gjerde, a high seas policy specialist at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is deeply concerned over the lack of environmental protections in the draft code. “We’re just blindly going into the dark, adjusting any impacts on the way,” says Gjerde. “We have no assurances, no evidence that they can avoid serious harm.”

A cross-party group of MPs wrote in January that deep-sea mining would have “catastrophic impacts” on habitats and species and concluded that the case for such activity had not yet been made.

A study published in January found that soft sediment in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the mid-Pacific, where most exploration licences have been granted, could take up to 10 times longer to resettle than previously thought, meaning sediment is likely to travel farther in the water column before it resettles, affecting marine life over a much larger area.

Dr Kerry Howell, a colleague of Upton’s at the University of Plymouth, is working on a model to try to predict where on the sea bed important species such as Upton’s sponge lie.

“We don’t have all the information we need” says Howell, a deep-sea ecologist. “Our project will look at which species might be important and which may be impacted by mining. If the models work, we will know where they are and we will know what they can do, and we can make decisions about whether mining can go ahead.”

Her work is part of a £20m five-year programme, funded by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund. “We are writing regulations in a severe absence of knowledge of the ecosystem,” she warns.

Howell also receives funding, for separate research, from a deep-sea mining company, UK Seabed Resources, which is a subsidiary of the UK branch of the US aerospace and defence company Lockheed Martin. This is also important work, she acknowledges, but scientists simply do not know enough yet.

“Most deep-sea scientists are concerned at the speed at which the development of regulations is happening,” says Howell.

Britain’s partnership with UK Seabed Resources holds licences to explore a total of 133,000 sq km of the Pacific sea floor, more than any government apart from China, according to analysis by Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative arm. The licences are in the CCZ, the site of one of the world’s largest untapped collections of high-value metal ores. The area contains trillions of potato-sized black lumps called polymetallic nodules, containing cobalt, nickel, copper and manganese.

Dr Jon Copley, associate professor at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton and a contributor to the BBC’s Blue Planet II series on marine life, is studying hydrothermal vents. Formed when seawater meets magma, and the sites of massive sulphide deposits, these vents are one of three different resources of the deep sea being administered by the ISA.

“On deep sea vents, scientists are clear — we don’t want mining on them,” he says. “There are thousands of species of deep-sea animals living there and new species are being discovered all the time.”

Roughly 400 new species have been found at active hydrothermal vents since 1977.

Copley believes science has moved on since the ISA, whose members are parties to the 1982 UN convention on the law of the sea, began its work in 1994. He questions whether the agency is fit for purpose, when part of its mandate is to promote seabed resources “for the benefit of mankind”.

“The ISA was set up on a false premise — that there is a vast wealth down there that could be used to address social injustice. But it is quite possible the enterprise will increase the gap between rich and poor. At what point do we say: ‘Hang on, is this a good idea?’

“I can understand why the ISA doesn’t want to scare off investors by being heavy-handed on environmental protections. They have to deliver the benefits to the developing world. They have to be very careful.”

Environmentalists point to last year’s designation of the “Lost City”, an area under the Atlantic and one of the world’s most important sites of scientific interest, as part of a mining exploration zone, and are sceptical of the ISA’s environmental credentials.

Louisa Casson, an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace, says that the deep sea is comparable to rainforests in terms of carbon sinks, which are vital in combating climate breakdown.

Casson says: “We haven’t heard any reassurances from mining companies or the ISA about how they might handle this potential risk. Last year, the ISA granted Poland an exploration licence in an area highlighted by Unesco. Right now, it seems to be serving the interests of the companies.”

The ISA has said there was no suggestion Poland was going to mine in this area and that part of the exploration licence was to conduct environmental studies.

In a statement to the Guardian, Lodge [ISA secretary general] says that, where mining activities are concerned, the ISA is taking “all necessary measures” under the UN convention on the law of the sea “to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment, including marine biodiversity, from harmful effects”.

“An extremely important part of ISA’s mandate is ensuring appropriate environmental assessments and safeguards in the activities it regulates,” he says. “No seabed mining will take place until such elements have been agreed by all 168 member states.”

Lodge says the money the ISA receives from proposed royalties or other finances will be shared for the benefit of member states, particularly taking into account the needs of those that are “least developed and landlocked”.


Source: The Guardian, 20th May 2019. For further details, see


Marinet observes: Marinet has produced a Briefing Paper “Mining the Deep Ocean – Does catastrophe lie ahead?”  which explains how deep ocean mining in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the mid-Pacific (roughly halfway between Hawaii and Mexico) would present enormous risks. The CCZ is a fracture zone, i.e. the point where two tectonic plates meet, and it is in these fracture zones on the seabed of the Earth’s oceans where this wealth of minerals resides.

These minerals are released into the sea from the inner earth via the volcanic and venting activity in these fracture zones and minerals, like the process in the formation of a pearl, coalesce into a physical nugget-like form across the seabed. The abundance of these nuggets, particularly in the flat plain-like areas of the fracture zones, is the subject of the greedy eyes of the mineral mining companies.

The fracture zones and their related nugget rich plains lie at great depth, between 5000 and 7000 metres (3 miles or more). In terms of human experience and knowledge, these are wholly unexplored regions. This means that their importance and relevance to the overall marine ecosystem is essentially uncharted. The little we do know suggests that this abyssal ocean is surprisingly rich in life, functions as an ecological system of great complexity and does so in a region where there is great pressure (at 5000 metres pressure is 500 times greater than at the surface), very cold water (1-4°C) and perpetual darkness. That life exists in these conditions, with such abundance and complexity, confounds many standard biological expectations of what is possible for life on Earth. It is therefore a great treasure. Indeed in the way that the Amazon and similar tropical forests are cardinal in terms of biodiversity (hosting 50% or more of the planet’s species) and essential to regulating the planet’s climate (the Amazon forest absorbs 6% of global CO2 emissions each year and also releases 20% of the Earth’s oxygen) so too is the deep ocean likely to be vital to the planet’s ecology.

In the June 2019 edition of Prospect magazine the Brazilian translator and author Julia Blunck states “The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report argued last year that the world has 12 years — now 11 — to avoid a climate change catastrophe. That figure does not account for an Amazon torched in the name of progress by Bolsanaro [the current elected President of Brazil]. If there is a ticking time clock on human life as we know it, then the new Brazilian government is systematically stealing minutes off our existence. There was a time when the world could afford to think of Brazilian violence in the forest as a Brazilian problem. Yet for the first time since Brazil began its bloody history in the Amazon, it is not just this country that will face the consequences. It is the world.”

Is not the ecology of the deep ocean and its biodiversity of parallel significance to the tropical rainforests on the land?

If this is true, is not the mining of the deep ocean a deliberate act that courts catastrophe?

And, who is taking action in either of these key planetary ecosystems sufficient to prevent their destruction from happening?

In the terrestrial and atmospheric world, it is supposedly the UN with its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and related treaties.

In the oceanic world, it is the UN with its International Seabed Authority.

To be blunt, neither looks capable at providing for our salvation nor for the maintenance of the physical and chemical conditions upon which most of the other species on this planet depend.

If that is true, then we are facing a “sixth mass extinction”.

Is there a road that leads us away from this disaster? Yes, if we outlaw the activities and behaviour that are the cause of this approaching agony. It is known as the Crime of Ecocide.

Hence the urgent need to place the Crime of Ecocide on the statute book of international law (Rome Statute). This is the one action capable of arresting the outcome which confronts us.


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How severe is the crisis in Mediterranean fish stocks?

In June 2018 the EU Commission reported that in the Mediterranean Sea, out of 47 stocks only around 13% (6 stocks) are not over-fished. 

These stocks were red mullet in the South Tyrrhenian Sea and also the Adriatic Sea, European anchovy in the Aegean Sea, deep-water rose shrimp in the Ligurian Sea and also the North Tyrrhenian Sea, and common cuttlefish in the Northern Adriatic Sea.

The same report did not inform the reader as to which are the remaining 41 stocks which are being over-fished (i.e. more than 85% of the overall total).  Essentially, the public remains uniformed by the EU Commission on this important aspect of fish stock health.

Following the EU meeting in Malta, March 2017, to develop a new strategy to protect and resuscitate Mediterranean fish stocks (i.e. seek to avoid their total collapse) The Economist Intelligence Unit reported on the EU Plan to save Mediterranean fish stocks:

“The Mediterranean has an extraordinary history. Few parts of the world can claim the kind of cultural, culinary, political and economic contribution this region has made and continues to make. It is also an area of outstanding ecological diversity.

However, one of the region’s proud culinary traditions — the prevalence and diversity of fresh fish — is increasingly under threat.

The fish stocks of the Mediterranean have come under growing pressure from economic expansion, population growth and tourism, which have driven rising demand, and from decades of over-fishing.

Combined with illegal fishing, discards, pollution and flaws in the way in which relevant data are collected and monitored, this has led to much of the fish stock becoming at risk of depletion and exhaustion.

The gravity of the situation has led to increased attention being paid to the problem at high levels.

Following consultations with stakeholders, in late March the European Commission announced a pledge, the “Malta MedFish4Ever Declaration”, to save the fish stocks of the Mediterranean. In detailed proposals for fisheries policy in the Mediterranean over the next ten years, which the Commission called “ambitious but realistic”, the declaration contained several commitments:

• To make sure that by 2020 data are collected and scientifically assessed on all fish stocks in the Mediterranean, with small fishermen to be given a bigger role in data collection;

• The establishment of multi-annual plans (MAPs) for all key fisheries;

• An end to illegal fishing by 2020, making sure that all countries have the capacity to meet their control and inspection responsibilities; and

• Streamlining funding schemes to ensure sustainable small-scale fishing and aquaculture. This means fleet upgrades with low-impact techniques, social inclusion and environmental protection.

The seriousness of the situation

There has been concern for some time regarding the over-exploitation of fish stocks in the Mediterranean, and measures have previously been introduced to address the issue. Over ten years ago a regulation — Mediterranean Regulation EC 1967/2006 — was adopted by the EU to improve fisheries management in the region.

However, the situation has become quite critical. Of the assessed fish stocks in the Mediterranean, more than 90% are overexploited.

For some fish, such as hake, red mullet, black-bellied anglerfish and blue whiting, current mortality rates are at six times the sustainable level.

Over the past 50 years the Mediterranean has lost 41% of its marine mammals and 34% of the total fish population.

An article in Nature Scientific Reports by scientists from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre warns that the pressure on the Mediterranean region might push the ecosystem beyond the point of no return if not addressed.

The levels of over-fishing may be even worse than the official numbers suggest. Some have argued that illegal fishing is prevalent and that the total catch could therefore be significantly higher than reported.

One study by Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller from the Sea Around Us Project finds that between 1950 and 2010 Mediterranean catches were around 50% higher than official Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) numbers.

Others have insisted that to get back to sustainable levels, a 50-60% reduction in fishing in the region by 2020 will be necessary. 

Addressing political issues

From the EU perspective, finding a way to sustainable, controlled fishing in the Mediterranean has long been complicated by the fact that the waters are shared with many non-EU countries.

This was a key consideration for policymakers working towards the Malta MedFish4Ever Declaration, given the need to have signatories from all relevant countries. As well as various EU bodies and the FAO, signatories to the declaration included not only eight EU member states (Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece and Cyprus), but also seven third countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Albania and Montenegro).

More broadly, addressing the depletion of fish stocks in the Mediterranean is in line with wider EU commitments, including those under the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
SDG12, for example, demands that signatories ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, something that is not currently the case for fishing in the Mediterranean.

Food sustainability in the Mediterranean

Over-fishing to the extent that stocks become depleted or exhausted is an excellent example of unsustainable food policy.

The Food Sustainability Index (FSI), developed in 2016 by The Economist Intelligence Unit with the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition, looks at how the global food system could be maintained without depletion or exhaustion of natural resources, and without making compromises on health or nutritional quality.

Its three pillars — food loss and waste, sustainability of food production and nutritional challenges — are all relevant in the case of fishing in the Mediterranean.

Achieving greater sustainability of fish stocks in the Mediterranean matters for four reasons.

• First, over 300,000 people are directly employed on fishing vessels in the Mediterranean, with many more jobs linked indirectly, such as in production and distribution. Importantly, fishing in the region is notable for the prevalence of small-scale fishing: although 80% of the vessels are under 10m long, they are responsible for over one-quarter of all the fish caught. If over-fishing and the depletion of stocks continues at current rates, the risk to these jobs will be significant.

• The second issue is regional security. Areas of the Mediterranean region have seen huge and violent unrest in recent years, partly as a result of high food prices and the instability of supplies. An exacerbation of food security challenges caused by a depletion of fish stocks would add to a long list of problems faced by policymakers in these countries.

• Third, food waste — one of the main focuses of the FSI — is a major concern in the Mediterranean. Unwanted fish are often thrown back dead into the sea. This is not only a waste of resources but is also a threat to the health and stability of marine ecosystems. Reducing or eliminating this waste would help to solve the problem of fish-stock depletion.

• Finally, there are clear health implications, another issue identified by the FSI as a key component of food sustainability. As a joint paper by the FAO and the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM) highlights, south-east Mediterranean countries face food and nutritional security challenges, including malnutrition and over-nutrition as well as diet-related chronic-disease issues. The same paper notes that nutritional issues in the region are in part linked to a decline in adherence to the fabled Mediterranean diet. Given that fish has a central place in the Mediterranean diet, securing a sustainable supply will be crucial to tackling nutritional and health challenges in the coming decades.


Source: EU Commission, 2018. For further details see and

Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2017. For further details, see


Marinet observes: This is a seriously under-reported situation. It is a reality where around 90% of all the Mediterranean Sea’s fish stocks are facing biological collapse (economic extinction, possibly worse) due to over-fishing.

It is an ecological, economic and societal crisis of immense proportions. It amounts to ecocide of the Mediterranean’s marine world.

Who is taking any real notice?

The EU countries involved, having allowed the collapse to reach this scale?

Indeed taking this point further, why can these countries not definitely assert to the contrary when they have in place a body of EU law (Marine Strategy Framework Directive/Common Fisheries Policy) which legally requires them to ensure that all fish stocks are in good health by 2020?

Marinet asks the ngo and the political establishment: does the law no longer mean anything?


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Baltic Cod stock now in critical condition: will it survive?

DW (Deutsche Welle) reports 15th April 2019:   NGOs are calling on the fisheries ministers of all EU Baltic member states to immediately end fishing in the Eastern Baltic. This follows a report by scientists showing cod stocks at a critically low level.

According to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the cod population in the Eastern Baltic Sea has reached such a critically low level it is unable to reproduce itself to maintain a future healthy stock.

The ICES, an intergovernmental marine science organisation, raised the alarm at a regional Baltic meeting of fisheries stakeholders in January. Scientists there presented data from 2018 Baltic International Trawl surveys that found a record number of empty trawls.

“The cod stock in the Eastern Baltic Sea is in a state of acute crisis. Some would say, that’s not news (at least to us),” Nils Hoglund from the Clean Baltic Coalition told DW.

“What we now are seeing is new, the scientific data and also catches suggest that the stock has now tipped over from bad/weak to collapse and is basically not there anymore,” Hoglund says.

He adds that they hardly find any fish at all and the ones they do find are tiny, slim and sick. “It is a stock we cannot fish for anymore at all,” he says.

“Cod is a very important fish species in the Baltic, both environmentally (from the ecosystem’s perspective) and commercially (for the fishermen), and its recovery should be a top priority,” Andrzej Bialas, policy advisor at Oceana, told DW.

“For years it’s been bringing large profits to fishing and processing industries and it’s hard to imagine summer vacations by the Baltic Sea without fried cod.”

“We are calling upon the [European] Commission and now the member states to act,” Hogland says. “We are asking for emergency measures to close the fishery immediately and of course to keep it closed in the coming years, but that we can decide upon later.”

EU fishery policy includes an article made exactly for this type of event, he says, referring to Article 12 of the CFP common fishery policy. “However, the article will not be enacted automatically, so to speak.”

“The cod will try to spawn starting now in May and all that can be saved must be done now,” Hoglund adds.

“The normal process of deciding fishing quotas takes too long and is usually concluded in October, but that is for the fishing next year! We cannot wait for this,” he goes on.

“We already know that the European Commission is very worried and will likely act. But they must have support for this in the member states and Germany is very important here. Germany must stand up for this stock and if it does so, it will have others that follow!”

“If we wait for the usual political process to run its course, it will mean goodbye to Eastern Baltic cod,” a statement from the environmental nongovernmental coalition Clean Baltic, Deutsche Umwelthilfe, Oceana, Our Fish, and WWF said.


Source: Pew Trust news release, 17th May 2019. Originally published by DW (Deutsche Welle) 15th April 2019. For further details, see


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EU still over-fishing over 40% of fish stocks, says Pew Trust

Andrew Clayton, Pew Trust, reports 4th April 2019:   The European Union is required by law to end over-fishing in its waters by 2020 but has a long way to go to achieve that, despite EU fisheries ministers’ claims that their agreed 2019 limits for more than 140 stocks show progress toward sustainability.

Complicating the push to end over-fishing, which is mandated under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), is a highly politicised EU fisheries management process that is often negotiated behind closed doors and is not always transparent or fully explained.

As the institution responsible for implementing EU policy, the European Commission should be the source of reliable information; however, comprehensive data on the relationship between catch limit decisions and meeting the requirements of the CFP are often hard to come by. This has been exacerbated by shifts in the benchmarks that the Commission uses to measure and announce progress.

Each June the Commission publishes a fisheries communication, which in recent years has included performance on benchmarks such as average fishing pressure, catch limits that the Commission considers to be set in line with scientific reference points, and stock sizes compared with 15 years ago. While useful, these measures do not always address the legal requirements that EU institutions must meet.

After the European Council decisions, the Commission promotes a list of limits that it claims have been set in line with the legal requirements of the CFP. In December, the Commission claimed that more than two-thirds of stocks (59 of 82) would meet this test for 2019.

However, the criteria used to populate this list have remained unclear, and critiques of the Commission’s list have highlighted errors and important omissions — for example, an estimate of how much work remains to end over-fishing.

To help set catch limits, the EU benefits from — and pays for — advice from respected, independent scientists yet continues to set a significant proportion above those experts’ advice. For example, the Commission’s Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) reported in 2018 that around 41 percent of stocks were not fished in line with the CFP sustainability benchmark in 2016.

Further confusing matters, and often the public, the Commission in recent years has favoured using an assessment based on tonnage of catches, for example reporting in 2018 that a very high volume of catches will come from limits set in line with scientific advice.

Following the Council meeting in December, Karmenu Vella, the commissioner for environment, maritime affairs, and fisheries, further refined this tonnage benchmark, announcing that “almost 99 percent of landings… managed exclusively by the EU will be fished at sustainable levels” (emphasis added). That’s a subtle but critical distinction, suggesting that the Commission is excluding limits agreed with non-EU parties when calculating progress. Vella’s claim is difficult to validate as the Commission has not published the supporting data.

The constant switching between measures of progress leaves observers unclear on the actual state of EU fisheries and trying to reconcile different datasets as the benchmarks change from year to year. Using tonnage data suggests that the job is pretty much done, yet ministers still set a significant number of catch limits higher than scientific advice.

Analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts suggests that 41 percent of the limits agreed in December’s Council meeting were set above the level scientists advised for 2019. This is an improvement on the 44 percent figure for 2018 but far short of what’s needed to meet the 2020 deadline.

Greater transparency would help. For example, the Commission could publish a list of the catch limits that exceed scientific advice so that member States can focus on ending over-fishing. Ministers could explain why they set some limits higher than scientists advised.

If the Council has access to new scientific information, this should be made public and reviewed through the same rigorous process that the bulk of advice to the EU is put through. If ministers are making economic arguments that over-fishing in the short term is good for business, jobs, or food security, the public should hear and test these arguments.

The EU is slowly improving its fisheries management. To ensure observers can verify that progress and to improve governance credibility, decision makers must make the data and arguments underlying their policies public. Doing that, and heeding scientific advice in setting catch limits, will go a long way toward raising ministers’ credibility and ending over-fishing in EU waters by 2020.


Source: Pew Trust news release, 17th May 2019. For further details, see

Andrew Clayton directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ efforts to end overfishing in North-Western Europe.


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Toxic chemicals in sunscreen creams cause major damage to coral reefs and ocean life

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website reports: Common chemicals used in thousands of products to protect against harmful effects of ultraviolet light threaten corals and other marine life.

Healthy coral reefs are one of the most valuable ecosystems on Earth. They provide billions of dollars in economic and environmental services, such as food, coastal protection, and tourism.

However, coral ecosystems around the world face serious threats from a number of sources, including climate change, unsustainable fishing, land-based pollution, coastal development, disease, and invasive species.

Recently, scientists have discovered that some of the chemicals found in sunscreen and other personal health products also threaten the health of coral reefs. Two of those studies, led by NOAA researchers and partners, are detailed below. How these chemicals, and other compounds, affect reef ecosystems remains an active area of research among scientists.

Skincare Chemicals and Coral Reefs

Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3)

In a 2016 study, a team of international scientists found that a common chemical in many sunscreen lotions and cosmetics is highly toxic to juvenile corals and other marine life. Oxybenzone, or BP-3, is found in more than 3,500 skin care products worldwide for protection against the sun’s harmful effects. The compound has been found entering the environment both through wastewater effluent and directly from swimmers wearing sunscreens.

The study, published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, showed four major toxic effects in early, developing coral: increased susceptibility to bleaching; DNA damage (genotoxicity); abnormal skeleton growth (via endocrine disruption); and gross deformities of baby coral.

The authors of the study conclude that non-toxic oxybenzone alternatives are critical for protecting reefs and the exacerbating effects posed by climate change and bleaching.

Effects of the Skincare UV filter, Benzophenone-2

In a 2013 study, NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science researchers and their partners discovered that a sunscreen chemical commonly used in many soaps, cosmetics, and body fragrances is highly toxic to corals. The team’s data show that even very low concentrations of benzophenone-2, or BP-2, can quickly kill juvenile corals.

BP-2 is an additive used in personal-care products since the 1960s to protect against the damaging effects of ultraviolet light.

The team also found that BP-2 causes colourful corals to bleach, and can potentially induce or increase the frequency of mutation in corals by causing damage to their DNA. BP-2 is not removed from most municipal wastewater treatment facilities. This discharge is often directly released in coastal waters of the Caribbean and the Indo-Pacific, threatening near-shore coral reefs.

Although pollution is a major cause of coral reef degradation and is the easiest factor to mitigate, BP-2 as a pollutant has largely been ignored, according to C.A. Downs, lead author of the study.

“In the case of BP-2 pollution, there are a range of options that can be considered for reducing its impact to reefs — from working with manufacturers and innovating more environmentally sustainable products to educating consumers regarding product selection and product disposal,” he said.

The study was published in the December 2013 issue of Ecotoxicology.

Infographic Transcript: Sunscreen Chemicals and Marine Life

  • How sunscreen chemicals enter our environment: The sunscreen you apply may not stay on your skin. When we swim or shower, sunscreen may wash off and enter our waterways.
  • How sunscreen chemicals can affect marine life:
    • Green Algae: Can impair growth and photosynthesis.
    • Coral: Accumulates in tissues. Can induce bleaching, damage DNA, deform young, and even kill.
    • Mussels: Can induce defects in young.
    • Sea Urchins: Can damage immune and reproductive systems, and deform young.
    • Fish: Can decrease fertility and reproduction, and cause female characteristics in male fish.
    • Dolphins: Can accumulate in tissue and be transferred to young.
  • Chemicals in sunscreens that can harm marine life include: Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-Benzylidene camphor, nano-Titanium dioxide, nano-Zinc dioxide
  • How we can protect ourselves and marine life: Seek shade between 10 am & 2 pm, use Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) sunwear, and choose sunscreens with chemicals that don’t harm marine life.


Source: NOAA website. For further details, see


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Cornwall IFCA faces legal challenge over refusal to halt illegal commercial fishing of juvenile bass

Fish Legal report 12th April 2019: Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority has been threatened with judicial review following a decision not to introduce a new emergency byelaw which would have protected juvenile bass from commercial fishing nets.

The IFCA has been given formal notice by Fish Legal, acting on behalf of its member the Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society (BASS), following concerns at the lack of regulation of bass exploitation.

Over recent years, scientific advice published annually by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) has repeatedly shown bass stock at a dangerously low level as the result of commercial over-fishing, successive years of very low numbers of young fish reaching maturity and a lack of coordinated control measures.

In 2015, the European Commission increased the minimum landing size for bass from 36cm to 42cm, allowing female bass the opportunity to spawn before capture. At the time, the Commission said: “Allowing catching and landing of sea bass at a size of less than 42cm seriously harms the reproductive capacity of this stock, contributing significantly to the overall fishing mortality, and causes a serious threat to the conservation of the sea bass stock.”

In June 2018, the ICES assessment stated that bass spawning stock biomass had fallen further and was “below critical level”, making it more important than ever to protect juvenile bass.

Last December, the Cornwall IFCA was told by a representative of the Marine Management Organisation that its officers had witnessed multiple landings of undersized bass from the St Ives Bay zone within the IFCA’s District. At the same meeting, a proposal was made to introduce an emergency byelaw to increase net mesh size to 108mm to avoid undersized bass being caught by commercial fishermen.

In February, the Cornwall IFCA met again to consider passing the emergency byelaw but following advice from Defra that such a byelaw “could be subject to challenge”, the IFCA committee decided not to go-ahead with the byelaw.

Fish Legal believes that Cornwall IFCA did not properly consider the issues fully and should have introduced the increased mesh size to force boat owners to protect juvenile bass.

Fish Legal also argues that, under European regulations, there is an urgent need to take measures for the minimum catch size to be respected and that need continues with the current threat to bass population through unlawful netting and landing of undersized bass.

Furthermore, Fish Legal believes the Cornwall IFCA Committee was ‘misdirected’ by its Chief Officer regarding the workload implications of introducing an emergency byelaw.

David Curtis, a Committee member of BASS, said: “In February, sea anglers were dismayed when the Cornwall IFCA decided not to take urgent action to stop the slaughter of juvenile bass in its district. The IFCA argued that it was “foreseeable” that, three years after the increase to a 42cm Minimum Conservation Reference Size, commercial fishermen would still be using nets with too small a mesh size and therefore it could not introduce an emergency byelaw. BASS believes Cornwall IFCA did not consider the matter properly and therefore its decision was unlawful.

“BASS is deeply grateful to Fish Legal for helping us give formal notice of a proposed claim for judicial review. We hope Cornwall IFCA will reconsider its decision and provide the urgent protection that these juvenile bass need.”


Source: Fish Legal news release, 12th April 2019. For further details see

Fish Legal report, 7th May 2019.

Last month, Fish Legal reported that the Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) had been threatened with legal action for deciding to reject a proposal for a new emergency byelaw which would have protected juvenile bass from commercial fishing nets.

The scientific advice is that that bass stock is at a dangerously low level as the result of commercial overfishing and successive years of very low numbers of young fish reaching maturity. This is aggravated by a lack of coordinated control measures.

In February, the Cornwall IFCA threw out the suggested emergency byelaw on legal advice from Defra that it “could be subject to challenge”.

However, the IFCA is now claiming that it did not approve the byelaw because the situation is not “urgent” (as required by the legislation) and it refuses to disclose the full Defra legal advice despite the considerable public interest.

Cornwall IFCA is also claiming that it “had not been made directly aware of the landings of undersize bass due to small nets with a small mesh size” and that it could not get further information from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) due to “data protection issues”.

“As a result, Cornwall IFCA does not have any direct evidence to indicate that mesh sizes were the cause of the landing of undersize bass.”

The MMO, however, are on record as having drawn the Committee’s attention to the use of nets that catch undersized fish.

Cornwall IFCA has also suggested that “determination of net mesh size is not a matter resolved by an emergency byelaw but by education, consultation and if necessary, a byelaw developed under section 155 of MaCAA”.

David Curtis of Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society said: “Cornwall IFCA’s continuing failure to protect juvenile bass is damaging its reputation as a conservation authority. Over 150 anglers have written to the IFCA in recent weeks asking it to reconsider its decision not to introduce an emergency byelaw. But instead of putting the fish first and putting the matter back to its Committee, Cornwall IFCA seemingly prefers to waste taxpayers’ hard-earned money on legal action.”

Justin Neal, solicitor at Fish Legal said: “This is an unfortunate position for the Cornwall IFCA to be in as it clearly has the ability to use its powers to prevent the ongoing problem of under-sized bass netting. The simplest way to resolve the current impasse and possibility of legal action would be for its Committee to reconsider the proposal, this time with a full discussion of the issues.”


Source: Fish Legal news release, 7th May 2019. For further details, see


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