Sustainable Seas Contents


1.Oceans cover around 70 per cent of the earth’s surface and support a huge variety of life. Healthy marine habitats and biodiversity provide us with goods and services essential to life on earth, including food, raw materials, leisure and recreation, carbon and nutrient cycling, and climate regulation. They support the livelihoods of three billion people around the world.1 Including its 14 Overseas Territories, the UK is responsible for 6.8 million square kilometres of ocean, nearly 30 times the size of the UK itself.2 The UK Overseas Territories encompass vast tracts of ocean and thousands of coral atolls, with internationally significant marine biodiversity in four of the world’s oceans. They account for 90 per cent of the biodiversity for which the UK Government has responsibility, the value of which has been estimated in the trillions of pounds.3

2.Human activities in both coastal and open waters have increased, leading to physical and biological pressures on the marine environment. According to the UN, as much as 40 per cent of the world’s oceans are heavily affected by human activities with impacts from pollution to depleted fisheries and loss of coastal habitats.4

3.In March 2018, the Government Office for Science published a report on the future trends, challenges and opportunities for the UK from the sea, Foresight Future of the Sea (henceforth Foresight).5 This also assessed how the UK could use its expertise and technological strengths to benefit from future marine opportunities such as deep sea mining and tackle problems like ocean acidification. It concluded that there is a widespread lack of understanding of the sea and its value, from what is termed “sea blindness” and a risk that marine issues may be ignored because of the shared interest and responsibility for them across Government departments and the devolved administrations. Foresight recommended that the Government develop a clear, joined-up marine strategy.6 In response, on 22 June 2018, then Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson announced the development of a cross-Government International Oceans Strategy.7 Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed that the strategy would be coordinated by the Foreign Office and involve seven Government Departments.8

Our inquiry

4.In April 2018, we launched an inquiry into Sustainable Seas, examining how ocean life can be protected from acidification, overfishing, resource extraction and pollution and what more the Government could be doing to protect it. We received 145 written responses to the inquiry and are grateful to all those who took the time to contribute. We held four hearings, the first with the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisers on the Foresight report and leading academics from the sector. The second focussed on the effectiveness of the Marine Stewardship Council certification and the sustainability of aquaculture. The third explored the designation and management of Marine Protected Areas and the environmental risks from deep sea mining, and the final hearing was with Ministers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

5.During the course of our inquiry international negotiations including the UN High Seas Treaty,9 the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources,10 and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity11 were held (see Annex A for further details). The outcomes of these and the Government’s International Ocean Strategy announcement have therefore influenced the course of our inquiry and its recommendations.

2 Institute of Zoology. 2016. Big-ocean commitments in the UK Overseas Territories [Accessed 18/04/2018]

3 Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 2012. The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability, p8

4 UN Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources [Accessed 23/10/2017]

5 Government Office for Science. 2018. Foresight Future of the Sea

6 Government Office for Science. 2018. Foresight Future of the Sea

9 In September 2018 an inter-governmental conference of the UN began negotiating the development of an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. Also known at the High Seas Treaty, see Annex A.

10 The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) met in Tasmania in the last two weeks of October 2018 to vote on the Weddell Sea protected area.

11 The 14th meeting of signatories to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity was held in Egypt from 17–24 November 2018, where the UK planned to call on other nations to push for a 30 per cent target for marine protected areas globally by 2030.

Published: 17 January 2019