Safeguarding our seas

The world’s coastal and marine habitats are among the most threatened and – until recently – the most neglected on our planet. Unsustainable and destructive fishing practices, insensitive coastal development, a cavalier approach to onshore and offshore environmental safeguards and an insistence on treating our oceans as a dumping ground have already taken a heavy toll. The problems are exacerbated by the impact of climate change, which is resulting in the warming and acidification of our oceans.

Marine ecosystems are worth an estimated US$3 trillion worldwide every year and provide food and livelihoods to over a billion people, but their resilience is being pushed to breaking point by a perfect storm of overexploitation, pollution, habitat destruction and global climate change. Urgent action is required to ensure that our oceans – and the remarkable wildlife found within them – can be nurtured back to health and given time to recover. There is not only a moral imperative to act; our very survival depends on doing so.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has had one eye on marine conservation for much of its history. We were urging greater protection for whales and other marine mammals as long ago as 1913, demanding government action on oil pollution in 1933, highlighting the plight of sea turtles as early as the 1960s and supporting research on the exploitation of coral reef fishes in the 1980s.

In 2011, with the support of a generous grant from Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin – FFI officially established a marine programme to provide a formal framework for our ongoing efforts to address the growing threats to the world’s oceans.

A strategy to save our seas

Building on FFI’s existing areas of expertise, our marine strategy is designed to safeguard species, habitats and livelihoods through effective protection and management of marine ecosystems; encourage more enlightened policy and practice; and ensure the long-term sustainability of conservation measures by developing a network of strong organisations to take forward marine conservation in their own countries.

In keeping with our tried-and-tested approach to habitat protection and conservation in general, we place particular emphasis on empowering local – in this case, coastal – communities to be the custodians of the marine resources on which they depend. While recognising the importance of international processes, we are committed to harnessing local and national support for marine conservation, investing in grass-roots activities driven by the very people whose future is most at stake.

Since the launch of our marine programme, FFI has already worked across 17 countries with over 90 partners. We have contributed directly to the establishment or strengthening of well over 50 marine protected areas and dozens of new no-take zones, witnessed a reduction in destructive fishing activities at 45% of all sites and seen evidence of recovery in key species groups and habitats.

Securing wider protection

In many cases, our work has been pioneering. FFI was, for example, the first conservation organisation to establish an applied programme of marine work in Myanmar some four years before the new government was installed in early 2016, and is at the forefront of numerous community-led initiatives to protect the country’s valuable marine and coastal resources. We have helped to establish Myanmar’s first locally managed marine areas (a form of community-led marine protected area) and, by highlighting the detrimental effects of overfishing, are paving the way for wider protection measures and fishery reforms in the country.

Influencing policy and practice

Plastic pollution in our oceans is not only an eyesore, but also poses a serious threat to marine life. The insidious effects of tiny and potentially toxic plastic particles (microplastics), which can enter the food chain when ingested by marine organisms, are a particular cause for concern. FFI was one of the first conservation organisations to highlight the specific issue of microplastic granules in facial scrubs and other down-the-drain products that are washed into our oceans. This ultimately led to the UK government’s decision to ban the use of microbeads in toiletries.

Our work on fisheries reform includes working with partners in Nicaragua to permanently restrict the use of destructive fishing gear and practices – such as dynamite fishing and bottom trawling – in the so-called Coral Corridor, an 80-km-long marine management area that is a vital haven for threatened sea turtles.

Giving communities a voice

We also help to put decision-making about the management of marine resources in local hands. In Scotland, for example, we are supporting existing and emerging grass-roots groups with disparate priorities but a shared interest in protecting their local seas. Their collective voice is now being heeded in discussions revolving around the need for stricter regulations and greater safeguards at key marine sites. Among other positive outcomes, this has led to the recent designation of a marine protected area around Fair Isle, the culmination of decades of effort.