Protecting our marine parks

Hugo Tagholm has previously led the ocean campaigning charity Surfers Against Sewage and is the executive director and vice president of Oceana in the UK. In this column, he explains how healthy ocean ecosystems play a crucial part in our wellbeing and outlines why it is so important to protect marine parks.

Words by Hugo Tagholm
Photograph by Michiel Vos via Ocean Image Bank


Picture your favourite nature reserve or local park. A place where you draw inspiration and wellbeing, for your mind and body. Somewhere you can recharge your batteries and reconnect with the wild. A place where you consciously and subconsciously rediscover ancient connections with nature. Many of us are lucky enough to have these spaces in our neighbourhoods. Places that are invested in, protected, and nurtured for future generations. Patches of land that we have visited with grandparents, parents, children, and grandchildren. 

Our coastline has the same unifying draw – beaches that inspire generation after generation to delve into rockpools, bodysurf swells that build and break, spark barbeques as the orange sun sinks beneath the darkening horizon. Spaces that are so precious to us that community after community will fight for their right to exist, untouched by the relentless progress of industry. These spaces not only unite us but bring us hope in these challenging times for people and planet. Spaces that provide a connection with nature rather than commerce. Places that we are willing to stand up for. As oceanographer Jacques Cousteau once said, “The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.”

What lies beneath the surface of the sea needs our help just as much. Its own community willing to stand up for all the intrinsic benefits it brings us whilst intact and untouched. After all, we wouldn’t tolerate industrial trawl nets scouring our forests and fields, scraping up all life as we know it. We wouldn’t allow Big Oil to erect new wells in our parks. We wouldn’t allow Big Mining to take hold in the green and wild spaces that are fundamentally important to how well we live.

We must continue to resist the encroachment of the most destructive of industries that fill our seas with pollution, extract the goodness, kill marine life, and destroy the very structures and sediments of the seascape. 

Healthy ocean ecosystems play such a crucial part in all our wellbeing, whether we see them or not. Just as nature reserves, parks and beaches are crucial to wellbeing. Ecosystems and habitats we depend on but rarely see, apart from in high definition, a step away reality. Projected into our homes on technicolour, these places can seem somewhat irreal and safe from the impending destruction. 

What is out of sight simply can’t be out of mind.

However Big Oil, industrial fishing, and deep-sea mining all have their sights set on further exploiting our ocean. The growing momentum to monetise our ocean, by industries old and new, is creating a squeeze on these ecosystems and marine life that we must resist, monitor, and regulate to avoid losing sea spaces that are vital for our collective futures. A healthy and functioning ocean is more important to us all than we can even imagine. 

Continuing to build hope, community support and momentum for life below the waves is vital as we approach the mid-way staging post for the United Nations Ocean Decade. The recent success of the High Seas Treaty to protect biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction is a fantastic step forward for our seas – a reflection of the global community coming together to nudge the balance of power back in favour of our wild ocean. 

Added to this, the recent wave of opposition from NGOs and countries to slow, if not stop, proposals for unregulated deep-sea mining before it inflicts irreparable damage to our ocean ecosystem gives us hope that our ocean won’t face unabated industrialisation. 

Are we really going to sell off our last wildernesses to the highest bidder?

The momentum to stop industrial trawling is growing too, with Patagonia, perhaps the world’s most activist outdoor brand, stepping in to join calls for a complete end to bottom trawling and dredging in Marine Protected Areas in the UK and Europe. This complements Oceana’s 2021 legal action challenging the government’s ongoing licensing of this most destructive type of fishing in these so-called protected areas. Bottom trawling and dredging are completely incompatible with genuine protected areas. 

Closer to home, projects including the Plymouth Sound National Marine Park are a crucial effort aimed at safeguarding and restoring the rich marine ecosystems and those that rely on them. This new approach highlights the deep links between ocean health and human health. The Plymouth Sound Marine Park encompasses a diverse range of habitats, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, and underwater canyons, providing vital breeding grounds and habitats for various marine species. The park also supports the local economy by promoting responsible marine tourism, water sports, active ocean use and maintaining the region’s natural beauty. Local campaigns and educational programmes play a vital role in engaging communities and visitors, fostering a sense of responsibility and connection to the marine environment.

Using all the tools and techniques we can to mitigate the impact of human activities from overfishing to habitat destruction is essential. And then we can rebuild and restore those ocean habitats most resilient to climate change, ocean warming and acidification. Ultimately, from the global to the hyper-local, we need to combine progressive campaigns, collaborations, treaties, and models for dynamic and impactful marine conservation to preserve the delicate balance of ocean ecosystems for future generations. 

Photograph by Michiel Vos via Ocean Image Bank
Issue 32
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_crew

This column appears in ISSUE 32: SENTINELS OF CHANGE of Oceanographic Magazine

Issue 32
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_crew
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_crew

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