Marine Protected Areas

UK seas, worth billions, at risk from Retained EU Law Bill

The Marine Conservation Society have released a report highlighting the economic value of our seas that are at risk if the Retained EU Law Bill is passed and removes or weakens key, long-standing marine laws. 


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The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill could see swathes of environmental and marine conservation laws scrapped or weakened by the end of 2023 because they are ‘retained EU law’ which generally means domestic law that was originally based on EU legislation. Key laws that may be affected include habitats and species protections, fisheries management, marine and freshwater water quality, marine impact assessments and chemicals regulations. 

Sandy Luk, CEO at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “The Retained EU Law Bill poses a huge threat to marine life and environmental protections. At a time of climate, nature and ocean crises, we need to invest in the ocean and the important role it fulfils for our very survival, not remove protections and undermine its functions. From supplying coastal flood defences and locking in carbon, to tourism and fishing, the economic value of our seas and coastal habitats is extraordinary – and we know that available calculations are underestimates. Weakening or scrapping laws that act to protect our seas, and some of the industries that depend on them, will cost us billions.”  

The Office for National Statistics values the UK’s marine natural capital assets at £211 billion. With a deadline of the end of this year, retained EU laws must be rewritten into UK law, or else they will be scrapped. 

A new report by the Marine Conservation Society shows the potential economic threats the REUL Bill poses. This includes the weakening of Marine Protected Areas (MPA), which have been calculated to be worth billions of pounds, not taking account of their role in mitigating climate change. The Government Office for Science states that UK marine biodiversity can be worth up to £2,670 billion and, according to research by WWF, benefits from tourism and recreation services alone can equate to £10 million per MPA. 

Another field that is under threat is that of carbon sequestration. Conservative estimates by the Office for National Statistics indicate that seagrass, saltmarsh, sands and muds together could sequester 10.5 million tonnes of CO2e per year. This has an estimated value of £57.5 billion. However, if looked after well, the seabed could store over 60 million tonnes of CO2e per year which would raise this value beyond £328 billion. 

·Coastal habitats such as saltmarsh and seagrass provide billions of pounds of savings to the UK economy through provision of coastal defence against flooding and coastal erosion that could be lost by removing laws that protect them.  Compared to the costs of man-made alternatives, the Government Office for Science estimates natural coastal defence provided by intertidal coastal habitats is valued between £3.1 and £33.2 billion per year in gross value added. 

Furthermore, the report found that mismanagement of our marine environment undermines the economic stability of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors and the jobs that they support. According to OECD figures, the 0.9 million tonnes of fish produced in 2018 in the UK had a value of £2 billion (half from aquaculture and half from fisheries). Across fisheries and aquaculture there are approximately 11,000 full time employees.  

The UK has a significant coastal economy and annual visits to the UK coast have a value of approximately £17 billion, according to the Committee on Climate Change. Poor water quality and loss of valuable species such as whales and dolphins will impact on tourism and recreation industries that contribute significantly to the UK economy and particularly to local coastal communities.  

Mismanagement of nutrients and waste, and reduction of nutrient cycling services, can increase risks to marine ecosystems and human health as well as impacting the carbon storage potential of coastal ecosystems. Nutrient cycling, supported by biodiversity, in UK waters was valued by Beaumont et al. (2008) at £2.3 billion. The loss or weakening of key water quality legislation through the Retained EU Law Bill would put these important natural functions at risk. 

You can read the full report here.

For more from our Ocean Newsroom, click here.

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