Seas at risk from bad land management and global warming warns EA

A quarter of all coastal waters are at risk from diffuse pollution caused by agricultural chemicals such as fertilisers and pesticides, the Environment Agency has said.

Launching the new State of the Marine Environment Report, Sir John Harman, Chairman of the Environment Agency, warned that our seas were under risk unless we act now to protect them.

“Fish stocks are decreasing. Sea levels are rising and flood risk is increasing. The climate is warming up and marine ecosystems are changing in response,” he said. “To meet these challenges we need to strike a much better balance between the different uses of our coasts and seas to protect the marine environment.”

Eighty per cent of all global marine pollution comes from the land, while one-third of all intertidal estuaries, including half of all saltmarshes, have been lost to land reclamation since Roman times due to pressure from commercial development and human activities, the report has found.

Coastal and river flooding currently causes about £1 billion of damage every year, but this is set to increase by between 4 and 10 times as much as a result of climate change unless there is adequate investment in future flood risk management.

In addition, over the past 40 years, warmer seas have forced some marine plants and animals, such as the basking shark which relies on small organisms for food, to move north, the report has found.

“While we have seen improvements – such as the best results ever this year with all bathing water (see related story) – our challenges are changing and much remains to be done,” Sir John said.

The Agency has produced its first Marine Strategy and supports the Government’s commitment to create a Marine Bill so that the current piecemeal approach to management of the seas can be replaced with something more coherent.

It would introduce a system of marine spatial planning as well as better protection measures for marine biodiversity and fisheries, as well as clear, allocated responsibilities for managing and regulating activities in the marine environment.

“However, we can’t do it alone. We can only protect our marine environment if we work together with Governments, other regulators and coastal communities to develop new ways of management,” he concluded.

By David Hopkins

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie