Will the “Marine Super Year” bring a wave of successes for nature?

new Marine Scorecard sets out key ocean challenges for Government

In a new Marine Scorecard launched today (27th April), 12 nature charities, including WWF, Greenpeace, RSPB, RSPCA and the IFM, have set out the key challenges Government must meet in 2021 to turn the tide for our struggling ocean. [1]

At the start of 2021 the Government declared this to be a “Marine Super Year” and that, given the ocean’s critical role in climate regulation, the UK would use its presidency of COP26 to lead calls for renewed action to restore the marine environment to health. [2] Our Marine Scorecard outlines the vital measures needed to deliver on this vision. The nature coalition will be ranking the extent of the Government’s progress on ocean recovery according to these criteria at the end of the year, and will be using this to hold them to account where action has not met their ambition. This scorecard is the litmus test for the success of the Marine Super Year.

Chris Tuckett, of the Marine Conservation Society and Chair of Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Marine Group, said: “In the UK over half the environment we have is under the sea. Being an ocean nation, we must take care of the ocean so that it can continue to take care of us as the biggest regulator of climate change. As hosts of the G7 and COP26 the UK has the opportunity to truly make this a Marine Super Year by taking world leading action at home and striking strong global deals for climate and nature. 

“The UK Government has already made some positive marine moves in 2021, but we must see a wave of successes on key issues where our ocean has been struggling for years. There can be no further delay – action is needed now and this year provides the ideal opportunity for this Government to show true leadership. We hope the Government will receive a good report in our Marine Super Year Scorecard later this year, but if they get a C- not an A+ we’ll be holding them to account.”

Kate Norgrove, Executive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF said: “The ocean is essential to all life on our planet, but the pressures we are placing on UK seas, from pollution to unsustainable fishing practices, mean they now need urgent life support. 

“The UK Government has made clear its ambition to be a global leader on ocean conservation. However, to be taken seriously, it must live up to its promise to make 2021 a Marine Super Year by refocusing its failing UK Marine Strategy on ocean recovery and delivering on all of the targets in this scorecard.”

Amy Slack, Head of Campaigns and Policy at Surfers Against Sewage, said: “2021 marks the start of the UN Ocean Decade and Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. The Government must take bold and decisive action to restore nature, turn its back on polluting and destructive industries, and halt runaway climate change. The ocean is in a critical condition but plays such a key role in the climate crisis. We have seen promising commitments from the Government but with only 10 years left to save the ocean, it’s time to turn words into action. The Marine Scorecard clearly sets out the action that is needed THIS YEAR to set us on the path to true ocean recovery and will hold Government to account to the commitments it has made.” 

Will McCallum, Head of Oceans, Greenpeace UK: “Sadly successive UK governments have failed to properly protect our seas, and the marine life and communities that depend on them. The global Climate and Nature emergency means there is simply no more time to lose, UK governments need to step up on the national and international stage to deliver proper protection this year. That means stopping destructive fishing to deliver no-take marine reserves, and fixing the broken quota system at home, as well as being a global leader for international action elsewhere.

“We need healthy oceans for the future, with protected areas both supporting sustainable fishing communities, and giving us the best possible chance to meet the challenges of a climate in crisis.”

A healthy ocean is critical to regulating the Earth’s temperature and to meeting commitments to limit global warming to around 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The ocean floor is the world’s biggest carbon sink but is being disturbed by man-made activity like bottom-trawling. Marine wildlife also captures vast amounts of carbon, with great whales (like blue whales) each capturing around 33 tons of CO2 equivalent and sea grass storing around 35x as much carbon as rainforest, yet the number of blue whales globally has fallen 97% and the amount of sea grass around the UK has reduced by 92%. [3]

The ocean is struggling under manmade pressures of over-use, over-fishing and chemical, plastic and heat pollution. The UK’s seas failed to meet 11 out 15 indicators for healthy waters in the most recent assessment in 2019. Thousands of whales, dolphins, porpoises and seabirds die in UK fishing nets every year and many more are hurt, choked or killed by plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is expected to increase six-fold this decade and there is clear evidence that chemical pollution is slashing birth rates of ocean mammals, with 50% of the world’s Orca populations alone expected to disappear within 50 years due to chemical-related infertility. Marine protections are inadequate with many protected in name only.

Government has taken welcome ocean action this year seeking, as leader of the Global Oceans Coalition, for 30% of the world’s seas and oceans to become Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), and proposals to improve management of four offshore UK MPAs with further action promised across another 36. But still only 10% of UK waters are protected and well-managed. The charities are warning the Government still has a long way to go in both legislative and policy development if we are to restore the health of our ocean. 

The nature charities are highlighting the following five priority areas, with key actions in each area for Government to meet in 2021, which are essential to achieving ocean recovery. The coalition will publish rankings on Government action on each element of the Marine Scorecard criteria in December. Government action is needed to:

  • Deliver legally binding targets for ocean recovery, which guarantee action by 2030
  • Protect and restore vulnerable wildlife, particularly through more effective management and enforcement in protected areas and tougher sustainable fishing measures (such as banning bottom-trawling in MPAs)
  • Provide offshore infrastructure planning reforms, which prioritise nature protection and require a biodiversity net gain for wildlife as with land-based planning
  • Prevent deaths in fishing nets of marine mammals and birds (Such as consulting on installing remote monitoring and changes to fishing gear across the UK fishing fleet to reduce bycatch)
  • Ensure investment in Blue Carbon to tackle climate change. This should include blue carbon creation and protections measures, for ecosystems such as sea grass and salt marshes, particularly in MPAs.


    Notes to Editors:

  • Bottom trawling has turned the ocean floor from a carbon sink to a source of emissions, pumping hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 into the ocean a similar amount to CO2 produced by aviation
  • NewNatural England research has shown that coastal and marine habitats such as saltmarsh and sea grass meadows have a significant role to play a role in helping the UK hit net zero by 2050
  • It is estimated that if all the UK’s seagrass was restored, it could lock up about 3% of the country’s annual CO2 emissions
  • It is estimated that the amount of heat captured by the ocean has more than doubled since the 1990s. Since 1997 the ocean has absorbed man-made heat energy equivalent to a Hiroshima-style bomb being exploded every second for 75 straight years
  1. Wildlife and Countryside Link (Link) is the largest environment and wildlife coalition in England, bringing together 58 organisations to use their strong joint voice for the protection of nature. This document is supported by the following Link members: Buglife, Greenpeace, Institute of Fisheries Management, Marine Conservation Society, Orca, RSPB, RSPCA, Surfers Against Sewage, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), The Wildlife Trusts, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), and WWF.
  2. In a speech to the Coastal Futures Conference in January 2021, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow declared this to be a ‘Marine Super Year’, confirming that the UK would use its presidency of COP26 to lead calls for renewed action to restore the marine environment to health.
  3. Each great whale captures 33 tons of CO2 on average and takes that carbon out of the atmosphere for centuries, as when it dies the carbon is consumed by bottom-dwelling fish, crabs, worms and bacteria and remains on the ocean floor for centuries. Yet blue whale numbers have reduced by 97% (Source IMF Nature’s Solution to Climate Change report 2019, p35). Research has shown that seagrass captures carbon up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests and, even though it only covers 0.2% of the seafloor, it absorbs 10% of the ocean’s carbon each year (Source WWF).

    This is a high rate and amount of carbon capture, comparing to individual trees absorbing up to 48 pounds of CO2 a year (source – IMF).