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Interview: Luke Pollard, MP for Plymouth, talks to Jeff Goodman about the proposed first UK National Marine Park

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To date, I have always thought so-called marine protected areas in the UK to be a sham. Poorly regulated and enforced. Could this finally be a change of times? I was delighted to learn about the proposal for creating the UK’s first National Marine Park in my home counties of Devon and Cornwall. I caught the news recently and heard that initial funding has been awarded. Wonderful!

About Luke Pollard

Luke Pollard was elected as the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport in June 2017. Luke was born and lives in Plymouth and is the first MP to be born in Plymouth since Michael Foot represented the city in 1945.

After winning the seat from the Conservatives, Luke was appointed PPS to Shadow Environment Secretary, Sue Hayman MP, before being promoted to Shadow Environment Minister responsible for Water, Flooding, Fishing and Coastal Communities in July this year.

In December 2018 at the University of Plymouth, Luke launched proposals to create the UK’s First National Marine Park (NMP) in Plymouth Sound.

Plymouth Sound is one of the most unique marine environments in the UK. It includes the Plymouth Sound and Tamar Estuaries Marine Protected Area designated for its abundance and diversity of wildlife, the largest naval base in western Europe, a nationally significant fish market, over 13,000 people in Plymouth are employed in the marine sector, it is home to world-class marine research and boasts a rich maritime history. Nowhere in the UK is more deserving of special recognition. Developing a National Marine Park (NMP) here in Plymouth will not only provide a huge local benefit but it will provide a model, which campaigners intend to roll out across coastal communities on a national scale. You can read more about this here.


Jeff: Thanks for taking time out to tell us more about the proposal for the UK’s first National Marine Park and I would like to heartily congratulate you and all the other people and groups involved in devising and moving this project forward.

How, when and why did you first become involved with the project?

Luke: It was just after Theresa May called the snap election in 2017 that I decided to make campaigning for the UK’s National Marine Park to be one of my key campaign pledges. Labour was 27 points behind in the polls and I thought: I have nothing to lose and so I might as well be bold and go for policies that will really make a difference. A marine park turned out to be one of the most popular pledges I made in 2017 and helped me get elected. Now, as an MP, I’m working with Plymouth City Council and our city’s academics including Professor Martin Attrill, who first proposed the concept, many years ago.

Jeff: Can you tell us the key aspects of the proposed park and how it would function?

Luke: The basic premise behind the National Marine Park is that people don’t know anything about marine protection. Plymouth Sound already has SSSIs, MCZs and a dozen other protected statuses, but it would be very hard to find anyone in Plymouth who could name more than one, if that. The idea behind a National Marine Park is that it takes a concept we all know, understand and value of a National Park, and applies it to the marine environment. Suddenly, you have public understanding of marine protection in a way that all the MCZs in the world don’t achieve. It is a gateway for understanding marine protections and helping people value the marine environment more.

Jeff: In my opinion, official marine parks in the UK are long over due and have always met fierce opposition especially from the fishing industry. What are the circumstances and conditions that have made this possible now?

Luke: The basic principle of a National Marine Park is that we must have sustainable environmental protections and sustainable economic activity. The drive to create a National marine park comes at the same time as there’s a real focus on fishing. Our local fleet has the potential to be more sustainable and more successful and that is why good dialogue between Government, councils and industry is needed to deliver improved sustainability locally.

Jeff: Will both commercial and recreational fishing in the park be regulated and enforced?

Luke: We are exploring with stakeholders about how a National Marine Park should work. There isn’t another UK marine park for us to follow so it is a bit of test and try. What we do know is that there are some very successful efforts by fishers and scientists to protect and repopulate different parts of our marine environment, minimise impact of fishing gear and value fishing more. It’s a work in progress here but we need a sustainable industry both environmentally and economically after all you can’t fish what isn’t there any more because of over-fishing.

Jeff: In a previous statement you mention the shock of seeing the BBC Blue Planet revelation of the state of our oceans. Have you always been concerned about the negative things we are doing to our planet or is this newly found?

Luke: As a young lad growing up in Devon, I remember swimming in the sea past floating turds and sanitary towels. That was because Britain used to flush our sewers right out to sea. It took billions of pounds and a national effort to achieve the clean and safe bathing waters around the south west coast. We need a similar national effort to deal with plastic pollution at home and abroad. Blue Planet II was a wake up call we must not ignore.

Jeff: Are you ever able to get out at sea and watch the incredible wildlife we have around our shores?

Luke: Very occasionally on the water via a kayak or stand up paddle board, but more likely from the coast paths around Plymouth.

Jeff: I cannot imagine the day when I won’t be able to get to the coast and be on the water. Do you snorkel or dive and been able to see first hand marine life in and around the shores of the UK?

Luke: I get so seasick which is rubbish for an MP who speaks so often about the importance of the Royal Navy, our fishing industry, marine science and our coastal waters. I do enjoy a bit of snorkelling and I’m a wild swimmer. There really is nothing better to relieve the stresses of Westminster than a swim in Plymouth Sound bobbing along with the waves on a sunny day and looking over the Hoe and foreshore. We are so lucky to have this on our doorstep and I want more people to take the plunge and explore our coast line whether on the coast path or by getting wet.

Jeff: Who do you think will be the main beneficiaries from the park?

Luke: We know that middle class folks tend to get the maximum returns from National Parks mainly because they can afford their own transport. I want to see the biggest benefits of a National Marine Park being those who come from our poorest communities. You only need to see the kids paddling in the sea on a sunny day in Plymouth to see how many are not wearing swimming costumes but underwear. Plymouth is one of the poorest cities in the country and being flanked by gorgeous countryside and beautiful beaches doesn’t change the economic challenges. But the sea is free and creating marine citizenship for every child so they understand and can engage with rock pools, waves and sandy beaches is vital. Some recent research found that in Plymouth – a city that prides itself on being Britain’s Ocean City – some 20% of kids have not even seen the sea. That needs to change. We have turned our back on the sea for far too long as a city and as a country and that needs to change.

Jeff: What will be the final budget needed to set the park up and keep it running and where will that money come from?

Luke: We have been successful in winning financial support from the Marine Management Organisation for some early work on the National Marine Park project. Final costs must match our ambition and that is being worked on now. I don’t want to see new levies or taxes to pay for the marine park. I think it needs to be an investment made by the city and our local businesses in its promotion and engagement. The National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth along with Plymouth Marine Laboratories and the Marine Biological Association have all committed effort to date and their enthusiasm and passion for the project is a real inspiration. The proposals have caught the imagination of marine scientists, engineers and local businesses as a way of telling the untold stories of our coast and coastal communities. I’m really excited about where this project is going and what it could achieve. The early stages are now underway but there is an awful lot of detail that still needs to be worked out ahead.

Jeff: Would the park create openings for park wardens and how would the park be enforced?

Luke: Plymouth Sound is already one of the most protected bits of water in the whole country. That’s protected by a range of government agencies and of course as Devonport is Western Europe’s largest Naval base, we have plenty of people with guns keeping an eye on our waters too! I think the concept of a national marine park needs to refresh enforcement and the best way to protect a bit of water is to have people value it and the diversity under the surface. The full details are being worked out but I really want to have the marine park tell the story of the people who work day in, day out protecting it already but the idea of park wardens as champions, educationalists and story tellers is something that has been proposed. We do need to protect our coastal waters and that means having the right people involved from Government and those conversations are starting to happen. It will take time but I think this is time well spent.

Jeff: I hope this will be a milestone in the future protection and longevity of our UK waters and wildlife. Will you personally take an interest in seeing this rolled out to the rest of the UK?

Luke: I want Plymouth Sound to be the UK’s first National Marine Park. That means we need to have a second, third, fourth, fifth in the pipeline. Britain’s coastline is incredible, with such beautiful diversity. I am certain there won’t be a shortage of candidates once the concept has been developed and rolled out in Plymouth.

Jeff: Is there anything now that we the general public can do to help this park become a reality?

Luke: Plymouth City Council who I passed the baton over to are consulting with local people and stakeholders and there’ll be events and consultations aplenty to contribute to in due course, but we don’t need to wait until a marine park is designated to make the most of our coastal waters today. So, visit a beach, go on a litter pick, reduce your plastic, learn to kayak or sail, walk on a beach or explore a coast path. At the moment, the biggest way people can get involved is to connect with the marine environment and share their stories.

Jeff: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. Please do keep us informed if you can as the project moves forward and I hope you get time to get out and enjoy our wonderful marine wildlife.

Jeff Goodman is the Editor-at-Large for Scubaverse.com with responsibility for conservation and underwater videography. Jeff is an award-winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker who lives in Cornwall, UK. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Sharks: The Oceans Greatest Mystery – Part 3

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Sharks are a truly incredible animal that have evolved and shaped themselves to be the perfect predator which, in turn, has shaped our oceans and the animals that live within it. Sharks have existed on our planet for up to 400 million years and throughout that time they have become one of the most numerous top predators on our planet, they have lived through 5 major extinction events when many other species died out. Sharks have been doing something right all this time, but at this very moment sharks are facing a threat that is so powerful that it is literally changing the face of our planet, and that force is Humans, it’s us. Sharks are being killed at an unprecedented rate, a rate of unimaginable scale. Recent studies by scientists have shown that since 1970 we have reduced Shark & Ray populations by a staggering 71%.

What threats do they face?

Sharks worldwide are currently dealing with a huge array of issues which is putting the whole group at risk. Sharks are being killed for their Fins, Oil, Teeth/Jaws and other members of the group, such as Manta Ray’s, are killed for their Gill Rakers and wings.

Firstly, let us talk about what is potentially the most inhumane form of animal harvesting, Shark Finning. This is the practice of removing a Sharks Fins, usually whilst the animal is still alive, and then discarding the rest of the animal back into the Ocean. The Shark is usually still alive throughout the whole process and the animal usually dies from drowning or blood loss on the sea floor. Shark fins only account for around 2% of a Sharks average body weight which means that 98% of the animal is merely tossed back into the ocean, 98% of the animal is just simply wasted. Now this begs the question what are Shark fins used for? Well, they are used in an Asian dish known as Shark Fin Soup, now Shark fin is tasteless, which means that the fin only adds mere texture to a Chicken or Pork flavoured broth which further begs the question, why use Shark Fin and not something else to add texture. Well, the soup serves more as a status symbol and it is known as the food of emperors and kings, those who can afford and serve Shark Fin at a banquet or party are revered as wealthy.

Sharks are also harvested for traditional medicine, where it is believed that by ingesting Shark parts such as their cartilage or liver, it can give you a Sharks “magical” powers and abilities. The most common rumour is that Sharks do not get cancer, and by consuming Sharks you can also become immune to cancer. This is of course false; Sharks do in fact get cancer and with recent additions of pollutants and chemicals into the oceans from human activities, sharks get cancer now more than ever, along with a whole host of other ailments. This means that by eating Sharks you are actually more likely to catch illnesses and ailments such as Mercury poisoning, due to the fact that Sharks hold a large quantity of such toxic substances in their bodies.

Aside from Shark finning, they are also at huge risk of becoming caught in nets and on lines as Bycatch, this means that they get caught despite not being the targeted species. For example, Sharks are commonly caught on Tuna hooks or in Tuna nets. Unfortunately, in these instances they tend to not even have their fins removed and, in this case, the whole animal is wasted. The sharks are usually already dead after being brought up due to the amount of time they have sat on hooks and usually die from exhaustion or drowning. Sometimes Sharks are killed in sport fishing tournaments as game fish, where people will go out on Shark fishing days and many Sharks will be killed for the chance of beating a previous record.

Sharks are also at risk of habitat loss, in the same way as Jaguars and Macaws in the Amazon, and Elephants in Asia. Human activities such as fishing, expansion, pollution, mining and Global Warming are all threatening Sharks Habitats. Flapper Skates, which are also known as Common Skates, are now Critically Endangered around the UK due to trawling damaging the egg laying sites for this species. The Bimini Islands, which are famous for the presence of a Lemon Shark Nursery, were in trouble a few years back with plans for demolishing a section of the Mangrove Forest on the island, to make way for a Golf Course. Thankfully it wasn’t successful, but if it was it could have put the Lemon Sharks at extreme risk as this is an area needed for the beginning of the lemon shark’s life cycle.

Another factor putting sharks at risk, is the amount of plastic pollution and pollutants in the water. Plastics can block the digestive system of plankton feeding Sharks and Ray’s such as Whale Sharks and Manta Ray’s, and discarded fishing gear such as nets can entangle up Sharks and other aquatic animals. The amount of fishing being done in the oceans also puts sharks at risk from their food supply disappearing, as humans fish the oceans, we are inadvertently removing the fish stocks that Sharks rely on for their survival.

Sharks & People

Sharks are an apex predator in the World’s Oceans, and it may seem far-fetched to believe, but we depend on Sharks more than you might think. Let us start with fish, currently 10-12 percent of the world’s population relies on the Ocean’s fish for their diet and survival, and Sharks help to keep fish stocks healthy by eating sick, injured or diseased fish and holding the toxins and diseases in their bodies until they die, this is why Sharks have such a strong immune system. With Sharks hunting these fish, it helps to keep the stocks healthy and means the fish that we catch and eat won’t make us sick.

Sharks also play a vital role in the Planet’s oxygen cycle, the Ocean essentially acts as a giant blue lung taking in Carbon Dioxide from the air, seagrass beds and plankton then absorb the Carbon Dioxide and release it as Oxygen back into the atmosphere. If Sharks were to disappear then other animal stocks would explode out of proportion and eat all of the sea grass and/or plankton and the oxygen cycle would be hindered. An example is, if Tiger Sharks were to disappear, then the Turtle population would rapidly increase, allowing the Turtles to eat all of the Seagrass, which would mean we lose a key component of the production of our oxygen. Along with plankton, seagrass helps to produce 75% of the Oxygen we breathe daily. Seagrass Meadows also store more Carbon than any Forest on land making them one of the most productive habitats on our Planet.

How can we be better Ambassadors to Sharks?

It may seem like there is not much we can do, but you would be surprised to hear that there is in fact a lot that we can do to help Sharks. Sharks have been tarnished with a hugely negative reputation, a reputation that can make protecting them difficult. The problem is people are told their whole lives that Sharks are mindless killing machines and that if you go in the Ocean, you are likely to meet your timely demise, but we now know that these stories are literally just that, stories. One of the best ways of protecting sharks is to help people better understand them and all it may take is a simple conversation, a conversation where you can debunk myths, a conversation where you can change their perspective. Jacques Cousteau once said, “People protect what they love”, and this saying holds a lot of weight. People will protect sharks if they love them, and the only way to allow people to love them is for them to first understand them, and understanding first comes through education. If people love Sharks, then the whole cycle starts again with them going out and telling people about Sharks. If you are Diver and or, Underwater Photographer, then you can share your experiences and imagery with people, which will allow their perspectives to shift, and you would be surprised to find out how beneficial Social media can be for Sharks, as it’s a place where you can share your images and stories to a very wide audience across the globe.

Another way to help is to not buy Shark Fin Soup or any Shark products, it may be tempting to buy a Shark tooth necklace or Shark in a jar when on holiday, or even to try Shark Fin Soup, but this will only feed the problem, if we can do this then, when the buying stops then the killing can too.

Something that has been realised recently is that Sharks are worth more alive than dead and over a Sharks lifetime, it can bring in many millions of Dollars through Echo-Tourism, compared to the couple of dollars it will bring into a fisherman if the animal is killed. Thankfully, areas that were once Shark fishing hotpots, have turned to becoming areas where Shark populations have exploded, due to an influx of Divers from across the globe going to see Sharks alive and healthy. Places such as Raja Ampat, The Maldives, and The Galapagos Islands have put protections on sharks and in doing so attract divers to these areas where Sharks are protected, with divers going to these areas only further helps and funds the Protected area and allow the work to continue.

A final thing you can do is to write to your Local MP about needing larger and stronger Marine Protected areas, with stronger protections from commercial fishing. As it stands there is less than 0.5% of our World’s Oceans that have complete protection from commercial fishing. Scientists have stated that for our Oceans to be protected, we need at least 30% of our Oceans to have complete protection for Sharks, Fish and other marine mammals, which will, in turn, allow our Oceans to stabilise themselves.

There is still a lot that you can do and if you do just one of these things, you could help change the fate of Sharks and allow them to continue thriving and shaping our oceans for millennia to come.

So that’s it, a deep dive into Sharks, our Oceans Greatest Mystery. A look into their biology, behaviour and secrecy. I hope after this you come away with a better understanding and appreciation for this incredible group of animals, I hope after this you now look at a Shark and see not a monster, but an animal that is incredibly misunderstood and one that not only keeps our Oceans healthy, but also our whole Planet. Sharks are a key component in our survival, and with our help they can continue to be our Oceans Greatest Mystery.


Follow Donovan on Instagram at www.instagram.com/donovans_reefs

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Safe, Sustainable Travel – How will the new travel normal work for our environment?

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The past year has definitely been a strange one for us all. Life as we know it has changed for good. Our daily lives, future plans, travel and holiday dreams have all changed in ways we never imagined. For some of us, it was a time of reflection, some sadness, some fear, but we all managed at some stage to find some peace and happiness too.

Reflection about our well-being, seeing how the environment has been positively impacted by the lock downs, connecting with family and friends, even if only virtually and perhaps uniting as a global community, we can’t say it’s been all bad. But moving forward, re-opening our countries and allowing freedom of movement once again – with the ‘new normal’ needs plenty of careful thought and consideration.

PPE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT 

We need to consider our health, especially now that many of us are returning to work. We need to make sure we are looking after our well-being and we also need to consider our environment. There are new requirements and expectations set in place, but if we are not careful, we will simply create whole new areas of issue, transferring what we have ‘undone’ during lock down to new environmental issues.

The internet is already awash with images of discarded face masks impacting wildlife and marine life. Even as early as February 2020, 70 masks along 100 meters of shoreline were found on a beach clean in Hong Kong and more recently in the Mediterranean, masks have reportedly been seen floating like jellyfish.

Discarded masks may also risk spreading the virus to waste collectors, litter pickers or members of the public who first come across the litter. Let alone the fact that as a mask breaks down over time into millions of particles, the potential is there for those particles to carry chemicals and bacteria up the food chain.

At Secret Paradise Maldives we are firm believers in sustainable travel and also believe that if each one of us takes individual responsibility and educates just one person, messages such as these will filter through to many people.

Picking up a couple of plastic bottles or bags on the beach may seem a tiny gesture given the global plastic crisis but what if every single person on this planet just picked up two pieces of plastic rubbish? Or better still, we individually stopped and considered our actions and disposed of rubbish and waste appropriately in the first place? The problem would pretty much be solved, or very close to it!

However, we are also realists and understand that this is easier said than done. So, we urge our followers, guests and partners to educate just one person about the new normal. Highlight how their actions can protect the environment and also achieve safe, sustainable travel, be that domestic travel or international travel. Ask them to pass their new knowledge on to another person and let the education and results filter through.

HOW TO TRAVEL SUSTAINABLY WITH THE NEW SAFETY REQUIREMENTS 

Sustainable travel is not just about considering your carbon footprint and who or what will benefit from your tourist dollar, it is also about making considered decisions and green choices when it comes to packing the necessities of travel in the post COVID world.

Face Masks:

Choose reusable masks. They are actually becoming quite a trend with many different designs to choose from. Why not make a fashion statement with them! Let kids wear fun looking masks, like a friend’s daughter who has a big smiley face on hers – it makes her less conscious about wearing it and she remembers to wear it because of the fun reactions she gets.

Keep a few fresh spare masks in different key places, like one in your handbag, one in the car, one at your place of work – this way you are less likely to forget them and need to buy disposable ones.

When travelling consider if you will be able to wash your mask after use. Packing a mask per day may now be like considering how much underwear to pack!

There is also the opportunity to support local businesses and purchase masks locally. Maybe they will become the new holiday gift for family and friends!

Hand Sanitizer:

Washing your hands with soap and water should always be your first option but when you are travelling this may not always be possible.

Many shops are selling handbag size hand sanitizers and once again this means more single use plastic being disposed of.  Consider purchasing industrial size hand sanitizer and refill your handy, on the go bottles.

We’ve successfully changed our mind set with water bottles and refilling them so there is no reason we can’t do it with hand sanitizer.

Disinfectant Surface Cleaning Wipes:

Disinfectant wipes are perfect to clean door handles, bathroom taps, AC remote control, toilet handles and more and it’s worth having a pack in your hand luggage.

Ensure to seek out eco-friendly biodegradable wipes and dispose of them responsibly.

Go Digital:

Never has there been a better time to go paperless.  Ask for electronic travel documents be they transport related, hotel confirmations or tour and activity bookings. Certainly, if the accommodation provider or tour operator are sustainably minded they will not blink at your request.

Not only will you be helping the environment it will also assist you in maintaining social distancing.

Bring Your Own Toiletries:

We may find that hotel properties find that they need to return to the old practice of single-use toiletries instead of multi-use bottles/containers to minimize the spread of germs.

Therefore rather than rely on hotel-provided toiletries bear the small inconvenience of packing your own or decant from larger size containers you use at home into re-usable travel containers. Or check out the now popular natural, soap/shampoo bars that are available which also have less impact on the environment as they wash away.

TRAVEL SUSTAINABLY AND SAFELY WITH SECRET PARADISE 

COVID-19 may have given us many new challenges and considerations to make, even before we leave the comfort of our homes. But this does not mean that you need to compromise on either your safety or on protecting the environment.

It remains about making the right choices and assisting others to do the same. If we all work together sustainable travel and safe travel can work hand in hand, albeit socially distanced!

As with travel in general at this moment in time, regulations and recommendations are constantly changing and evolving so make sure to check out local travel guidelines and listen to the medical experts.

At Secret Paradise we have reviewed all our operational practices to ensure all aspects of guest’s comfort and safety have been accounted for, but without losing the memorable aspects of our experiences and service.


Discover more of The Maldives with www.secretparadise.mv

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

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