Ocean News

South West UK Scores 65 Out of 100 For Ocean Health

South West England has scored 65 out of 100 for ocean health, a new report reveals.

In the first ever use of the Ocean Health Index (OHI) in the United Kingdom, University of Exeter researchers analyzed data on various ocean-related "goals".

These goals represent the benefits brought to people by well-managed oceans, ranging from clean waters and biodiversity to fishing opportunities, tourism and employment.

The report also divides the South West into six regions and gives local scores, ranging from 57 for the Isles of Scilly to 69 for south-west Devon.

It is published on World Oceans Day (June 8), as world leaders prepare to meet for the G7 summit in Cornwall.

"The South West is often considered one of the UK’s more unspoilt natural environments," said Dr Matthew Witt, of the University of Exeter.

"That's partly true, but the purpose of this report is to provide a data-driven update on the state of our seas, upon which we are dependent for employment, tourism, wellbeing and climate change resilience.

"It's not intended as a league table. Instead – as the first report of its kind in the UK – it's meant as a baseline so we know where we stand, and how we can improve.

"We have many influential organizations in the South West, and we hope this report will be picked up and used by them to help argue for improvements in our environment, which will benefit the sustainable use of our seas for society and economy."

The OHI combines social, economic and ecological data about the seas to 12 nautical miles offshore.

Key findings include:

  • Marine-related jobs appear to have declined in recent years and wages are falling behind national trends, resulting in a "livelihoods" score of 56.
  • Monitoring of many habitats considered to be of conservation concern is not being carried out regularly.
  • The "economic productivity" of marine industries is estimated to have increased in recent years, scoring 82 out of a possible 100.
  • The "artisanal fisheries" goal, measuring the productivity and access opportunities for vessels under ten meters, indicates that the small-scale fleet remained stable in most regions from 2014 to 2018, scoring 80.
  • Coastal saltmarshes and mudflats, evaluated by the "habitats" goal, are generally considered to be in a favorable condition across the South West.

Dr Rachel Turner, of the University of Exeter and co-lead of the project, said: "Our report reveals both areas of optimism and room for improvement in the South West.

"Greater protection of coastal waters would appear to be a beneficial step, but this must be carefully planned and monitored to ensure any protected areas serve the purposes for which they are set up.

"We hope our report will help in the search for a middle ground that protects marine biodiversity while allowing people to enjoy and make a living from the ocean."

Owen Exeter, lead author of the report, said: “South-west Devon scored well in the assessment, particularly for goals that measure habitat extent and quality.

"Data for the Isles of Scilly revealed the region scored very well for fisheries, coastal protection and carbon storage but had low goal scores for artisanal opportunities and economies.”

The report highlights key data gaps, and says improved information would make it easier for future reports to recommend management strategies.

Publication of the report was made possible through funding from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. The report is entitled: "An Ocean Health Index+ assessment for South West England."

Also this week, researchers will release seven plastic bottles containing tracking devices into the sea around Cornwall. The bottles – one for each of the G7 nations – can be tracked online here.

By University of Exeter

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