The aging albatross parents fledging their last chick was a bitter-sweet moment in last night’s amazing Blue Planet II episode. Not mentioned however was that this was on a British island, for over a third of the world’s albatross breed on British islands in the southern seas. Jonathan Hall, Head of UK Overseas Territories Unit, and Kat Holmes, RSPB's Marine Policy Officer reflects on Blue Planet II's latest thought-provoking episode.
In this case, South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands, one of 14 UK Overseas Territories dotted around the world’s oceans. These small islands have a vast area of the big blue under their jurisdiction, giving the UK a total marine estate which is the fifth largest of any country in the world. Of course, this blue estate also includes the surprisingly diverse seas we find at home, around the British Isles, and last night we got a glimpse of the importance of the seas around Scotland.
South Georgia's Bird Island - part of the UK - and an important area for wandering albatross (c) Alastair Wilson (rspb-images.com)
The UK’s ‘big blue’ is home to many of the species featured last night- if you are lucky enough you can find sperm whales, turtles and dolphins in both Scottish and Overseas Territories Waters, although you will only find whale sharks and great whites in the waters of the Overseas territories . These special waters mean the UK has an important responsibility when it comes to ocean conservation.
The RSPB has therefore been campaigning for the UK to be a leader in ocean conservation via the creation of a ‘Blue Belt’ of marine reserves in these waters, to be established both at home and in partnership with Overseas Territory Governments. We are part of a coalition called ‘Great British Oceans’, which this week has launched a campaign to #backthebluebelt, calling on the UK Government to take this unique opportunity to protect our blue planet, including by the creation of a half a million square kilometre marine reserve in some of the waters where South Georgia’s wandering albatross feed. To find out more about the ocean treasures of our Overseas Territories, and to show your support, please visit.
Adult wandering albatross (c) Alastair Wilson (rspb-images.com)
The RSPB also knows that we need to match this ambition at home, because our sea life needs and deserves it. When we dip our toe into the icy waters at our local beach we are connecting to the blue planet that surrounds our shores and that is home to dolphins, whales, sharks, visiting turtles and of course some of the most important seabird colonies in the world. But our seabirds, as an important environmental indicator, are telling us something is wrong.
Their overall decline in UK waters show that these seas and the sealife that rely on them are not in good health. The government is looking to the future and setting a 25 year plan for the Environment that we hope will help to address this in England. We are asking the Government to re-commit to the UK wide goal of restoring British seas to good health by 2020[i], so that when children dip their toes into the sea in the future they can know that they are connected to an inspiring blue planet full of life.
[i] A commitment already laid down in UK law through the UK Marine Strategy Regulations.
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