Main image: © Suzanne Plunkett / Greenpeace
The UK government’s Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is prosecuting Greenpeace UK and its executive director, John Sauven, over the creation of an underwater boulder barrier to stop destructive bottom trawling in the Offshore Brighton Marine Protected Area (MPA) in February 2021.
In response to Greenpeace’s underwater boulder barriers, the MMO has consulted on introducing bottom trawling restrictions in four protected areas, including the Dogger Bank where Greenpeace’s first underwater boulder barrier was built. It plans to consult on introducing limited bottom trawling restrictions across all 40 offshore English MPAs.
The Offshore Brighton MPA was established in 2016 specifically to protect the seabed, but in 2019 bottom trawlers spent 3,099 hours ploughing and destroying its seabed and another 448 fishing hours last year.
The MMO’s prosecution against Greenpeace is for depositing boulders without a license under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.
Greenpeace UK has made representations to the MMO that the prosecution is not in the public interest.
The MMO, instead of attacking Greenpeace and draining its resources for responsibly preventing environmental harm, should follow its remit and direct its own resources into doing its job to safeguard the UK’s seas for future generations.
Stephen Fry, Ranulph Fiennes, Bonnie Wright and Mya Rose Craig, who all signed their names on boulders, have penned an open letter to George Eustice, urging him to cease prosecution.
Greenpeace’s boulders were signed by celebrities including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Thandi Newton, Mark Rylance, Jarvis Cocker, Robert Plant and others.
‘Our boulder barriers were absolutely necessary in the face of continued inaction from the Marine Management Organisation, which has failed to protect our oceans from industrial fishing. The organisation has ignored the science which clearly shows that fully protected areas at sea have the best ecological results.
‘While we live through a climate and nature emergency, the Marine Management Organisation chooses to move at a snail’s pace and propose half measures to improve the UK’s failing network of protected areas at sea.
‘It’s absurd that the Marine Management Organisation, which is supposed to protect our natural environment, is wasting public resources taking us to court for protecting our oceans and doing their job for them.
‘Our boulder barriers have stopped bottom trawlers from further damaging our oceans and worsening the climate emergency. While the Marine Management Organisation continues to fail in its duties, we will do all we can to protect our oceans.’
Executive director of Greenpeace UK
Bottom trawlers spent 68,000 hours ploughing UK protected areas in 2020. This damages habitats, harms biodiversity and disturbs vast stores of blue carbon which would otherwise remain safely in the seabed.
Greenpeace, along with the Marine Conservation Society, revealed earlier this year that 26.5 million tonnes of carbon is stored in the seabed in the UK’s offshore protected areas alone.
Greenpeace’s experienced team acted within all necessary safety precautions and immediately notified the Maritime and Coastguard Agency of the coordinates of each boulder. Maritime traffic was notified by radio.
The natural boulders are made of inert granite and placed at a safe depth. Their impact on the seabed was scientifically assessed in advance and was found to be negligible.
Greenpeace is calling on the UK government to ban destructive industrial fishing vessels, including bottom trawlers, supertrawlers and fly-shooters, from all of the UK’s protected areas as a matter of urgency.
Currently there are few restrictions on industrial fishing in the overwhelming majority of the UK’s offshore marine protected areas.