Skip to Content

Marine Conservation: Sink or Swim?

Large Image
Marine Conservation: sink or swim; Unlocking the creativity of business

Marine Conservation: Sink or Swim?

How to actually protect marine protected areas (MPAs) was the subject of the conference organised by the North Sea marine Cluster on 21st April.  The conference was held in the splendid setting of the Grade 1 listed Assembly House in Norwich.  It was attended by leading business leaders, policy makers, conservationists and academic researchers – all with an interest in the marine economy and in marine conservation.


The Government has undertaken to put in place a “Blue Belt” around the UK and around the UK’s Oversea’s territories. Useful progress has been achieved in designating sites in UK waters with some 500 MPAs designated and more to come. However, designation is only the first step. Such a large expansion represents a major management task at a time when public sector resources are highly stretched and budgets have been severely cut.


A study report by Rodney Anderson and Liam McAleese, prepared on behalf of the Cluster and sponsored by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, concluded that the current arrangements would in all likelihood not do the job. A different approach was required.  The report called for fresh thinking, suggested that different delivery models should be employed and that the Government should tap into the expertise and ingenuity of the private sector.  A key point was that all of this could be achieved within existing resources. It was a matter of using what is available but in a different way.


The report formed the basis of the conference, which offered delegates the opportunity to share ideas and to discuss practicable and affordable measures to protect MPAs.  There were presentations from a wide range of interests across all sectors. These included:


Rodney Anderson, who pointed out that there was compelling evidence that large institutions do not to learn from past mistakes; much better to borrow good ideas from others and to use the experience already available even if this meant looking beyond the usual actors.

Dr Gemma Harper, from Defra, outlined the Government’s commitment to a modern, integrated, local and local approach with the promise of a new marine pathfinder initiative.

Dr Peter Jones, of University College London, explained the importance of getting the basics right when putting in place MPA governance, whilst recognising complexity and diversity to ensure resilience. He has recently published his findings which draw on case studies across the world.

Dr Piers Fleming, of the University of East Anglia, explored the scope for applying behavioural science and understanding how people make and respond to decisions. The report had concluded that that was an area that seemed to hold considerable promise in terms of MPA management.

Salli Felton, Chief Executive of theTravel Foundation, discussed as a case study the work of the Travel Foundation in in Cape Verde. There were some useful lessons to be drawn that could be applied to stakeholder engagement on MPA management in the UK.

Rachel Robertson, a Senior Environmental Scientist in the Gardline Group, provided an overview that linked the policy objectives, the management needs and the new technologies available to support MPA management. There are exciting developments across a number of technology fields which could help managers deploy their resources more cost-effectively.

Nigel Birdsall of Blue Bear Systems developed the theme and illustrated the capabilities of autonomous unmanned systems.

Dr Clare Postlethwaite, the Co-ordinator of the Marine Environmental Data and Information Network (MEDIN), explained the steps being taking to facilitate and foster data sharing. Accessing and managing data is central to MPA management.

Robin Mortimer, Chief Executive of the Port of London Authority (PLA), offered a customer’s perspective and showed how regulatory requirements and customer needs could be satisfactorily reconciled.

The main conference was followed by a dinner which gave those attending a further opportunity to exchange ideas and to hear about the experiences of others.


It was evident that people found the conference stimulating and an excellent means of making links and contacts that ordinarily might not have been possible. The focus on the practicalities of MPA management was welcomed.  It was recognised that good management was in everyone’s interest.


Already, there have been a number of useful actions flowing from the event.  For example, discussions have been held to follow up ideas for school students ‘adopting’ MPAs and becoming directly involved in the underpinning science and research.  Potential business links have been made, and other discussions held to explore how the management principles could be applied as the UK develops it marine policies in preparation for exit from the EU.


The report can be found here:

Post written by Rodney Anderson, Chair of the Board of the North Sea Marine Cluster (

Posted by Rodney Anderson on Fri, 27 Oct 2017

No comments yet. Be the first.