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What does the future hold for our seas?


What do you see when you look out to sea? The ocean often looks like a vast blank canvas of endless water.  You might spot a couple of boats on the horizon or imagine shoals of fish swimming under the waves.  The reality is that our seas are much busier places.

Wind Power, Sea, Wind Turbine, Fuel and Power Generation, IndustryCluster of Ocean Wind Turbines with Sailboat in Foreground

The seabed is criss-crossed with cables, electricity connections, and oil and gas pipelines.  Cargo boats shift tonnes of sand and gravel from the seabed for the construction industry.  Fishermen steam up and down the coastline next to cruise ships, ferries and tankers.  Ports, hotels, roads and houses dominate the coastline where mudflats, sand dunes and coastal forests used to be.

It’s becoming a challenge for our wonderful native marine life, such as seals, puffins and dolphins, to find quiet, safe places to flourish.

The UK government’s vision is for “clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas” – but with a strong emphasis on marine development. What does this actually look like?

Basking shark feeding on plankton around St Michael's Mount, Cornwall, UKBasking shark feeding on plankton around St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall, UK

The Celtic Seas Partnership, an international project led by WWF-UK,  decided to ask  the people who use and depend on the sea, from across England, France, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Northern Ireland to tell us what they thought.

People responded passionately.  They want:

  • Marine renewable energy like offshore wind and tidal power
  • Well managed protected areas
  • Strong coastal communities who take pride in local produce like Cornish crab and Scottish salmon
  • And people, policy-makers and scientists to work together to achieve this.

Unlike on land, where we’ve had a planning system in place since the 1900’s, we’ve only just starting thinking about planning for our seas.  Until now decisions have been made one by one.  This means we aren’t always making the most of what we have.

Future Trends in the Celtic Seas

We collected detailed information about 10 marine industries and used it to predict what the Celtic Seas would look like in 20 years’ time.  We compared what would happen if we continue with the same policies, priorities and behaviour, with what people told us they’d prefer. We found that:
The Celtic Seas are getting busier, which will create more pressure on the environment and could lead to more conflict.

The marine economy is set to grow over the next 20 years, creating thousands of extra jobs. More pressure on the environment will come from things like litter and non-native species – with more ships visiting from around the world, for example, there’s a growing risk of clingers-on establishing themselves in our  seas and disrupting ecosystems and infrastructure.  There will be also be more competition for space. Fisheries and renewable energy projects, for example, increasingly want to use the same waters

We need a more joined-up and balanced approach to managing the marine environment.

Marine wildlife doesn’t recognise national borders, so the decisions we take in one place can have effects throughout the Celtic Seas, both for the environment and the people who depend on it. Countries need to work together to make balanced and fair decisions about the future of our seas.

There are opportunities as well as risks.

There are opportunities for industries to work more closely together too, both to avoid conflict and for the benefit of our marine economy.  For example, the development of offshore wind farms could lead to a boost in the ports sector by up to £240 million per year.

Surfers on the beach, St Ives, UK © Jiri Rezac / WWF UKSurfers on the beach, St Ives, UK © Jiri Rezac / WWF UK

There are decisions to be made.  What do we want our seas to look like?  How can we squeeze in marine industry, nature and places for people to relax and enjoy?  How can we make these decisions in an open, transparent way for the benefit of all?

There are no easy answers to these questions, and every decision we make involves trade-offs. You can explore some of these on our dedicated Future Trends website

My job is to bring the people who use and depend on the Celtic Seas together to think about how we can create a more sustainable marine environment for the future.

It isn’t easy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!




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