It's a sad fact that whales and dolphins don't vote in human elections, but I wonder what kind of world we'd have now if they did. There'd certainly be more fish, and single-use plastics would not be a thing.
Because whales and dolphins don't have a voice in parliament, it's down to all of us to speak up for their interests as best we can, and last week, together with our friends from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and National Oceanography Centre (NOC) we did just that, and held a reception for the ocean in the Houses of Parliament.
Our message was simple - the ocean is our life support system and largest carbon sink and yet looking after it is the least well-funded of all the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is a massive blind spot for governments, policymakers and funders and we need urgent action and leadership to change that.
? Christopher Swann
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On a day of high drama in Westminster - as the long-awaited Sue Gray report was finally published - it was a genuine delight to welcome a packed room of parliamentarians, civil servants, lawyers, economists, business representatives, scientists and marine specialists, all interested in how we might unlock more investment in, and practical support for, marine protection.
The energy was hugely positive and enthusiastic and it was a great chance to exchange views and ideas.
Supportive speeches from Environment Minister Jo Churchill MP, and Shadow Environment Minister Daniel Zeichner MP, highlighted the fact that the ocean is very much something that unites us.
Environment Minister Jo Churchill in conversation with WDC CEO, Chris Butler Stroud
Mike Barber from Deloitte talked about A Drop in the Ocean, the paper they produced with us and MCS, as well as the massive role that businesses can play in helping to protect the ocean. UN Global Programmes Manager, Jessica Lobo, talked about the potential for businesses and governments to push forward planet-friendly policies and NOC's Senior Research Scientist Dr Claire Evans described how we are only just touching the surface of our understanding of how marine systems are interconnected, and urgently need to accelerate investment in marine science.
There's no doubt in my mind that there is real interest - across the political spectrum and different sectors - for protecting the ocean as part of a nature-based solution to the climate crisis. The question everyone asks is 'how?' The ocean is almost unimaginably vast, most of it lies outside any government's jurisdiction, the data is lacking and no one has yet developed adequate legal frameworks to protect it.
MCS's Sandy Luk with Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (Green) and WDC's Chris Butler-Stroud
What we're asking for
Answering the 'how?' question is a matter of urgency, as we are in a race against time to minimise the impacts of global heating and mass extinctions. WDC's support for major research projects examining the role whales play in the marine ecosystem, and climate, is a very big piece in the jigsaw, and will be a major step in ratcheting up this little understood area of science. We know whales are our climate allies, but we must strengthen the evidence base if we are going to unlock the funding and policies needed to protect them better.
Along with this increased investment, we need more politicians to stand up for the ocean, and so we are calling for the UK government to:
- Act now to preserve our 'blue carbon stores' by protecting at least 30% of the ocean by 2030
- Secure the ocean's place in climate and nature commitments by recognising ocean-based solutions from whales to seagrass and championing them at this year's UN Convention on Biological Diversity
- Mobilise investment in the ocean's nature-based solutions with ambitious policies that enable businesses to scale and speed up action on ocean recovery and close the gap between investment in nature-based and technological solutions, and between land and ocean projects
- Invest in the Ocean Science Decade by championing science, innovation, and technology that will unlock ocean-based solutions to the climate and nature crises
A healthy planet needs a healthy ocean and that means protecting whales
Ask your MP
It's easy to be cynical about politicians. But whenever I visit parliament, I'm reminded that (aside from the soap opera and drama) it is a place that includes a great many genuinely idealistic people who want to make the world better. Change rarely happens as quickly as we want it to, but every conversation we have, every person we can inspire to champion the ocean, moves us one step closer to getting the changes we need.
Try it yourself and ask your MP what they are doing to stand up for the ocean. Of course, given news this week that jackdaws have been observed 'voting', we can't rule out whales and dolphins having their own forms of democracies. Maybe next time you vote, just ask yourself, what would a whale or dolphin do?
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