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Greenpeace pushes UK to ratify protections for Sargasso Sea

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Oceanic idyll: sunset from the helipad on the Arctic Sunrise (Photograph by Owain Johnston-Barnes)

Greenpeace hopes a mission to Bermuda will help persuade the British Government to make protection of the high seas a priority.

Reshima Sharma, a political campaigner on global ocean protection with Greenpeace UK, said that while the Global Ocean Treaty has broad support, it requires ratification from 60 nations to come into effect.

She explained: “The Global Ocean Treaty makes it possible to protect 30 per cent of the world’s ocean, which is a globally agreed goal to meet the 30-by-30 protection ambition.

“Without this treaty, it would be impossible to protect the high seas, which make up the vast majority of the ocean, so we are campaigning for governments, including the UK Government, to sign the Global Ocean Treaty as a matter of urgency and start putting forward proposals for marine protected areas in the high seas.”

The 30-by-30 target was a commitment adopted to protect and conserve a minimum of 30 per cent of land and sea for biodiversity by 2030.

Ms Sharma said the British Government played an important part in negotiations for the treaty and that it wants to ratify the agreement, but not until after Britain’s next General Election, which must take place by January 28, 2025.

Greenpeace, however, would like to see the treaty ratified sooner.

“We want to demonstrate to the UK Government the strength of feeling within the UK population and among the [British] Overseas Territories to see high seas protections come into force as soon as possible,” she said.

“The UK Government are positive about the treaty and want to see it enforced, but they are concerned about complications of ratifying it, and that is why they are delaying it.”

Ms Sharma said she believed the lack of movement in the UK came down to prioritisation.

“We are concerned that the UK Government is not giving this the priority they should be, but they feel there is not enough time to pass the legislation before the election,” she said.

“We think they are bringing forward other pieces of legislation and that this should be one of the final bits that should be passed before the election.

“It has huge cross-party support, it is very popular with the wider population as well.

“We had over 14,000 people write to MPs asking them to attend a debate on the Global Ocean Treaty.

“This is something that people think strongly about not just on the coast but across the country. We had people writing in every single constituency in the UK.”

An information package published by the House of Commons Library last month said that, according to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, primary legislation was needed before Britain could ratify the treaty, “in order to ensure compliance with obligations” imposed by it.

It added: “This legislation is anticipated in the first session of a new Parliament after a General Election.”

Owain Johnston-Barnes joined the Arctic Sunrise on its voyage from the Bahamas to Bermuda to learn more about the work being done on board and to experience a taste of the life lived by the Greenpeace team.

The ship finally reached Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone on Friday and, after collecting the last eDNA sample of the day, the team decided to take a break and a quick dip into the Atlantic.

While a few members of the team were able to get their feet wet during a brief voyage out to see a sargassum mat, others had talked for days about wanting to get in the water.

A daring handful decided to leap from the ship’s deck, but I took the easy way out and did a cannonball from a door closer to sea level.

One crew member was disappointed to be told that she wasn’t technically swimming in the high seas, but brightened up when I let her know she was swimming in the Bermuda Triangle.

I mean, it’s not the worst story.

That evening we gathered by the ship’s helipad for a birthday celebration, complete with a gorgeous chocolate cake and some questionable singing.

The festivities continued well into the night with Paul Watson, another member of the Bermuda delegation, producing some bottles of Goslings to tempt the crew.

I, meanwhile, introduced them to Uzimon.

I decided to retreat to bed after the music gradually shifted from soca to more Eastern European tunes, and it wound up being a wise call the following day when the waves began to pick up, bringing additional intestinal distress with them.

While I was tempted to remain in cabin or on deck while my Dramamine fought against the rolling seas, work must be done.

No sooner then I had finished an interview, I heard a cry from above: whale.

The ship halted and everyone dropped what they were doing to run to the deck, where, for a few moments, a solitary humpback whale popped up to greet us.

Hours later, just before sunset, Bermuda was on the horizon, but I still had one more night on the ship as I was told they could not dock until Sunday afternoon.

While I longed to return to dry land and a shower that did not rock back and forth with the waves, we were fortunate enough to see another pod of humpbacks a few hundred metres from the boat.

Not a bad way to end a trip, I must say.

Vital work: Greenpeace team members head out to carry out environmental DNA testing (Photograph by Owain Johnston-Barnes)

She said that Greenpeace will open the Arctic Sunrise to the public on May 18 and host a workshop on ocean sanctuaries, where they hope Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier and Minister of Home Affairs, will speak.

“We have also invited environmental groups, policymakers and scientists to come together to start that first conversation about how we can protect the Sargasso Sea and make the Sargasso Sea the first sanctuary under the new treaty,” Ms Sharma said.

She highlighted that Greenpeace wanted to make sure that what it campaigned for amplifies local campaigns.

“From the conversations we have had already, we can see people understand that the protection of the high seas, of the Sargasso Sea, will have huge benefits for Bermuda,” she said.

“That is not just in the spillover effect on national fish stocks, but also for tourism,” she said.

“Everywhere that Greenpeace is going we are making sure we are working with local groups on the ground and listening to what they already know about how best to protect something that is very important to everyone on the planet for the future of the planet.”

Ms Sharma said that the experiences she has had on board the Arctic Sunrise on the trip from the Bahamas have highlighted the importance of the work being done.

“It has been unlike any other experience that I have had,” she said. “It really demonstrates how connected we all are through this one ocean and how special this part of the ocean is.

“We have seen so much wildlife already on our transit from Bahamas to Bermuda.

“We saw a pod of at least 20 pilot whales, but we have also seen the threats to the Sargasso Sea.

“We saw a sargassum mat, but when we got closer we saw that it was full of plastic.

“We stopped the boat and with 30 minutes we had cleared more than 300 pieces of plastic from this one small mat. It demonstrates the scale of the problems.

“The treaty might not impact plastic pollution, but it will give marine life and ecosystems more protections and more resilience to deal with those other threats like climate change and plastic pollution.”

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Published May 06, 2024 at 7:55 am (Updated May 06, 2024 at 7:55 am)

Greenpeace pushes UK to ratify protections for Sargasso Sea

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