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  • Sustainable Seas – an action plan

    Sustainable Seas action plan 24-07-14 rw draft 3.4 1


    A special place

    The coasts and seas of Devon are a key part of the county's identity, as much as its

    moors, farmland and wooded valleys that might immediately come to mind. Small,

    secluded estuaries and inlets, high cliffs with strata buckled and folded over aeons,

    sandy beaches backed by vast dune systems and rocky shores full of tidal pools; all

    combine to make a picture of Devon that is familiar to hundreds of thousands of

    people. Underwater, and out of sight, the variety continues. Rocky reefs rise out of

    sandy plains; gravel beds mark the remnants of old river systems and nutrient-filled

    expanses of mud provide the basis for rich ecosystems.

    This variety of habitats is reflected in the richness of the county's marine wildlife.

    From the smallest plankton to the largest basking shark and from the humblest

    periwinkle to the most colourful and flamboyant sea slug; Devon's seas teem with

    life. The special nature of Devon's marine environment is acknowledged in a

    national and international context, with many areas protected under UK and EU


    Devon's coast and seas are important to people too. Throughout the summer,

    seaside towns bustle with thousands of holiday makers, all setting out to enjoy the

    special experience that is Devon's coast. Over 6 million visitors used the South

    West Coast Path in 2011, contributing an estimated £388 million to the region’s

    economy1. From earliest history we have fed ourselves from the sea, collecting

    seafood from the shore and using simple fish traps. The means might be more

    technological now, but fishing is still an important part of the economic and social

    fabric of the county. And despite the high profile of air transport, 95% of all UK's

    international trade comes by sea2, so Devon's ports will continue to be a central part

    of the county’s transport infrastructure.

    Box 1 provides an overview of some of the environmental, social and economic

    assets associated with Devon’s coast and surrounding waters.

  • Sustainable Seas – an action plan

    Sustainable Seas action plan 24-07-14 rw draft 3.4 2

    Box 1 – An overview of Devon’s Coastal and Marine Assets

    Fading ecosystems

    Much of what we value about Devon's seas, and even more value that we are

    unaware of, is based on the 'goods and services' provided by marine ecosystems.

    These are all of the benefits that arise from the sea's living systems and include

    food, coastal protection and climate regulation (see Figure 1).

    Marine ecosystems, and thus their ability to provide goods and services, are under

    threat from a wide range of human activities, including:

    • over-exploitation of resources,

    • climate change and ocean acidification

    Devon's Coastal and Marine Assets


    • Significant populations living in the coastal zone

    • Hubs for disseminating knowledge (e.g. National Marine Aquarium and Living Coasts)

    • International centres of learning (e.g. Plymouth and Exeter Universities, Plymouth Marine Laboratory and Marine Biological Association)

    • Active local groups and alliances (e.g. Devon Maritime Forum, estuary forums, Coastwise North Devon and Sea Torbay)


    • Valuable tourism industry

    • Surfing and water sports

    • Plymouth and Brixham, England’s most important fishing ports by weight and value

    • Huge potential for renewable energy


    • Four MCZs already designated, three on the list for potential designation in 2015; 4 SACs and 1 SPA

    • Northern Devon Biosphere Reserve, one of only two UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in England

    • Jurassic Coast, UK’s only natural World Heritage Site

    • Internationally renowned coastal landscapes and features

  • Sustainable Seas – an action plan

    Sustainable Seas action plan 24-07-14 rw draft 3.4 3

    • destruction of habitat, and

    • pollution.3

    Historic studies from across the globe show significant declines in species and

    habitats4 and closer to home there is evidence of seabed community change in the

    past 100 years or so in the English Channel5.

  • Sustainable Seas – an action plan

    Sustainable Seas action plan 24-07-14 rw draft 3.4 4

    Figure 1 – What has the marine environment ever done for us? *

    * Image: Wales Environment Link

  • Sustainable Seas – an action plan

    Sustainable Seas action plan 24-07-14 rw draft 3.4 5

    After assessing a range of human impacts on marine species, habitats and

    ecosystems, a recent international marine science workshop concluded:

    ‘Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of

    causing, through the combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, pollution

    and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean.’6

    One area where ecosystem and economic needs overlap is in the fishing industry.

    There are many positive management measures being developed by regulators and

    industry alike, and progress is being made in stock recovery:

    ‘The state of fish stocks in the North-East Atlantic and adjacent waters

    continues to improve: overfished stocks have fallen, from 47% in 2012 to

    39% in 2013.’7

    But there is increasing evidence that current recovery is small in comparison with

    historic fish stocks8 and simply preventing overfishing may not be enough:

    ‘In the current policy debate about rebuilding depleted fisheries and restoring

    marine ecosystems, it is important to recognize that fisheries for key

    commercial species like cod were far more productive in the past. As we

    attempt to rebuild these fisheries, our decisions should reflect real and

    realistic goals for management, not just recently observed catch levels.’9

    Addressing some of the uncertainties about fishing and being more ambitious in our vision

    for the future will have economic as well as environmental benefits.

    The sum of all these changes is a growing concern for the future provision of goods and

    services by marine ecosystems, as described in the recent UK National Ecosystem


    ‘Hthe delivery of many of these provisioning and regulating services in the

    Marine environment are declining because of heavy exploitationH’10

    It is clear that action is needed to halt and reverse declines in the health of marine

    habitats and species in order to maintain and restore the many benefits that marine

    ecosystems provides.

    Devon Local Nature Partnership – Sustainable Seas

    In summary, Devon’s seas are:

  • Sustainable Seas – an action plan

    Sustainable Seas action plan 24-07-14 rw draft 3.4 6

    • Special in national and international terms

    • Important in terms of the social and economic benefits they provide

    • Under threat from human activities

    In addition, we need to know more about them, especially the links between the

    health of marine species and habitats and the goods and services that the marine

    environment provides human society.

    As a result, the Devon Local Nature Partnership (LNP) has identified 'Sustainable

    Seas' as one of its seven priority themes. Our vision is:

    Devon's world-class coast and marine environment is wisely used and provides a sustainable living for local fishing communities, a home for an impressive variety of wildlife and an attraction to millions of visitors and residents.11

    This Action Plan identifies ways in which progress can be made in achieving this

    vision including:

    • opportunities for working better together

    • priorities for future project funding

    • opportunities for investment by economic partners

    as well as putting forward some ideas for 'quick wins', a small number of initiatives

    that can be put in place relatively easily.

    What the plan will cover

    Devon LNP themes

    While focussing on the delivery of the Sustainable Seas vision, the action plan will

    also take account of, and feed into, other Devon LNP priority themes, especially:

    • Naturally Healthy

    • Outdoor Learning

    • Resilient Wetlands

    Links to the delivery of other themes will be developed and maintained through the

    Devon LNP Executive Group.

  • Sustainable Seas – an action plan

    Sustainable Seas action plan 24-07-14 rw draft 3.4 7


    It is not always possible, or even desirable, to limit the scope of marine

    conservation initiatives. The needs of habitats and species are highly

    interdependent and influences of human activities can often be felt at great

    distances. It is even tricky to set a landward boundary as the impact of many

    terrestrial human activities are felt in inshore waters, if not further afield.

    But pragmatic 'boundaries' to activities are

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