Greenpeace – Vigilante or public menace

Greenpeace has been dropping huge boulders to the bottom of the ocean to deter bottom trawling in what is supposed to be a marine protected area, the boulder barrier was placed 30 miles off the coast of Sussex across 55 square miles of seabed. 

Activists on the Greenpeace ship Esperanza dropped the boulders and immediately informed the Marine and Coastguard agency of their location so that it could be recorded on marine charts to allow other ships to navigate around that area. 

This was the second boulder barrier that Greenpeace has created with their first being a 47 square mile barrier in an area called Dogger Bank, a marine protected area off the east coast in the North Sea which was created around October 2020.  

The boulder barriers act as a deterrent against bottom trawling as the boulders would get caught in their fishing equipment, this may be a good way of protecting a very small portion of the marine protected areas but some may argue it shows blatant disregard for the safety of smaller fishing boats and could end up costing them thousands if their nets were to be caught up in these boulders. 

Bottom trawling is a common way to fish due to its efficiency in capturing large amounts of fish, in doing so it dramatically reduces fish stock and can rip up the sea bed floor as the nets pull through. 

While trawling and dredging are not illegal in most offshore marine protected areas, it is destructive, and there are calls from Greenpeace and others for the government to ban destructive fishing in marine protected areas. 

Other methods of fishing, other than trawling are preferred and not opposed, most other methods are seen as sustainable as they do not cause considerable damage to habitats and allow for targeted capturing of species. 

Greenpeace has been running as an independent and non-violent environmental organisation for 50 years and often performs attention-grabbing stunts to raise awareness about environmental issues. 

This stunt was to draw attention to the overfishing of marine protected areas, which, according to the Guardian, 97% of the marine protected areas around the UK are being subjected to bottom trawling.

These 73 marine protected areas are included in 91 marine conservation zones designated by the government, these zones have “a range of public authorities that are responsible for the regulation of activities occurring in the sea and on the coast.” 

The marine management organisation, the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities, the environment agency, local authorities, harbour authorities and the department of energy and climate change are those responsible. 

Marine protected areas are not a new concept, the first 27 were designated on the 21st of November 2013, 23 more were designated on the 17th of January 2016 and another 41 were designated on the 31st of May 2019.  

The government is aware of the situation, and, along with 10 other countries, the UK signed the 30by30 initiative on the 24th of September 2019, which proposed to have 30% of the global ocean be protected in Marine protected areas by 2030, with the UK taking the lead with the program. 

This is all well and good, but for the moment there is nobody enforcing the protection on these marine protected areas, like Luke Pollard, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment said “that means ending fishing in marine protected areas. The government has not been honest enough with the fishing sector”.  

“There doesn’t seem to be a timetable, there doesn’t seem to be a plan and there doesn’t seem to be a conversation with the fishing sector about how we can work with fishers to incentivise fishing outside marine protected areas.”  

While the government may be dragging their heels over the whole situation, Greenpeace could have been seen to jump the gun with the first boulder barrier being dropped in October of 2020, two months before the official end date of the leave of EU, after all, wasn’t the regain of control over our seas after Brexit the starting point for Greenpeace’s intervening?  

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