Some of TV’s biggest stars are facing annihilation.
Not Ant and Dec. Nor Simon Cowell and co. And thank goodness not Mary Berry.
I instead refer to the creatures which have enchanted us on the BBC’s Blue Planet II, and which marine conservation campaigners have warned are living on borrowed time.
Like many of the 17 million viewers tuning into Blue Planet II each Sunday, I have been captivated by life under the sea. From underwater lakes, to gender-changing fish, each episode has surprised me and fuelled my long-standing interest in the ocean. Like many others, I felt bereft when David Attenborough’s dulcet tones drew the final episode to a close this weekend.
Yet, this needn’t spell the end of the nation’s interest in the creatures of the deep.
As an environmentalist and communications strategist, I have been struck this week by the efforts of a charity coalition using social media to harness the groundswell of public fascination with ocean life to drive tangible results. The charity I am involved in, Blue Marine Foundation, together with the Great British Oceans coalition is spearheading #BacktheBlueBelt in a bid to create the largest network of marine reserves in the world.
The Blue Belt is like the Green Belt, but for the sea. Covering four million km2 of waters around the UK’s Overseas Territories, it will help protect the thousands of weird and wonderful species that live in these waters from the ravages of overfishing.
The need for the Blue Belt is great. Overfishing is wreaking havoc on the delicate marine ecosystem – around 90% of large fish have already disappeared. The Blue Belt in the waters around the UK and its Overseas Territories would protect a huge number of threatened species, including a quarter of the world’s penguins, a third of its albatrosses, endangered turtles and the largest coral atoll.
And there are benefits for us ‘up on the shore’. As the planet’s life support system, absorbing the world’s CO2, life as we know it depends on the health of the oceans’ delicate ecosystems, (not to mention the 200 million people reliant on the fishing industry for income – and over one billion who are dependent on fish and shellfish as their major source of protein).
#BackTheBlueBelt is an interactive campaign, calling on the public to contact their MP through the campaign website, and asking them to sign a charter pledging their support for the Blue Belt. And it’s working. Celebrities in their shoals have joined the campaign with the likes of Stephen Fry, Cara Delevigne and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall tweeting their seal of approval. Already, over 130 MPs have backed the Blue Belt and counting.
With enough support from MPs, the government will need to deliver on its existing commitments to implement the Blue Belt and protect the oceans for generations to come. The responsibility is great – but so is the opportunity. This is a historic moment for the UK to take global leadership.
With the growing traction of this campaign, it’s clear that a targeted social media strategy can help assert pressure on those in power to take action. This campaign is but one example of the third sector leveraging social media to do this, beyond the vestiges of picketing and placards. One only has to look at ClientEarth’s, #No2DirtyAir or Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘Fish Fight’ campaign to see how digital comms can be used to lobby for environmental policy change.
From dry land, we can’t always see the harm we are causing our oceans. Marine conservation rarely makes the front pages of the newspapers. But we have a duty and importantly, the capability, to make a difference. I add my voice to the coalition of experts who are urging the UK Government to take action and put four million km2 of ocean under full protection.
Now Blue Planet II has concluded its last episode, I hope that the nation and those in the halls of power will consider the incredible underwater environments which have enthralled us over the last few weeks as more than just great telly, but as essential to the future of our planet.
#BackTheBlueBelt here: https://greatbritishoceans.org/