Living in Plymouth, you get used to having some of the UK’s very best coastline right on our doorstep. When I was a kid, I loved dipping my toes into the sea and having a paddle as well as making sandcastles! A few decades on and my passion for the sea has evolved into a love of wild swimming and benefiting from regular ocean swims. We are so lucky to live in the south west, but for too long we have turned our back on the sea. Our city has developed looking inland not out towards the horizon. That is changing and about time.
National Marine Park
I feel lucky that as an adult, I’ve had a career that has let me do my bit to help protect our oceans. Labour’s successful campaign to get Plymouth Sound named as the UK’s first National Marine Park is one of my proudest moments as an MP so far. I felt like a proud Dad about this project because it keeps growing and expanding – it really is something that has captured the imagination of our city.
Plymouth Sound is an unbelievably special space. As with all things in Plymouth, it has a rich history and heritage which doesn’t get talked about nearly enough. It’s where Charles Darwin, Sir Francis Drake and The Mayflower departed from as they set off to change the world. It’s where Napoleon was taken to after his surrender to the Royal Navy, imprisoned for nine long days whilst his fate was decided. It’s where the Titanic should have returned to after its maiden voyage but instead it’s where many of the survivors came ashore. It is home to nearly 1,000 wrecks, each with a story to tell. All alongside incredible sea life and biodiversity.
Celebrate coastal environments
Today, Plymouth Sound is still an important naval hub. It’s an amazing place to swim, run, walk or cycle. To sit and watch the seabirds, watch the ships come and go, or just sit and take in the sea air. It is a haven for wildlife, a crucial part of many people’s daily routine, and a cherished part of our city’s heritage. And whilst I’m very proud that it was the UK’s first National Marine Park, I hope it is not the last. My dream is that there should be a network of National Marine Parks right across the country, helping to explain existing marine protections and celebrate our coastal environment. The UK’s marine spaces have always been a huge part of our national identity. I want to see them celebrated in the same way that our National Parks and Areas of National Beauty are. That is my vision and on World Ocean Day, it seems a good time as any to restate that hope.
Mighty and fragile
This World Ocean Day, I want us to think not only about how brilliant our marine spaces are, but also how much more we could be doing to preserve them. Our seas are mighty but they’re also fragile.
It’s an awkward truth that conservation is so much easier to understand when it is on land. People value a National Park because they can see it, touch it, understand it and walk in it. They value an area of outstanding natural beauty in the same way. It’s often harder to picture the marine environment because all we can see are waves. This is why this plain English description of a National Marine Park is so very important. It explains that this stretch of water is special and it acts as a gateway to explain the myriad of often complex marine protections and incredible underwater sights. It’s worked fantastically well in Plymouth: now I want to see this campaign rolled out right across the country.
The oceans that make up our blue planet are under greater threat than ever before: from waste being dumped into them, overfishing, plastic pollution and destruction of the seabed. In the middle of a climate and ecological crisis we need to be the generation who finally extend and deepen the environmental protections given to our waters, instead of gradually stripping them away.
With each and every National Marine Park we establish, we will be safeguarding another little piece of our national heritage. Even better, we’ll be making sure that another generation of kids will get the chance to grow up with access to the ocean like I did. And if, like me, your best childhood memories are inseparably linked to playing on the beach and swimming in the ocean, then you will understand just how worthwhile a cause that is. Plymouth’s future must be as tied to the ocean as our past was which is why the National Marine Park project is so important. Let’s get behind it.
Luke Pollard MP is the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport and is Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs