Last week, on the day the Government called for a third of the world’s oceans to be safeguarded, a Beluga whale was spotted swimming in the Thames estuary not far from Dartford.
This amazing sighting, the most southern ever in the UK for a Beluga, brought people to watch from the shore to see the majestic white whale swimming in British waters.
This whale, which can grow up to twenty feet in length, is usually found in the cold waters in the Arctic Ocean. As people watched and hoped the whale would swim back out to sea and navigate its way home, there were fears it would feed on rubbish discarded in the Thames, including plastic bags.
It was particularly poignant that this rare sighting happened on the day the Government announced its ambitious call to treble internationally-agreed targets for protected areas, meaning 30 per cent of the world’s seas would be safeguarded as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030.
Throughout the world at the moment, less than 10 per cent of the seas are designated as MPAs, this being one of the most important ways to protect precious sea life and habitats from damaging activity.
I am pleased the UK is backing this plan and building on its global leadership in protecting the marine environment. At the moment 200,000 square miles of Britain’s coastline are already protected and recent proposals for 41 new Marine Conservation Zones mark the most significant expansion of the ‘Blue Belt’ to date.
This commitment to marine protection forms a key part of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.
Our Government is already leading the way, following the introduction of one of the world’s strongest bans on microbeads and the introduction of the 5p plastic bag charge, which has led to 13 billion fewer bags being distributed.
Protecting the planet, both on the land and in the sea is everyone’s responsibility and I hope these ambitious plans are just the beginning of the major changes needed to achieve this.