As an island nation, where we are never more than 70 miles from the sea, the marine environment occupies a special place in our national psyche. Look back from space and you don’t see planet Earth but rather planet ocean. Our oceans and seas dominate our world, covering over 70% of our world and occupying around 94% of the biosphere – the habitable part of our planet. Without healthy and productive oceans, life on Earth would not be possible as we know it.
England has some of the finest marine wildlife in Europe, with dramatic and regionally characteristic undersea landscapes, habitats: (398kb) and species. Many of our characteristic undersea features and wildlife are of national and European importance. For example, England has more underwater chalk reefs than anywhere else in Europe. Because England straddles a meeting of cold seawater from the north and warmer subtropical waters in the south west, we have some surprising species such as sea fans, solitary corals, sea horses, sharks and dolphins as well as many types of fish and invertebrates.
The geology of the seabed around England is rich and varied, ranging from rocky granite reefs to mobile sandbanks. It is this variety of seabed type, coupled with the influence of colder Arctic and warmer Mediterranean waters around our shores, that results in the diverse range of marine species and habitats in our seas.
Although our seas are vital to our wellbeing, they are given little protection and a growing body of evidence suggests that there has been a significant decline in the quality of this very special environment.
Our seas also provide us with many goods and services including:
Climate regulation. Our oceans regulate our climate by redistributing heat around the world. Evaporation from the oceans forms the moisture that results in rain on land. The plankton in their uppermost layers help stimulate cloud formation due to the chemicals they naturally emit. This plays a crucial role in temperature regulation of our planet.
Food sources. The oceans provide food for hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Storing carbon. Oceans act as the largest store of carbon on the planet, drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and trapping it.
Energy. We obtain oil and gas from under the sea bed. Offshore windfarms also provide a source of renewable energy, and waves and tides provide a further potential resource.
Building materials. We use marine aggregates such as sand and gravels as building materials.
Transport. The marine environment also links us to the rest of the world. In 2007 24.8 million passengers took international journeys by ship and UK ports handled 582 million tonnes (Mt) of freight traffic.
Recreation. Our seas and coasts provide a place for a wide variety of leisure activities from sailing and scuba diving to swimming and surfing. In 2007, we took over 20 million trips to the seaside in England.