Greenpeace plans ‘rock barrier’ in Cornish Marine Protected Area

Environmental activists prepare to dump rocks in the waters off the coast of Cornwall in a bid to protect rare seabed habitat from bottom trawling.

Greenpeace UK wants to create a barrier at South West Deeps, a designated marine protected area 200 miles off the Land’s End peninsula.

Although recognized as sites of particular ecological importance, marine protected areas do not automatically benefit from additional legal protection against fishing.

Conservationists want trawling banned in protected areas because it indiscriminately tears up delicate ecosystems such as seagrass beds to catch species such as cod, squid and flatfish.

Conservationists want to ban bottom trawling because of the damage it causes to the seabed (Kristian Buus/Greenpeace)

Greenpeace announced on Monday that its vessel Arctic Sunrise will sail southwest in the coming weeks to begin dropping rocks at South West Deeps.

It will be the third underwater barrier built by Greenpeace in UK waters, having dropped granite on Dogger Bank in the North Sea and the Offshore Brighton Marine Protected Area.

Following the rock fall at Dogger Bank, the UK government agency Marine Management Organization (MMO) sued Greenpeace for environmental violations.

But the case was dropped in February this year after a judge at Newcastle Crown Court urged the MMO to reconsider, saying the prosecution was not in the public interest.

Judge Edward Bindloss remarked, “One of the ironies of this litigation is that the MMO and Greenpeace are committed to improving the marine environment.”

He added: “The parties in this case should be allies, not antagonists. They should act in harmony given that their stated purpose and objectives are the same. »

Greenpeace monitors and documents the French fishing vessel Luis ll La Rochelle in operation using a gillnet (Kristian Buus/Greenpeace)

In April, Environment Secretary George Eustice announced that bottom trawling would be banned in four of the UK’s 76 protected areas, including Dogger Bank, with bans under consideration in 13 others.

A spokeswoman for Greenpeace said it was moving forward with another rockfall as it was the only thing the government had responded to after years of discussions and consultations on marine conservation.

According to the charity, the South West Depths is one of the most fished marine protected areas in the UK.

Satellite data showed that between January 2021 and mid-July 2022 it was fished for nearly 19,000 hours by 110 boats, Greenpeace said.

During the same period, bottom trawlers spent more than 3,370 hours fishing there, he added.

He revealed that 53% of industrial fishing vessels in the deep south west came from France, followed by Spain and 30% and only 9% from Britain.

Rocks are thrown into the English Channel from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza (Suzanne Plunkett/Greenpeace)

Pat Venditti, executive director of Greenpeace UK, described the barrier as a “last resort”.

“The future of the UK’s oceans hangs in the balance, and we are running out of time to save them from industrial fishing, habitat destruction and climate change,” Mr Venditti said.

He added: “The next Prime Minister should ban industrial fishing in marine protected areas by amending commercial fishing licenses, to show they are serious about protecting nature and supporting fishing communities.”

Greenpeace’s announcement coincides with the first day of negotiations for the UN’s Global Ocean Treaty, which aims to agree a legal framework to protect international waters.

Greenpeace said unless a treaty is finalized this year it will be impossible to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030, a target agreed by more than 100 countries at the Cop15 biodiversity summit.

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