Councils dive in to ocean recovery

By Emily Cunningham | 07 June 2022

Many local authorities have declared a climate emergency, yet too often the ocean is missing from our response to the climate crisis.

The evidence is clear that a healthy ocean is an essential ally in our fight against climate change – it is the world’s greatest carbon sink, regulates our climate, and marine and coastal habitats protect many of our coastal communities from flooding and coastal erosion.

Yet the UK Government’s own recent Marine Strategy assessment confirms that our marine environment is not healthy.

This is not only bad news for our climate and the coastal communities on the frontline of sea level rise and eroding coastlines; an unhealthy ocean is bad news for our fishing industry, aquaculture industry, tourism industry and for the health, wellbeing and prosperity of our coastal communities.

The unique socio-economic challenges that face coastal communities are well documented, as is the widening of inequality in coastal places as a result of the pandemic. There are also huge opportunities at our coast, including a sustainable blue economy.

With the levelling up agenda now gaining pace, we have a unique opportunity to unlock the economic potential of our coast and seas – one of our greatest assets as an island nation – but it must be done in a way that safeguards coastal and marine ecosystems, ensuring that levelling up is truly a transformation that will benefit coastal residents of today and tomorrow.

As a coastal resident, I see these challenges play out every day. They impact on me, my family, and my friends. As a sea swimmer, I see and smell the pollution. As a trained marine biologist, I observe changes to the kind of wildlife I see and when.

As lead officer of the Local Government Association Coastal Special Interest Group, I see the appetite among councillors and officers to tackle these shared issues – to ensure levelling up delivers transformational change for the communities we serve; but also to ensure our natural environment is not a victim – rather it is a winner – in the levelling up of the coming years.

I also recognise there is great appetite to take action for ocean recovery, but often a lack of understanding among councillors and council officers on what exactly we can do to play our part.

In early 2021, I was approached by Cllr Dr Pamela Buchan, a marine social scientist and Plymouth City councillor, about an idea she’d had for a ‘Motion for the Ocean’. Pam was completing her PhD research on marine citizenship and, as a councillor, had also recognised the need to help politicians and local residents get to grips with the critical issue of ocean health. Over the next 10 months, together with Nicola Bridge, head of ocean advocacy and engagement at the Ocean Conservation Trust, we developed a model Motion for the Ocean.

The model recognises that local authorities have direct responsibilities which can – for better or for worse – impact marine and coastal health.

The motion is a series of eight evidence-based pledges, carefully designed to focus on the actions that will deliver the greatest benefits for ocean health. It seeks to embed ocean recovery in our decision-making, ensure that the development of the blue economy delivers both local prosperity and ocean recovery, and empower the next generation of marine citizens.

So far, eight councils have made an Ocean Recovery Declaration using the Motion for the Ocean. These include councils on the coast and some further upstream. No matter where we live, the health of the ocean impacts us all and we all have a part to play in protecting it. Inland areas impact the ocean at source – through water, waste and carbon emissions – and need to step up too.

Emily Cunningham is lead officer of the LGA Coastal Special Interest Group and a marine and coastal specialist

For more information and the text of the Ocean Recovery Declaration, please visit

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