I would first like to thank the organisers for inviting me to open today’s event. I always enjoy the opportunity to speak at events like this.
For me, World Wetlands Day is an important reminder of our seas and freshwater wetlands and the vital role that they play in our everyday lives. Over 95% of Jersey is either seashore or marine waters and we take our island’s stunning marine, coastal and terrestrial habitats for granted.
We have some of the richest and most varied marine environments anywhere in Europe. The tidal regime of the English Channel on a twice daily basis brings millions of litres of Atlantic seawater into our area, and brings with it oxygen, and nutrients, needed to enrich marine life and foster juvenile plants and animals. It also brings with it sediments. One only has to watch the rapid build-up sediments in St Aubin’s Harbour and the mud with its dark anaerobic bacteria below. it also brings with pollution unfortunately.
Some of the seawater may continue being circulated for days or weeks in the complex currents around our offshore reefs and island. They provide our key habitats such as our seagrass meadows, kelp forests and maerl beds, with diverse biological networks and complex food chains that sustains local marine species as well as seabirds and even ourselves.
I am told we know only about half the marine species which live in Jersey waters and it is probable that the actual total is at least twice the 3200 which are known. Much of our seabed is less than 20 metres deep, and the sunlight yields dense forests of seaweeds, seagrasses and other life.
It is this diversity and vitality that underpins our coastal fishing economy. Through our operation of fishing licensing regime and our continual monitoring of catches and fishing metiers, complying with international rules, we seek to ensure our fishing stays sustainable. This includes our potting activity which has been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.
Our community has achieved recognition of our marine environment outside the Island which brings important external scrutiny of our stewardship, under the international conventions and agreements which provide a measure of protection for our wetlands.
The island’s coastal RAMSAR site on the south east reefs and intertidal areas was established in 2000 with the Paternosters, Écréhous and Minquiers RAMSAR areas following in 2005. Jersey is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, OSPAR, ASCOBANs, Bonn and Berne Conventions all of which impose obligations on us to conserve the marine environment or marine species and habitats.
Since the last World Wetlands Day, the Island has become a signatory to Annex V of the OSPAR Convention which requires the monitoring and conservation of key marine habitats. This resulted in 150 km2 of seabed being designated as a Marine Protected Area by OSPAR, St Helier was chosen as the venue for the OSPAR Biodiversity Committee meeting in March 2019.
Jersey is represented on this Committee as well as on the British Irish Council working groups for the marine environment and marine non-native species. There are local challenges with signs of declining stocks in certain species, so we have obtained significant new funding for marine science studies to learn more about populations and the changes which are taking place. This work is being carried out in cooperation with our neighbours and UK as members of the UK’s Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership.
We work with a range of UK and French organisations, institutions and committed individuals in relation to everything from stock assessment to the monitoring of dolphins, microplastics and archaeology.
I want also to highlight the importance of our freshwater wetlands which are relatively few compared with our marine habitats. They include, ponds, streams, meadows and other small waterbodies, all of which are exceptionally important to both people and wildlife. Not only are they used for recreational purposes, they’re essential for drinking water and flood management. We must give special attention to protecting and conserving these freshwater habitats and the species that they provide a home.
Part of the solution to the threat of increased flooding from climate change lies with the conservation of our wetlands which act as water catchment and storage areas. Most of our island's freshwater wetlands are designated as Sites of Special Interest to reflect their biodiversity importance, which is disproportionately high relative to their size. These areas offer everybody a chance to witness our natural world at first hand. I encourage everyone to visit the Jersey National Trust bird hide at St Ouens Pond and experience flocks of wildfowl coming into roost or marsh harriers hunting over the wetlands.
Elsewhere a visit to Mannez Quarry and the bird hide in the Wildlife protection zone in Alderney, a site which recently was saved from development by the community, highlighting the need for continued vigilance.
These freshwater wetlands are very vulnerable to damage from pollution, they are amongst the most threatened habitats in our modern world, and it is essential that we protect them. We are working with Jersey Water and farmers to try to safeguard these areas from water pollution. There is progress but there is more to do.
The island cannot be complacent, and we must safeguard our marine and freshwater environments. The threats presented by invasive species (such as the numbers of Asian Hornet, on which we are leading internationally), climate change and sea temperature rise are increasingly being experienced and the risks of the predicted coastal flooding through rising sea level and increased storm surges is only now being understood and recognised by the public.
Locally we are concentrating on these big issues through initiatives such as the Shoreline Management Plan, Island Plan Review and Marine Spatial Planning as well by more focused projects. Most importantly we are working and collaborating with neighbouring governments, third sector organisations and community groups.
The overriding issue of all is climate change: the biggest challenge we have to overcome for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Jersey is miniscule in its direct impact, but our community relies on others, we do not exist in isolation, we all must play our part to reduce our impact on the planet, cooperating with other governments.
When it comes to creating and sustaining healthy wetlands, the vital need to work together is no different. Much of our knowledge about Jersey’s marine environment comes from the voluntary recording done by naturalists with organisations such as Seasearch, the Jersey National Trust, the Jersey Biodiversity Centre and the Société Jersiaise. Organised and individual beach cleans remove tonnes of litter from the seashore annually. Generations of school children and adults are introduced to our wetlands through educational rock-pooling, pond dipping and similar events.
As we enter a new decade the challenges associated with the natural environment will continue to increase. We can’t but help see the evidence around us. We are a wealthy community compared to many other societies, but we see the impact of our insatiable hunger for economic growth and pressure for development of our island. with the consequent unsustainable growth in our population.
As the Minister charged in law with all the responsibilities for the care and stewardship of our special environment, I am determined to face these challenges head on. In 2019, the States Assembly declared a climate emergency and will shortly debate the Carbon Neutral Strategy which aims for carbon neutrality by 2030. A new Island Plan will be in place for 2021 which will include planning policies for the next decade to protect our coasts and our special places, including individual areas in the marine zone with their diverse character. This year we will be seeking new legal powers to protect trees and create a conservation area, and a new wildlife law to protect habitats.
In our Government Plan, for the first time, we have won significant funds for biodiversity research in both marine and terrestrial habitats. I am confident this year will see many individual biodiversity research and environmental management projects being undertaken by government, voluntary organisations, groups and individuals, which will be essential to further the conservation of our key habitats and species during the coming years.
I look forward to continuing to work with you and your organisations. Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for allowing me to open your conference and may it be a successful one.