The North Sea, once one of the most productive in the world, is now amongst the most degraded. Oil extraction, waste dumping and chemical pollution have all taken their toll, and relentless commercial fishing has pushed some fish stocks - such as cod - to the brink of collapse.
Which is why our ship Arctic Sunrise is once again heading out into the North Sea to campaign for the urgent creation of marine reserves - national parks at sea where marine life can get some respite from commercial exploitation. Only by setting aside large areas of our oceans in this way can we protect ecosystems and allow them to recover and thrive, but also ensure a future for a sustainable fishing industry for generations to come.
Follow the crew of the Arctic Sunrise on their campaign for Marine Reserves in our North Sea Tour blogIn the past few years, report after report from respected bodies like the UK's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has confirmed the situation and demanded that 'something must be done'.
But such is the power of the industries exploiting the North Sea that nothing ever is. Despite EU scientists recommending a zero cod quota in the North Sea for the past seven years, for example, destructive fishing continues unabated.
What has happened to cod illustrates perfectly the failure of political will which is destroying the North Sea ecosystem. Despite being one of Britain's most iconic and loved food species, cod are in crisis. After their first year of life, cod have no natural predators other than man, and can live for 25 years or more, reproducing prolifically once over three years old. Yet through a combination of constant overfishing using the most destructive methods, high levels of pollution and warming waters due to climate change, North Sea cod stocks are now hovering just above total collapse.
But now, for the first time in a long time, some practical measures are being discussed which could improve the situation: the EU Marine Strategy Directive (MSD) and the UK Marine Bill both contain measures to establish a framework for applying much more coherent controls on all human activities at sea, and protecting the marine environment and the species that depend on it.
The opportunity is there to get what we have been campaigning for - a network of large-scale, fully-protected marine reserves to give the North Sea's battered ecosytem the time and space in which to recover.
The problem is that we estimate that as much as 40 per cent of the North Sea needs to be protected in this way if recovery is to be successful. Neither the EU nor the UK government has shown willing to commit to reserves of this size - but if they don't then the levels of destructive fishing and pollution are such that there will probably be no fishing industry to speak of in a few decades. Despite this, the fishing and other industries are lobbying hard to weaken environmental protection proposals in both the MSD and the Marine Bill.
For the next few weeks there is a consultation on the UK Marine Bill to which anyone can contribute. At the same time, in Europe the discussions continue over the MSD, and our Environment Minister - David Miliband - is the UK minister responsible for both processes.
Please help us to ensure that both the MSD and the Marine Bill contain effective measures to set up large-scale marine reserves by writing to UK Environment Minister, David Miliband, urging him to champion marine reserves as a way of regenerating the North Sea and ensuring that protection of our fragile marine environments is taken seriously both at national and EU levels.