In a report on the state of the marine environment, the agency looks at a range of issues indicating the health of the nation's seas. It found that the rate of coastal erosion and frequency of coastal flooding is likely to increase due to climate change.
The agency argues that the UK needs to adapt the way that it manages key aspects of the marine environment to deal with the impacts of climate change. It also highlights fisheries and wildlife conservation, shoreline defence and flood risk management as being particularly important. Sea defences reduce flood risk for more than two million people, it notes.
Although discharges of sewage, hazardous chemicals and radioactive materials have been reduced, litter is still a problem, the agency insists.
It found that beaches are littered by an average of one or two items every metre.
The agency has drawn up a strategy to set out how it will take a leading role in protecting the seas. Chairman Sir John Harman said: "We need a much better balance between the different uses of our coasts and seas to protect the marine environment."
The agency has also lent its support to the government's commitment to introduce a marine bill, including a system of spatial planning for the seas and integrated coastal zone management to bridge the gap between land and sea management.
Regulations governing the seas need to be simplified, the agency admits.
Responsibility for coasts and seas is currently shared between many different authorities, often with overlapping responsibilities.
DEFRA is working on a draft bill, due to be published next year. The department is considering the case for a marine management organisation in England that could assume operational management of fisheries and environmental enforcement.
- See Editorial, page 11.