The UK’s leading marine charity, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), says it welcomes the Government’s announcement of the creation of 41 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), but warns that proper investment in their management and monitoring must be made if they are to benefit both people and wildlife.
21,000 people took part in last summer’s MCS campaign urging Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, to be ambitious and designate 41 sites offered for public consultation at the time.
The new MCZs include inshore and offshore areas around the coast, and will protect a range of marine wildlife including worms, starfish, sea firs, sea urchins, spiny lobster, molluscs, fan mussels, tentacled lagoon worm, short-snouted seahorse and native oyster. A wide variety of habitats will also be protected including sand, tidal mud, rocky reefs and gravel.
“This is great news for marine wildlife and we are delighted that government has approved the protection of these special marine areas,” said Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Principal Specialist, MPAs. “The UK has a growing network of more than 300 marine protected areas, but the government must now invest in proper management of these sites and keep them free of all activities that damage the seabed so that our spectacular marine wildlife can recover from decades of destruction and degradation.”
The new sites include Beachy Head East, a large inshore site that encompasses the seas next to Eastbourne, Bexhill and Hastings in Sussex, and is home to an incredible diversity of fish, including seahorses. A locally-run campaign ‘Backing Beachy Head East’ was supported by the MCS Agents of Change project, and attracted the support of fishermen, anglers, local businesses and all three local MPs.
Other sites given protection include Orford Inshore off Suffolk, Markham’s Triangle off the North East coast, Ribble Estuary off the Lancashire coast, Kentish Knock East, Bembridge off the east coast of the Isle of Wight, Purbeck coast off Dorset, Devon‘s Dart Estuary and Helford Estuary by the Lizard in Cornwall. Two other sites off the Northern Ireland coast are also included – South Rigg and Queenie Corner.
“These new offshore sites present exciting opportunities to include Highly Protected Marine Areas, where all activities like dredging, and bottom-towed trawling are kept out and species of commercially important fish, and the habitats they depend on, can properly recover and flourish,” said Dr Solandt. “Highly Protected Marine Areas are an important element of a protection network as they allow the rewilding of our seabed. These sites are also good for carbon sequestration through the recovery of shellfish beds and other habitats, helping us mitigate against the threat of climate catastrophe.”
Evidence about the importance of the many of these new MCZs was gathered by divers from Seasearch, the volunteer dive programme coordinated by MCS, and was presented to Defra to inform their decisions. Dr Charlotte Bolton, National Seasearch coordinator said: “Our divers have spent hours and hours diving England’s incredibly diverse seabed habitats to record the marine plants and animals that inhabit our inshore seas. Through this meticulous citizen science we have been able to make the case for the protection of many of these new sites, and we look forward to helping local authorities develop robust management and monitoring plans for these MCZs so that the amazing marine life they protect really can recover.”
Sue Ranger, MCS Conservation Engagement and Education Manager, who has studied the connection between the sea and wellbeing says the wildlife and habitats in these MCZ’s connect us to the ocean by playing an unseen role in our lives: “If we look after it properly now, seagrass will go on stabilising the seabed and storing carbon; oyster beds will go on filtering the water and improving its quality and estuaries will continue to provide nursery grounds for fish.”
MCS says that the designation of the 41 is only half the battle. The charity says it will now be working to achieve proper management of all marine protected areas and will be engaging with Defra to ensure that conservation policies and regulations are fit for purpose. It will also continue to collect seabed data and work with local communities through Seasearch and the Agents of Change project.
For more information about the Marine Conservation Society visit their website by clicking here.