Marine Conservation Society says proposed new sites have potential to protect a wide range of marine wildlife and habitats
Last week’s announcement that the designation of 41 proposed Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) for English waters will be open to public consultation over the next six weeks has been welcomed by the UK’s leading marine charity, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).
However, the charity says that designation is only the first step to creating a network of sites. It says a ‘whole-site approach’ – not just protecting vulnerable parts within a site – to management is key, and that adequate funding must be found to ensure these final sites are not protected in name alone.
“It is fantastic to have this last set of sites proposed after much painstaking work since 2009, when the process to select special places deserving protection began,” says Sandy Luk, MCS Chief Executive Officer. “With every one of them designated, we will have enough of the sea in protected areas to provide a fantastic foundation for ensuring marine life can recover and thrive.”
“Defra’s ambition in its 25 Year Environment Plan is to protect entire sites, and this consultation looks at providing areas with a high level of protection. It has never been more important that we deliver both of these ambitions!”
MCS has been keen to see a ‘whole site approach’ to management of MCZs since the first sites were designated in 2012. Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Principal Specialist on Marine Protected Areas says: “At last we are seeing the opportunity to provide more comprehensive protection across a variety of habitats that can protect fish as well as worms, prawns, reefs, lobsters, coral and sponges. So far, management of England’s MCZs hasn’t resulted in any meaningful recovery. Perhaps this new approach will finally meet our goals for these important areas.”
MCS says it’s important that sound scientific advice isn’t ignored as has happened in the past when plans to protect many important sites, with plentiful evidence, were shelved.Among the sites put forward for the public consultation, which starts today, is Beachy Head East, which is well known for its offshore reefs, muds and sands around the Royal Sovereign Shoals lighthouse. It extends way offshore, but was initially rejected in the 2013 process and protection for the site was delayed until now. South-west Approaches to Bristol Channel is an area that hosts a reef complex, and a sand and gravel seabed. Recovery of the fish populations and wider species in this rich sea would widely benefit the animals, and migratory species (such as common dolphin, sharks and seabirds) that regularly visit this site.
Further offshore, South West Deeps East is an area that could show phenomenal recovery following intense historical fishing pressure. MCS has received reports of massive hauls of giant mussel-like ‘fan shells’ in the past. Allowing such communities to recover will make the area highly productive once again.
South Rigg, and other sites in the Irish Sea could help recovery of fish such as cod, haddock, ling, and even common skate, a fish that is now extremely rare. Protection of these sites, coupled with a ban on discards from fisheries, could bring greater species richness and better support a thriving fishing community, too.
The Marine Conservation Society urges the public to take part in the consultation, and support the designation of the sites. More information can be found at: www.mcsuk.org/mpa.