The Creation of Marine Conservation Zones
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS), The Wildlife Trusts and other ocean protection charities have been campaigning for some time to have better measures in place for safeguarding UK waters and last month (May 2019) a milestone was reached when 41 new marine conservation zones were officially created by the government. Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, said:
“The UK is already leading the rest of the world by protecting over 30% of our ocean – but we know there is more to do. Establishing this latest round of marine conservation zones in this year of green action is another big step in the right direction, extending our blue belt to safeguard precious and diverse sea life for future generations to come.”
The combined area of the new zones will cover an area of 12,000 sq km. This is in addition to the 314 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) already in place.
This is great news for many threatened species and habitats. Human intervention, often in the form of dredging and fishing, has caused devastating damage to our ocean environments and depleted our fishing stocks to record lows.
Why do we need these protected zones?
Marine Protected Zones/Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), are set up to protect seabed habitats and the plants and animals that live within them. Some protection areas even safeguard animals that move around within the zones, such as fish and larger creatures such as sharks. The zones ensure that our oceans are healthy and diverse and help to contribute towards a larger global ecosystem.
Without the protection of the zones these ecosystems would not be able to flourish as historic human activity has interfered with the delicate, natural balance. With protection the zones have some respite while they come back to their normal levels of health.
So, is it just about protecting environments from over fishing and dredging?
In a word, no! The Marine Conservation Society sum this up perfectly
” Damage can certainly occur from fishing activities, but other activities including sewage discharge, aggregate extraction, undersea cables, onshore developments, recreational activities, port dredging and shipping can also damage sites and affect the habitats and species that are supposed to be safeguarded.”
Different MPAs need different levels of protection as their habitats are all unique. The MCS outline how
“…government bodies develop guidance on which activities are considered to damage which species and habitats. Regulators then use this advice to decide on management measures to suit particular sites. In some cases it’s pretty clear cut – for example, scallop dredging with heavy fishing gear is known to damage reef habitats, so should always be prevented in reef sites. On the other hand, handlining for mackerel in an MPA designated to protect reef features will have no impact on the reef, so should be allowed to continue.”
Although the 41 new zones are a massive leap forward there is more work to be done
What emerges as being totally key to the MPAs(including the new 41 zones) is their effective management. There is little point in creating them without having proper management in place. This is where MCS, Wildlife Trusts, Surfers Against Sewage and other marine conservation organisations play a key role. They engage with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and other key parties to ensure that policies and regulations are enforced and monitored.
Through their continued actions with government and other parties these wonderful charities and organisations give us hope that our seas will continue to flourish for future generations.
Please check out their links below and how you can help towards cleaner and healthier seas.
Of course, MPAs and Marine Protection zones are only one part of ocean conservation. All of the above site links will give you a whole host of information about the work that is being done to secure the abundance and health of our wonderful oceans.