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Protecting UK waters

UK becomes 'ocean champion' with 41 new Marine Conservation Zones
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Cornwall Bedruthan Steps

The UK government has announced that it will create 41 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), taking the new total of MCZs in the UK to 91 Zones.

The move to designate more sites in British waters came one week ahead of World Oceans Day, and represents the most significant expansion of England’s ‘Blue Belt’ of protected areas to date.

Stretching from Cornwall to Northumberland, the new protections safeguard 12,000 square kilometres of marine habitat, an area almost eight times the size of Greater London.

The announcement follows the government’s manifesto commitment to create a Blue Belt of marine protection for Britain’s overseas territories and its own coast, and builds on the ambition of the 25 Year Environment Plan.

Jellyfish and seahorses

The rare stalked jellyfish, short-snouted seahorse and blue mussel beds are among the species and habitats that will benefit from the protections.

‘Just a few days before World Oceans Day, we congratulate Defra and the UK government on this fantastic news for UK seas and marine life’, said Pascale Moehrle, executive director for Oceana in Europe. ‘British people should be proud of the rich wildlife living in their waters and support moves to protect them.’

With 50 zones already designated in 2013 and 2016, the UK now has 355 Marine Protected Areas of different types, spanning 220,000 square km – nearly twice the size of England.

‘Naming 41 more marine conservation zones now takes the UK to the top of the leader board in terms of marine protection in Europe, with 40% protection. We hope that all 91 Zones will be properly managed, and no bottom-trawl fishing allowed, which harms habitats and marine life.’

Executive director of Oceana in Europe

‘Still much to be done’

The latest round of protections follow an extensive consultation, including with local fishermen and marine conservation experts, which received overwhelming support for the proposals. In total, over 48,000 responses were submitted by members of the public, with Defra designating all 41 of the proposed sites and expanding protections at 12 existing sites.

Each designation is based on scientific evidence provided by marine experts from Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), as well as socio-economic information provided by stakeholders and Defra economists.

‘These new protections are based on advice from our world-leading marine scientists and we believe will go a long way toward safeguarding over a million hectares of England’s ocean and coastal environment, and the many species which rely upon it.

‘Today really does mark a major step forward for the conservation of our precious marine environment, but there is still much to be done, including putting in place more of the good practices that we know are needed to secure the long-term health of our seas and their wildlife.’

Chair of Natural England

Marine conservation organisation Oceana has taken an active role in the process behind the designation of the new marine conservation zones, providing scientific data from an expedition in UK waters to Defra’s public consultation process.

It carried out a North Sea expedition that surveyed waters in five countries – including the UK – to gather data to strengthen the current network of marine protected areas.

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