The government has announced 41 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), which brings to total of marine protected areas around the UK up to 355. This new and expanded ‘blue belt’ will cover 12,000 square kilometres of ocean.
The order bans any new activities deemed harmful to resident wildlife, including dredging, sizeable offshore development and harmful coastal activity. Existing activity considered to be damaging to the environment will be minimised or halted entirely so that these habitats can begin to regenerate.
“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,” said Michael Gove, environment secretary. “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.”
These areas help to help protect a broad array of native species, including basking sharks, short snouted seahorses, eider ducks, brittle stars, fan shells, ocean quahog and blue mussel beds, among others.
The now-protected areas focus predominantly on the southern coastlines, and are peppered from the South-West Deeps across the south coastlines of the UK around to Kentish Knock East. Additional MCZs can now be found in the waters off the Northumberland Coast, the North York Moors National Park, in the Bristol Channel and a number of other spots.
“It’s fantastic news that now we have 91 Marine Conservation Zones – they will form a vital series of underwater habitats which can be nursed back to health,” said Joan Edwards, director of Living Seas at The Wildlife Trusts. “The Wildlife Trusts have been calling for the government to give real protection to a network of diverse sea-bed landscapes since 2009 and over 22,000 people joined our call for better protection of our seas during last summer’s consultation.”
“Huge thanks to everyone who has supported this change,” added Edwards. “Now we need to see good management of these special places to stop damaging activities such as beam-trawling or dredging for scallops and langoustines which harm fragile marine wildlife.”
While dredging and other damaging techniques can only be halted in zones that lie within inshore waters, up to 12 nautical miles from the coast, the new order will aim to protect certain areas from these activities.
A list of the 41 new Marine Conservation Zones can be found here.
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