UK Government doubles the number of MCZs, but is it real conservation?

The Observer reports, 17th January 2016: A series of 23 new marine conservation zones (MCZs) have been announced by the UK Government. But some experts fear this will not be enough to safeguard the future of our wildlife

The zones stretch from the coast of Northumberland down to Land’s End and include Europe’s longest chalk reef off Cromer in Norfolk. They will bring the number of protected sites to 50, still far below the 127 proposed by an earlier £8m government consultation.

“As an island nation, the UK is surrounded by some of the richest and most diverse sea life in the world – from the bright pink sea-fan coral colonies off the south-west coast to the great chalk reef stretches in the east,” said the marine environment minister George Eustice. “It’s vital we protect our marine environment to ensure our seas remain healthy, our fishing industry remains prosperous and future generations can enjoy our beautiful beaches, coastline and waters.”

Professor Callum Roberts of the University of York, who is a leading marine conservation expert, welcomed the new zones but said: “We need more because the network we have is far from complete. Despite the MCZs, the UK’s rich marine life has very little protection. That may sound paradoxical, but six years after the Marine Act and Coastal Access was passed, MCZs are still paper parks. “They have no management at all, so life within them remains unprotected. They will be worse than useless, giving the illusion of protection where none is present.”

The government said it was working to ensure management measures are put in place within two years, but Roberts said: “I am deeply sceptical of what it will achieve.” He said, for example, there are already moves to open up a special area of conservation in Cardigan Bay, off the Welsh coast, to scallop dredging: “It is one of the most destructive fishing methods in the world, turning habitats into rubble and leaving trails of dead and dying creatures in its wake.”

He said the conservation zones offer no real protection from the dredging and trawling that has devastated large areas of our seas for decades.

Roberts added that 65 “reference areas” of complete protection from fishing, proposed on top of the original 127 conservation zones, had been abandoned: “The one bit of the network that was really critical was dropped.”

Roberts led 86 marine scientists in condemning the government in 2013 for reneging on the recommended 127 conservation zones.

The government is also set to consult on new special areas of conservation for harbour porpoise and special protection areas to protect feeding and bathing areas used by birds, such as spoonbills in Poole Harbour and puffins on the Northumberland coast.

Roberts said the low level of protection the government was giving to UK waters was in sharp contrast to its leadership on the international stage.

“The UK is giving full protection from fishing to huge areas of our overseas territories in the Atlantic [Ascension Island], Indian [Chagos archipelago] and Pacific Oceans [Pitcairn],” he said. “We urgently need the same high levels of protection in our home waters.”

Source: The Observer, 17th January 2016. For the full text, see
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/16/dolphins-spoonbills-coral-can-marine-parks-save-our-sea-life

Marinet observes: Is this delivery of the long-promised UK’s MCZ network, or actually delivery of overdue EU Habitats Directive’s marine sites?

Professor Callum Roberts, York University, describes the MCZs as paper parks. We have sympathy with this view, having challenged the use of dredging and dumping in existing MCZs.


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