In the most momentous ‘Blue Belt’ expansion to date, it was announced on Friday afternoon by Environment Secretary Michael Gove that 41 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) have officially been created across England. The safeguarding of these zones, in addition to the 50 that were established in 2013 and 2016, follows many years of appeals from both the Wildlife Trust and members of the public.
Spanning an area approximately eight times the size of Greater London, around 12,000 square kilometres of marine habitat will now be protected all across the country, conserving multifarious species and habitations for generations to come.
Local MP Caroline Dinenage commented:
“I am thrilled by the news that the Government has made further progress in the protection of our seas – these are considerable measures that have been taken to conserve our precious and threatened marine-life. On a local, national and global scale, the environment is a matter that means a great deal to me and my constituents, and every bit of progress we collectively make is great to see. Gosport, as a coastal town, will be thrilled to learn that further action has been taken to safeguard our Marine Areas.”
Various marine species such as the ocean quahog, rare stalked jellyfish, and the short-snouted seahorse are just some of many whose protection will be prioritised, whilst diverse habitats such as coral gardens, sea-fans and sandbanks will also benefit from the expansion.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove 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.”
Joan Edwards, the Director of Living Seas at The Wildlife Trusts, commended the news:
“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. 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! 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.”
In the lead up to these newly designated MCZs, numerous marine experts from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Natural England were consulted, who offered abounding support for the expansion.
The Chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper, said:
“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.”
The supervision of both the existing and new MCZs will come from both the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCA) and the Marine Management Organisation, who will continue to work with local fishing communities to ensure the ongoing protection of England’s marine life.