Marine protection battle still far from over, warn conservationists
September 14 2011 Lewis Smith
Sea fans off Devon
Marine campaigners have warned that the battle to create conservation zones in Britain’s seas is yet to be won despite plans for Marine Conservation Zones.
The warning follows the announcement that 127 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) have been formally proposed for the waters around England and Wales after months of negotiations.
The creation of MCZs was made possible by the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 but none are yet in place and even the degree and nature of additional protection has still to be agreed.
And of the 37,475.154 km2 area of the sea put forward as deserving of MCZ status, less than 2 per cent has been recommended for the higher levels of protection, though it accounts for 65 sites.
Extra protection is expected to be given to the 65 ‘reference’ sites but even the strength of that is uncertain. It had been widely expected that all fishing would be banned in such areas but Natural England said it could simply mean fishing is reduced by perhaps 70 per cent.
Richard Harrington, of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), said that the announcement of the network of 127 potential MCZs was welcome but he cautioned: “We don’t want to see paper parks that don’t legislate for anything.
“Only 2 per cent of the area will actually be protected zones as things stand. We don’t consider that adequate, but it is a good beginning.”
The MCS is “broadly supportive” of the attempt by government to create protected areas and it has been involved with the negotiations that led to the list of potential sites.
Discussions on which areas should be given protection involved a range of groups with interests in the marine environment, including the fishing industry, the oil and gas industry, renewable energy developers and conservationists.
The talks were intended to come up with recommendations that were accepted by all the interest groups – stakeholders - but by the nature of negotiations some areas that the conservationists were anxious to see protected were vetoed by other groups. Equally, fishing and other interests had to agree to compromises.
The Wildlife Trusts were one of the conservation organisation involved in the negotiations that agreed the 127 sites.
Ali Plummer, Living Seas Officer for the Wildlife Trusts, said: “At the moment the network doesn’t mean anything. They are proposed. There’s still a year to go. We don’t know what the network will look like at the end of next year. But the 127 we have is a good foundation.
“We are a step forward but there’s still a long way to go before we get a final network.”
She said one of the disappointments for the Wildlife Trusts was that only the seabed ecosystem was included in the talks. Areas of the sea boasting important populations of species that live closer to the surface, such as basking sharks and porpoises, were excluded.
She added that she hopes all trawling and all dredging will be banned inside all the MCZs but accepted the chances were “probably not that high”.
Willie Mackenzie, of Greenpeace, remained to be convinced that the proposals would achive much: “I think there’s a general scepticism from us on this in so far as how much has been protected. What have they actually done? What has changed? What have they stopped? There is no substance. It’s a crazy situation.”
Impact assessments are now to be conducted to establish which interests will be most damaged by the imposition of MCZs and what measures are required to ensure the vulnerable species and marine features are adequately protected from damage.
However, the 127 sites are by no means certain to be included in the final list, whatever level of protection is agreed. Stakeholders will continue to be involved in talks to decide the final list and could force some to be dropped – or even added.
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1 Responses to "Marine protection battle still far from over, warn conservationists"
In the Upper Spencer Gulf in South Australia, various hazardous industrial facilities are proposed which will impact on waters within proposed marine parks, protected for their importance as fish nurseries. We must demand better from our governments!
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