Safe havens for marine wildlife a step closer

Wednesday 31st August 2011

An important step towards reversing the decline in our marine environment has been taken today, as stakeholder recommendations for a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around England are sent to Government.

Following the passing of the Marine and Coastal Access Act (MCAA) in 2009, four regional stakeholder groups were set up by Government to consult on where Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), a form of MPA, should be sited around England.  The Wildlife Trusts have been actively involved in all four groups, providing local, regional and national expertise.

The Wildlife Trusts believe MPAs are essential for the future of marine life, and are running a campaign to gain public support for them, called Petition Fish.

Today, the recommendations from the regional groups are being passed to the Government’s nature conservation advisors.  This is the first step in turning stakeholder proposals for MCZs into a reality.

Joan Edwards, Head of Living Seas for The Wildlife Trusts, said:

“The network recommendations being submitted today mark a huge step in the right direction.  This is the result of a great deal of hard work from many stakeholders. It is essential that this opportunity is not wasted.  The expectations of stakeholders, as to how their recommendations are taken forward, need to be met, and a strong and complete network of MPAs presented to the public by the Government next year.

Currently, only 0.001% of the UK’s marine environment is fully protected from damaging activities.  Fish stocks have collapsed and species including corals, seahorses, whales, seals and basking sharks have all suffered declines.

Research from around the world shows now is a critical moment for marine conservation, with extinction rates at an all-time high.  Key scientists have published a report recommending the creation of MPAs for restoring and protecting significantly damaged marine ecosystems.  Protection of key marine areas from damaging activities is one vital element in achieving the Government’s own vision of ‘productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas’ and turning around decades of decline.

Joan Edwards continued:

“True sustainability in the marine environment will only be achieved if we create a substantial network of MPAs across our seas; areas which will work together to provide protection for the full range of habitats and species found in our waters."

The Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) will put forward its own thoughts on an MPA network to public consultation in summer 2012.

Notes for editors:

1. The 2009 Marine and Coastal Access Act (MCAA) contained a commitment to establish Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in England’s seas. Four stakeholder groups, set up by Natural England (NE ) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), have been developing ideas for where these should be. Groups contained representatives from a range of organisations including industry and NGOs. The groups looked at what is to be protected within them and how this protection might be achieved.

2. IPSO: Rogers, A.D. & Laffoley, D.d’A. 2011. International Earth system expert workshop on ocean stresses and impacts. Summary report. IPSO Oxford, 18 pp.
Urgent actions to restore the structure and function of marine ecosystems, including the coordinated and concerted action in national waters and on the High Seas (the high seas water column and seabed Area beyond national jurisdiction) by states and regional bodies to: establish a globally comprehensive and representative system of marine protected areas to conserve biodiversity, to build resilience, and to ensure ecologically sustainable fisheries with minimal ecological footprint; Proper and universal implementation of the precautionary principle by reversing the burden of proof so activities proceed only if they are shown not to harm the ocean singly or in combination with other activities.

The Wildlife Trusts (TWT)

There are 47 individual Wildlife Trusts covering the whole of the UK and the Isle of Man and Alderney.  All are working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone. We have more than 800,000 members including 150,000 members of our junior branch Wildlife Watch.  Our vision is to create A Living Landscape and secure Living Seas.  We manage around 2,300 nature reserves and every year we advise thousands of landowners and organisations on how to manage their land for wildlife. We also run marine conservation projects around the UK, collecting vital data on the state of our seas and celebrating our amazing marine wildlife. Every year we work with thousands of schools and our nature reserves and visitor centres receive millions of visitors.  Each Wildlife Trust is working within its local communities to inspire people about the future of their area: their own Living Landscapes and Living Seas.