The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and The Co-operative Group yesterday (10 November) unveiled suggestions as to where more than 70 new marine protected areas should be considered as a priority in the UK.
The sites have been identified following six years of surveying work carried out by divers around the UK, and represent “the Jewels in the Crown” of UK marine wildlife sites. The recommendations would increase the amount of UK seas protected in marine reserves from just 6km2 to 212km2.
In UK seas there are 22 species of wildlife considered to be facing the threat of global extinction. Once common species such as common skate and Atlantic halibut are now listed as endangered, and only eight of the 47 fish stocks found around the British Isles remain in a healthy state.
Under the new Marine and Coastal Access Act, due to become law later this week,
the Government will have a ‘duty’ to designate marine conservation zones (MCZs), which will include a range of protection levels including ‘no take’ marine reserves closed to damaging activities such as commercial fishing and dredging, and has committed to introduce a network of these MCZs by 2012.
Last month, more than 527,000 Co-operative customers (over 80 per cent of participants) stated they supported the introduction of marine reserves in a survey conducted via chip and pin pads at the checkouts of more than 2,400 Co-operative food stores throughout the UK.
Miranda Krestovnikoff, BBC Coast Presenter, who is unveiling the proposed sites in London today, said: “For far too long, we have left our valuable, living seas open to any and every form of exploitation. I've dived with survey divers, gathering records of the rich but fragile wildlife that occurs in our seas. Marine reserves are needed – they really do allow wildlife to recover and thrive.”
Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Biodiversity Policy Officer said: "Our 73 recommended reserves would help protect a spectacular array of nationally important marine life and habitat, which many would be surprised to find in UK seas, from vibrant cold water corals to rare seahorses to giant basking sharks.”
Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals and Sustainability at The Co-operative, said: “We applaud the new Marine and Coastal Access Act and the duty it places on Government to introduce marine reserves, something our customers strongly support and the science demands. Arguably, these 73 sites are the jewels in the crown of our inshore waters and require consideration as a priority under the new Act.”
Even the 73 recommended marine protected areas would increase the percentage of UK seas that are fully protected from 0.005% to just 0.13%. MCS and The Co-operative are calling for 30 per cent of UK seas to be designated as marine reserves by 2020, which scientists say is required if fish stocks and the marine environment as a whole is to recover from decades of overfishing and habitat destruction.
The public is being asked to vote for the sites they would like to see protected at the MCS ‘Your Seas Your Voice’ website – accessed via www.mcsuk.org