Twenty-seven new marine conservation zones (MCZs) will be created in English seas on Thursday to protect seahorses, coral reefs, oyster beds and other marine life. But the number is four less than ministers proposed and just one-fifth of the 127 zones recommended by the government's own consultation.
The seas around England are some of richest marine environments in the world, with dense forests of seaweed, many fish and crustacean species and schools of dolphins, but dredging and bottom-trawling for fish, prawns and aggregates have devastated large areas.
"We very much see the new MCZs as the beginning and not an end," said environment minister George Eustice, who said consultation on two more tranches of MCZs would start in 2015. He added: "It is important to remember that MCZs are only one part of the jigsaw. Over 500 marine protected areas already exist around the UK."