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Second wave of marine protection welcomed

The Wildlife Trusts have welcomed the designation of 23 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). 

UK seas have the potential to be full of incredible life and colour but continued destruction has reduced them to a shadow of their former selves. Without these astonishing submerged landscapes there simply wouldn't be any fish, let alone fantastic jewel anemones, seahorses and dolphins, amongst all the other wild and extraordinary creatures which are part of a healthy marine ecosystem.

The 23 new MCZs are special places and include cold water coral reefs, forests of sea fans, canyons and sandbanks, and an astonishingly varied range of submerged landscapes which support a stunning diversity of marine life.They include the Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds in the North Sea, thought to be Europe’s largest chalk reef. All will contribute towards a network of areas which is urgently needed to ensure a healthy future for our seas. 

Marine Conservation Zones are a type of protected area at sea designated for habitats and species of national importance, including fragile seahorses, rare native oysters and even cold water coral reefs.  Such protected areas are a tried and tested means of giving vulnerable species the time and space to recover.

Joan Edwards, head of Living Seas at The Wildlife Trusts said: “We are pleased by this Government’s commitment to addressing the decimation of our seabed over the past century, and to delivering an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas. This second step towards the completion of a ‘blue belt’ in UK seas is crucial in turning the tide on the state of our seas but there’s still work to be done. We look forward to working with Government and stakeholders to ensure these 50 MCZs are properly managed and to achieve the much-needed ambitious and comprehensive third and final tranche.  This will be the start of turning our over-fished, over-exploited and currently under-protected waters back into a healthy and sustainable environment.”

This historic move illustrates a renewed impetus to protect the seas around our shores. It follows on from the announcement of 27 MCZs in 2013 and is the second of three phases promised by the Government in order to fulfil the remit of the Marine and Coastal Access Act.

The list of Marine Conservation Zones was drawn-up by sea-users, scientists and conservationists, with Government committing to designating the sites in three waves or tranches. The Wildlife Trusts, actively involved in every step of the process, are buoyed by the achievement of another important milestone on the road to better protected seas. 

Photograph: Common starfish at Sheringham (Paul Naylor/www.marinephoto.co.uk)

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