Marine Protected Areas

Marine Protected AreasCommon Starfish

Protecting our marine environment?

What is a Marine Protected area?

The most important and exciting aspect of the forthcoming Marine Acts is the creation of a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) throughout UK seas.

The type of Marine Protected Area (MPA) depends on the legislative measure in place to provide protection to the marine species and habitats that occur in them. Ranging from Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s) designated under the Habitats Directives, Special Protection Areas (SPA’s) designated under the Birds Directive and Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ) designated under the Marine and coastal Access Act 2009.

By designating a combination of sites it will ensure that collectively they will provide more benefits than an individual site could on it’s own, protecting some of our most vulnerable species and habitats from damaging activities that threaten their very survival.

Why do we need marine protected areas?

Many human activities are damaging or are causing significant disturbance to our marine environment.

Until very recently we have taken the sea and what it offers for granted, exploiting its economic worth at the expense of its environmental wellbeing. But the health of the oceans and seas is a fundamental part of a healthy global ecosystem, of which we all depend, it regulates our climate, recycles nutrients, provides food and medicines and much more, in short everyone is completely reliant on a healthy marine environment for everything.

It is, therefore very important to protect and conserve it and thereby safeguard it into the future. Marine Protected Areas (MPA s) provide a practical and significant contribution to the recovery and conservation of marine species and habitats. Marine Conservation Zones in Essex.

To establish the suite of marine conservation Zones required under the Act, four regional project areas were established

  • Finding Sanctuary
  • Irish Sea Project
  • Net Gain
  • Balanced seas

Essex is covered by the Balanced Seas project and covers an area from Suffolk to the Hampshire boarder with Dorset.

The purpose of the project was to engage marine stakeholders acting in an advisory capacity in gathering data on the presence or absence of certain types of rare or threatened marine species and habitats, either because there are only a few individuals left or that there are only a few locations in the UK where the habitat can be found. These important species and habitats are known as features of conservation importance or FOCI.

After over 50 Balanced Seas stakeholder meetings the final MCZ recommendations have been put forward.

In Essex four MCZ’s have been recommended for designation

  1. Stour and Orwell Estuary including Hamford Backwaters.
  2. Colne, Blackwater, Crouch and Roach Estuaries inclusive.
  3. River Thames.
  4. Kentish Knock (off shore)

The largest of the recommended MCZ’s in Essex is the Colne, Blackwater, Crouch and Roach estuarine complex. They are recommended for the presence of Native Oyster a vulnerable species that can only be found on two places in England in viable numbers to maintain the population, and the tiny Lagoon Sea Slug Tenellia adspersa which is the only place in South East England that it can be found.

What happens now?

The final recommendations have been sent to an independent Scientific Advisory Panel, the JNCC and Natural England who will scrutinise the scientific evidence that underpins the recommended MCZ and priorities for protection, separate to this the Balanced Seas group will also produce detailed assessments on the social, economic and environmental impacts on these recommendations.

As these documents are being produced the Wildlife Trusts are reminding government of its commitment to create a coherent network of Marine Protected Areas covering at least 25% of English waters by 2016. This ambitions target is set out in the recently published England Biodiversity Strategy ‘Biodiversity 2020: A strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystem services’ in which the government proposed to reverse the decline of biodiversity in our seas and help to restore them to their full potential.

The best available scientific information tells us that we must establish MPA networks across 20 to 30 percent of our seas and oceans. Networks must be representative in terms of different ecosystems, habitats and communities and may have different uses and levels of protection within them, but all should include reserves or no take zones (NTZs).

The Wildlife Trusts believe the Government must designate the vast majority of the recommendations proposed to achieve it’s commitment, but more importantly to ensure the longevity of the species and habitats it is protecting. 27% of all English waters could receive some from of protection if the entire network is designated.

This is of course a step in the right direction, However we are concerned that a lack of data and socio-economic influences may mean that the government may only designate a small proportion of these sites.

How can you help?

Become involved in our campaign!

We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to really make a difference to our often overlooked marine species, we must ensure the government understands the importance of these highly protected areas, to ensure they are well connected with one another to allow our marine wildlife to thrive and flourish.

If the potential of this network is realised, it has the ability provide a refuge for our marine life and habitats throughout the UK, one that can continue to support the demands we place on it where they will be protected from damaging activities and allowed to recover.