The report is published in advance of the government’s plans to announce a third and final phase of Marine Conservation Zones – the government plans to consult the public in 2017 and designate the chosen zones in 2018. The report will be presented to the environment minister, Therese Coffey.
Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Seas, says:
“This is an unprecedented opportunity to create an effective network of protected areas at sea. If the government lives up to its stated commitments such a network would put us at the forefront of worldwide marine conservation. Designating these 48 wild havens as Marine Conservation Zones would go some way to guaranteeing a future for the extraordinarily diverse natural landscapes that exist beneath the waves off our coast.
“The government designated 50 zones in the first two phases. Unfortunately, this does not provide us with the really comprehensive network needed to enable marine wildlife to thrive once more. We need a sensible number, in the best locations and with the right degree of connectivity between areas. We hope that the government will aim high and hit the 48 mark for this last phase.”
The 48 areas proposed by The Wildlife Trusts will be the final gap-fillers in the ‘blue belt’ and vary from sea grass beds in the south, which provide protected areas for our two species of seahorse, to deep sea mud, brimming with burrowing animals including sea pens and the incredibly long-lived ocean quahog, a clam species which can live up to 500 years.
Joan Edwards concludes: “We know that the public support a strong ecologically coherent network of protected areas at sea and we want the government to be as ambitious as possible in order to restore decades of decline in the health of our seas and enable recovery in future.”