Today marks the end of a six week period where plans have been set out by the UK Government for 41 areas of English waters to be protected for precious species and habitats, as so-called Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). WWF has been calling for these sites for many years and today we’ve responded to the Government’s consultation to welcome the plans.
But what’s it all about? Here are a few answers to some burning questions you may have:
1. What are Marine Conservation Zones?
Good question! Essentially, MCZs are an area of protected sea that puts nature first. They are legally binding and anyone who wants to operate in these areas, say to fish or to build a wind farm, has to prove that they won’t harm the wildlife and habitats being protected.
2. Why do we need these sites?
UK seas are wild and wonderful, colourful and diverse.
Think of the marine environment like a BAFTA-winning film (bear with me on this). We have puffins, whales, harbour porpoises, corals, seahorses (seahorses!)… you name it.
These are the stars of the show. But these animals also depend on the “boring stuff”, the muds, sands and gravels. We need to protect this boring stuff (the supporting cast and crew) as well as the charismatic species.
What’s more, by protecting these areas, we generate so many benefits for the future, as they also protect us from climate change, bad weather, provide seafood and are beautiful places to visit.
For far too long, UK seas have been the dumping ground for things like plastics, or been damaged by some human activities. All the trends show that these pressures are likely to continue, and that our seas will become even busier, noisier and more polluted.
3. What does WWF think of the proposals?
We think that the 41 sites put forward are generally really good and should be legally protected as soon as possible.
There are still some gaps however, especially to protect deeper and muddier waters. What’s more the total amount of UK seas completely protected from all activities is still less than the size of Richmond Park in London. We need a new process to create much larger areas, where nature is fully protected and allowed to flourish.
4. What happens now?
The Government now has a year to take these sites forward. But even if they are adopted, they won’t mean anything unless there is actual management in place.
Lines on maps don’t automatically mean anything – it’s a bit like having a script to our film without any plans to shoot it. And what’s more, you need investment and support to make the film as good as it can be.
And that’s where you can help us.
5. How can you help?
Excitingly, we’ve started a new five year partnership with Sky to safeguard almost 70,000km2 of UK seas, including areas where some of these new MCZs will be. That’s almost three times the size of Wales.
With Sky’s help and as part of the Sky Ocean Rescue campaign, we aim to ensure that the waters around North Devon and the Outer Hebrides, as well as areas protecting harbour porpoises, are free from damaging activities, are supported by local people and have long-term funding.
WWF and Sky Ocean Rescue are united in wanting greater ocean protection, but we’ll need your help along the way. Today is just one step in the journey and there will be plenty of moments to show your support for our precious seas. One way you can help immediately is by making a donation to help us make an even bigger difference with Sky Ocean Rescue. I’ll be blogging more about our progress in the coming months so watch this space!
Will you help us make this film a blockbuster success?
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