Marine Conservation Zones are protected areas of sea where human activity is restricted to protect marine wildlife
The Government is creating Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in the seas around England, following the passing of the Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009). These ‘zones’ will allow sustainable use of the sea whilst protecting a range of species and habitats found in English waters from damaging activity. The map below shows the sites that Government have, or are in the process of, creating in order to make up this network.
The story so far
In November 2013, the Government announced the designation of 27 sites making up the first round of Marine Conservation Zones in English seas. This followed a consultation and two years of stakeholder negotiations (involving fishermen, conservationists, divers, shipping companies and other sea users) which led to recommendations for a network of protected sites at sea. Three of these MCZs are in the English North Sea area.
In January 2015, Defra announced the consultation into a further 23 potential sites for designation. This consultation closed on the 24th April 2015 and 23 new national MCZs were designated on 17th January 2016 meaning there are 50 MCZs in place, representing part of a 'blue belt' around UK seas. This brought the total number of sites protected in the North Sea to nine representing various habitats including chalk reef, rocky habitats and species such as ocean quahog, a long lived bivalve mollusc.
The designation of these sites are an important first step. However, these 50 sites alone are not enough to create the network of protected areas that our seas really need to recover from past damage and declines. The Wildlife Trusts are campaigning for further sites to be designated in a third and final consultation in 2017 to ensure the network created is ambitious enough to give our seas the protection they deserve.
Why are they needed?
The North Sea is an area of exceptional beauty. However, as this video explains, we need to act now and designate an ecologically coherent network of Marine Conservation Zones if we want to restore it to its former glory.