Our seas are suffering from overfishing, exploitation for resources, and damage to natural habitats. Marine Protected Areas can provide a solution

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are parts of the sea where wildlife and habitats are protected by restricting damaging activities and are similar to nature reserves on land. They are key to the future health of our seas, their ecosystems and wildlife. They are a tried and tested means of conserving habitats and wildlife all over the world.

MPAs don’t just protect wildlife. They can have an influence beyond their boundaries, as growing wildlife populations spill out into the surrounding (non-protected) sea. In the UK there are several well-known examples of this. On Lundy Island, in the Bristol Channel, lobsters protected from over-fishing are growing larger in size and increasing in number in that area. Overtime these large lobsters have spilled over into neighbouring unprotected fishing grounds, enabling bigger catches and so generating greater profits. In Lyme Bay, in the English Channel, the once degraded seafloor is now bursting with life within an MPA established in 2008. The designation of an MPA off the Isle of Arran in Scotland has led to similar recovery of the seafloor and consequently huge abundances of scallops to settle within the MPA.

If they are in the right place and part of a wider well-managed network of protected areas, MPAs can bring even greater benefits, improving the overall health of the marine environment and helping it recover from past impacts and withstand current pressures – truly Living Seas.

To achieve this, MPA networks must protect not just rare and threatened wildlife, but the whole range of ‘typical’ habitats and wildlife found in healthy seas. For us in the UK, this includes habitats like our cold water reefs, seagrass meadows, kelp forests and sandy, gravel and muddy sea floors.

In the UK, a Marine Protected Area is the name we give to all types of protected areas at sea. However there are a number of different types of MPAs which make up our marine protected area network.

UK-wide: European Marine Sites

These are areas at sea protected for their habitats and species under EU legislation (e.g. the wildlife present is important at a European level). In the UK these fall into two types; Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Find out more.

Across the UK, each country will also create protected sites at sea at a national level.

England – Marine Conservation Zones

In England, nationally important habitats and species will be protected through Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). The UK Government are designating the MCZ network through a phased approach, having designated the first 27 sites at the end of 2013 and a  further 23 sites in January 2016. We are currently waiting for the Government to consult on the third and final round of MCZs that will be designated. You can find out more about North Sea MCZs and our campaign to secure an effective network of sites.

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