The government has created 41 new marine conservation zones (MCZs) to expand its protections of the UK’s marine life.
The new MCZs, which aim to protect nationally important, threatened or rare habitats and species, cover a total of 12,000 sq. km of marine habitat from Northumberland to Cornwall and will protect species like the rare stalked jellyfish and habitats such as blue mussel beds.
The move raises the UK’s total number of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) of different types to 355 and its number of MCZs to 91, following the previous designation of 50 MCZs in 2013 and 2016.
Environment secretary Michael Gove said: ‘The UK is already leading the rest of the world by protecting over 30% of our ocean – but we know there is more to do.
‘Establishing this latest round of Marine Conservation Zones in this Year of Green Action is another big step in the right direction, extending our blue belt to safeguard precious and diverse sea life for future generations to come.’
The move follows extensive public consultation, with fishermen and marine conservation experts expressing overwhelming support for the proposal.
Over 48,000 responses were received from members of the public with Defra designating all 41 of the sites proposed and expanding protections at 12 existing sites.
MCZs designations are based on scientific evidence provided by marine experts at Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee as well as socioeconomic information.
Regulators such as the Marine Management Organisation will be tasked with overseeing the management of the MCZs, working with local fishing communities and other organisations.
Marcus Yeo, chief executive at the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, said: ‘Defra’s announcement on the designation of this third tranche of MCZs is a fantastic achievement in our collective vision for clean, healthy, safe and biologically diverse seas across the UK.
‘We know this is not the end of the story and look forward to continuing to work with Defra and the other responsible organisations to ensure these new MCZs contribute effectively to the UK MPA network and deliver tangible conservation benefits.’
The new tranche of MPZs essentially completes the UK’s ‘Blue Belt’ of marine protected areas and will contribute to an ecologically coherent network of MPAs in the North East Atlantic.
The announcement was welcomed by environmental charities such as the Wildlife Trusts who declared the new MCZs ‘fantastic news’ for the UK’s marine habitats.
However, the organisation stressed that the MCZs now need ‘good management’ to stop damaging activities such as beam-trawling or dredging for scallops and langoustines.
Last month, the Environmental Audit Committee urged the government to ensure UK marine protection, warning that MCZs cannot be ‘paper parks’ where fishing and dredging can still occur.
Later this year the government will publish its International Ocean Strategy which will outline how it plans to drive global action to conserve and sustainably use the world’s oceans.