Partnership crucial for marine future
The UK has one of the world's richest marine environments and is home to a huge variety of animals and plants, from corals and jellyfish to seahorses and kelp forests. We rely on our seas for a range of goods and services, including food, transport, oil, gas and recreation. However, pressure from commercial and leisure activities has caused a decline in the number of species and damaged some of our most important marine habitats. We need to protect our seas in the same way we protect our land-based environment before it's too late.
To halt this decline, the Government is proposing to designate 31 Marine Conservation Zones next year to contribute to a network of marine protected areas. The proposed sites will mean that an area of 10,900 sq km (roughly three times the size of Cornwall), covering a range of different habitats, species and geological features, will receive greater protection.
Our decisions to propose these 31 MCZs for the first tranche in 2013 are based on sound evidence and take into account both social and economic factors. I am keen to balance the needs of our environment with that of business so that both businesses and the marine environment can continue to thrive. We have looked at the recommendations from the four regional stakeholder-led project groups, including Finding Sanctuary, which covered the South West, received formal advice from our statutory nature conservation bodies and considered some additional scientific evidence.
I am convinced that protecting our marine environment is the key to unlocking the potential of our seas. For example, healthy fish stocks support a sustainable fishing industry, helping ports and harbours to flourish, boosting the local economy through promoting tourism as well as generating exports.
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One of the 31 proposed sites is Padstow Bay and Surrounds MCZ, which runs from Park Head to the north of Trenance to Com Head, just east of Pentire Point and The Rumps. The site extends around a stretch of coastline that has exposed cliffs, sandy wave-exposed bays and has been known to be used by bottlenose dolphins.
Padstow Bay and Surrounds MCZ has a number of very different marine habitats and species, including the pink sea-fan, which is one of the most exotic-looking of our seabed animals due to its relation to topical corals. Pink sea-fan colonies are extremely slow-growing and vulnerable to damage primarily caused by beam trawling, scallop dredging and boat anchoring. Designating this area of our sea as an MCZ will mean that these colonies can recover.
Findings from England's first Marine Conservation Zone, Lundy Island, which is situated off the North Devon coast in the Bristol Channel, have clearly shown that putting a key area of the sea under special protection can have many great benefits. The waters around Lundy Island now have a thriving lobster and grey seal population and it is the only place in the UK where five cup corals exist together.
The other proposed MCZs for the South West are: East of Haig Fras; Southwest Deeps (West); The Canyons; Lundy; Isles of Scilly; The Manacles; Upper Fowey and Point Pill; Whitsand and Looe Bay; Tamar Estuary; Skerries Bank and Surround; Torbay; Chesil Beach and Stennis Ledges; South of Dorset and Poole Rocks.
Defra is currently running a public consultation on the proposals for MCZs and I am keen to receive feedback from anyone with an interest in our seas. We have taken the decision to leave the highly protected reference areas out of this consultation and will carry out a separate review expected to commence in 2013. To participate in the consultation, which will run until March 31, 2013, visit www.defra.gov.uk/consult.