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Peril of the seas

Friday 9th March

Peril of the seas

Delays in implementing Government and conservation based strategies for protecting marine life inhabiting British seas could prove to be potentially disastrous for many species.

It is a sad but unavoidable fact that much of our marine wildlife is in decline including whales, dolphins and sharks. Commercial species are particularly under pressure with the EU Commission declaring in 2009 that an outrageous 88% of marine fish stocks were overexploited.

However, despite this shocking decline of our marine environment and its associated species, less than 0.001% of our seas are currently fully protected from all damaging activities. As far back as 12 November 2009 the new Marine and Coastal Access Act was passed in Parliament with the agenda to address this urgent issue. It was designed to pave the way for increased protection for marine wildlife through the creation of Marine Protection Areas and establish an uninterrupted coastal path around England and Wales. In the two years since the Act was passed regional projects have been consulting on which habitats need protecting and where, the results of which were finally submitted to Parliament in November 2011.

On 15 November 2011, a ministerial statement was released on marine conservation zones (MCZ) that proved to be both good and bad for the marine environment and its preservation. On the positive side, Defra and the Government decided to consult on all 127 recommended marine conservation zones that have been proposed by various regional bodies over the last few years. But, on the negative side, Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) will provide the MCZ impact assessment and advice in July 2012 – a full six months later than originally planned –

As a result of this delay the first designation of a marine conservation zone may not take place until early 2013, an entire year from now. Consequently this will mean the marine environment will still have no protection and further damage is free to continue, with the distinct possibility that there will be an irreversible affect on the environments themselves. Furthermore the consultation process to date has already cost £8.8million; a further delay of at least a year will increase its cost and may mean there is less money to spend actually implementing the MCZs in the future.

The reason for the delay in the impact assessment and advice is due to Defra seemingly changing the amount of evidence that is now required. The regional projects have been discussing and recommending sites based on Defras 2010 guidance which suggests using “the best information currently available” however, they now say they require more evidence before any MCZ can be designated.

Our seas are in serious trouble right now and any further delay in the designation of the marine conservation zones could hinder any efforts that we make to protect and restore them to their former glory.

For more information see The Wildlife Trusts’ website

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