Independent review backs introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas

 

Lyme Bay has been used as a case study in this review – Final Report (page 26 to 29). Owl’s view is that  Marine Conservation Areas, creation of a new East Devon and Dorset National Park and the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Coast are all components of the  “joined up” environmental approach EDDC needs to be thinking about.

An independent review led by former Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon, and published today on World Ocean Day, is calling for the introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas in English waters. The review was commissioned on last year’s world ocean day by then Environment Secretary Michael Gove as part of the Government’s drive to protect our waters.

Executive Summary here

Final Report here

These highly protected marine areas would enable a greater recovery of the marine ecosystem and enhance the Government’s commitment to a national ‘Blue Belt’, which has already seen an area of 92,000 square km protected – 40% of English seas.

The UK currently has a range of protections in place through a network of 355 Marine Protected Areas, which offer protections for a designated feature or habitat within their boundaries. Highly Protected Marine Areas would go further by taking a ‘whole site approach’ and only permitting certain activities within their boundaries such as vessel transit, scuba diving and kayaking. Activities that could have a damaging effect on habitats or wildlife, including fishing, construction and dredging would be banned. The review claims the introduction of such areas could lead to a significant biodiversity boost for our seas by giving our marine life the best chance to recover and thrive.

The review, which was supported by a panel of independent experts, also sheds light on the potential social and economic benefits of introducing highly protected marine areas. These benefits include increased tourism and recreational activities, opportunities for scientific research and education, and positive effects for human health. It also suggests that any potential fishing restriction could be counterbalanced by a stronger and biodiverse marine wildlife – with potential long-term benefits for the fishing industry from providing areas where sea life can develop and breed undisturbed.

Three Marine Protected Areas: Flamborough Head, Lundy Island and the Medway Estuary currently have in place ‘no take zones‘ which prohibit all methods of fishing.

The panel has made a number of recommendations which will now be considered by Government with a formal response made in due course.

Devon Wildlife Trust has a comment from one of the Review panel, Plymouth-based, Joan Edwards, director of marine conservation at The Wildlife Trusts.

She says:

“Our seas are in an impoverished state and it’s hard for our generation to comprehend how abundant our waters once were. Cod were once as long and wide as humans are tall, and whales, dolphins and basking sharks were many times more common than they are today. We need to let the sea show us what it’s capable of. Today’s publication proposes a vital way of achieving marine recovery. We want to see real ambition from the Government with a commitment to HPMA delivery plan agreed before World Oceans Day in 2021.

“Existing Marine Protected Areas are limited in their ability to restore habitats and wildlife because their remit to protect nature only extends as far as maintaining the status quo. In these areas only some of the most damaging activities are prevented and even then, only in some locations.

“In Highly Protected Marine Areas, on the other hand, all damaging activities including fishing, dredging, construction and sea angling would be banned. This new type of designation means that nature could properly recover. HPMAs could be monitored to allow us to understand what a thriving seabed and restored marine life really means. They could set a bar against which other sorts of protected areas could be measured.”

“When bottom trawling was banned from Lyme Bay, off the Devon coast, in 2008, we learnt that recovery in the marine environment can happen, and sometimes much sooner than scientists thought possible. Beautiful sunset cup corals blossomed and pink sea fans grew across the area. By removing all pressures and damaging activities, HPMAs will give parts of our sea the best opportunity to recover to as natural and pristine condition as possible.”

In May 2019, the Government announced the creation of 41 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) to complete a network of 91 MCZs. With the aim of protecting vulnerable and rare habitats and species, these sites added to the rich tapestry of MPAs in the UK. This was progress towards becoming an ‘ecologically coherent’ network – one that is large and well-connected enough to allow an array of habitats to thrive. Well-enforced HPMAs could be designated across parts of these areas and offer the strictest form of environmental protection; they would become the gold standard of protection, the first of their kind in the UK.