UK doubles total ‘blue belt’ area with new MCZs
Twenty-three new areas along the U.K. coast have become the latest Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) to be awarded environmental protection, extending the country’s “Blue Belt” to cover over 20 percent of English waters and providing vital protection for the diverse array of ocean wildlife.
Marine Environment Minister George Eustice announced the new sites, which will protect 4,155 square miles of marine habitats and bring the total number of MCZs in waters around England to 50, covering 7,886 square miles – an area roughly equivalent to the whole of Wales or 13 times the size of Greater London.
The new MCZs will cover areas across the country from as far north as Farnes East off the coast of Northumberland down to Land’s End in the Southwest, and will protect 45 different types of habitat, geological features and species – including stalked jellyfish and spiny lobsters.
“As an island nation, the UK is surrounded by some of the richest and most diverse sea life in the world,” said Eustice. “It’s vital that we protect our marine environment to ensure our seas remain healthy, our fishing industry remains prosperous and future generations can enjoy our beautiful beaches, coastline and waters.
“By designating these new Marine Conservation Zones and creating a Blue Belt of protected areas around the country, we can better protect our environment through careful marine management in years to come.”
The 23 additional sites are the second of three planned phases of MCZs; the first phase covered 3,731 square miles of water over 27 sites, while a third phase of proposed MCZs will be put out to wider public consultation in 2017, and designated in 2018.
The move has been welcomed by a number of campaign groups.
Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ head of living seas, said, “Marine protection is vital to us all, no matter where we live. Our seas provide the oxygen for every second breath we take, the fish on our plates and so much more. The designation of 50 Marine Conservation Zones to date is a strong step forward but there is much still to do. It is vital that appropriate management is implemented as soon as possible. We will continue to work with government to ensure that this happens and to achieve the much-needed ambitious and comprehensive third and final tranche.”
MCZs protect a range of nationally important marine wildlife, habitats, geology and geomorphology, and can be designated anywhere in English waters. They were introduced to halt the deterioration of the United Kingdom’s marine biodiversity and to provide legal means to deliver the country’s international marine conservation commitments.