UK Creates Massive New ‘Blue Belt’ of Protected Coastal Zones

The UK has announced 41 new protected ocean zones that collectively span twice the length of England, creating a massive “blue belt” that activists say could be crucial to Britain’s marine life.

The new are of blue belt will cover 4633 sq miles (2,000 sq km) of coastal habitat stretching from Northumberland in North East England to the Scilly Isles off the Cornish coast in southwest England. The chosen 41 sites all have importance for specific vulnerable or at-risk species, including stalked jellyfish, short-snouted seahorses, eider ducks, basking sharks and a range of plantlife.

The sites will include places like Orford inshore, which is on the Suffolk coast and is a vital breeding ground for many species of fish, as well as Holderness, an offshore site adjacent to England’s East Riding of Yorkshire that hosts an array of different habitats all vitally important to species like crabs, lobsters and clams known as ocean quahogs.

The protected zones will be subject to closer monitoring and management, with certain fishing activities heavily restricted or even completely banned in their waters. Such activities can include trawling, scallop dredging and wider fishing activity, to things like energy infrastructure development and non-essential military or naval activity.

This has proved a winning strategy in other areas, such as in Lyme Bay. The UK protected The Bay starting in 2008, after years of over-dredging. Since that time — and through concerted action by local communities — its species of coral and other marine life have returned and thrived. Meanwhile, the sustainable fishing practices employed within its waters have meant locals are able to charge a higher premium for quality produce that is not harming the environment.

“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,” Environment Secretary Michael Gove said in a press release. “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.”

Of course, such marine protected zones are only effective if they are properly monitored. Some environmentalists have hit out at marine protected zones in the past because, they say, they actually don’t equate to action, meaning they allow the Government to take on the appearance of doling something while not actually backing those promises up.

Critics cite the UK’s repeated failures on species like its harbor porpoises as an example of the UK’s double-speak on protecting marine life while undercutting this through lax fishing regulations that have not given the porpoises adequate cover.

However, defenders of the marine protected zones say that, while undeniably there have been failures, there is also good evidence that these zones can be successful. They say that so long as the Marine Conservation Zones are properly enforced, as they have been in Lyme Bay, this could help safeguard vast areas of the UK’s coastal and marine habitats and support fishing communities.

Regulators, such as the Marine Management Organisation and local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs), will be responsible for managing the Marine Conservation Zones to protect their species and habitats. They will be working with local fishing communities and other organisations to help guide their fishing practices and help them help the local habitats.

Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, said the protections are evidence-based and were derived from the advice of “world-leading marine scientists”. Juniper adds, “Today really does mark a major step forward for the conservation of our precious marine environment, but there is still much to be done, including putting in place more of the good practices that we know are needed to secure the long-term health of our seas and their wildlife.”

So far, the UK has designated 91 marine conservation zones and is currently exploring whether this conservation zone status could be rolled out to more.

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About the Author: STEVE WILLIAMS  is a passionate supporter of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) rights, human rights, animal welfare and health care reform. He is a published author, poet and citizen journalist, and a scriptwriter for computer games, film and web serials.