Government delay plans to introduce MCZs

The government have withdrawn their decision to confirm the introduction of Marine Conservation Zones, around the coastline of the UK, early next year. Plans to protect certain areas of the ocean, in order to give marine life a safer environment to live, were set to be designated at the beginning of 2012. These plans have now been postponed until at least 2013.

Insufficient evidence was provided by stakeholder groups according to Defra, the government department for environment, food and rural affairs. Defra Environment Minister Richard Benyon said, “it is vital that we have an adequate evidence base for every site if we are to create successful well-managed MCZ’s.” He continued, “the need to strengthen the evidence base for the MCZ recommendations means this is going to take longer than the ambitious target first put forward.”

Map showing Marine Conservation Zones originally planned for 2012. Image via Julie Hatcher

One of the proposed sites around the coast of the UK is Studland Bay, Dorset. Julie Hatcher, Marine Conservation Officer for the Dorset Wildlife Trust explained, “originally the government said [the lack of evidence] shouldn’t delay the process because we need to have these areas in place as soon as possible. They said the best available evidence was good enough. Now for some reason they’ve gone against that.” Below she explains more:

Studland is thriving with marine life and is home to the two species of seahorse, Spiny and Short-Snouted. Since 2008 these seahorse have been legally protected by the government under the Wildlife and Countryside Act when there were added to a list of species protected by law. The seahorse is one of the very few marine species on this list after much concern that they needed protection. Julie explained, “the statutory authorities are already looking at putting management in place to make sure seahorses and their habitat aren’t being damaged. That’s going ahead anyway, whether or not the MCZ goes forward.”

Spiny seahorse which gained legal protection in 2008. Image via Dorset Wildlife Trust

Although the seahorses of Studland have protection, the rest of the marine life in the area, including the endangered Undulate ray, and around the UK do not. Studland Bay has sufficient evidence to support how sensitive the area is for wildlife but many areas’ data collection is not as solid. This has delayed Defra’s plan to confirm designation of sites, however there has not yet been a definitive answer as to how much data is sufficient.

Julie Hatcher explains below why Marine Conservation Zones, in her opinion, are so important.

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