Did you know that the seas around the UK are home to the world’s second-largest shark, fish that change sex, and mussel-like ocean quahogs that can live for as long as 500 years?
Conservationists didn’t either — not until the Wildlife Trusts did an extensive mapping exercise and discovered the rich diversity of species living in UK-controlled waters, including seals, fan shells and the basking shark.
Unsurprisingly, the charity also found this marine life was at serious risk, due to the prevalence of ‘dredging’ and other industrial fishing techniques that rake through the seafloor in search of scallops and langoustines. An example of this is the short-snouted seahorse, native to the south coast of England but now only really seen in Mediterranean waters.
Across the early 2000s, the charity succeeded in encouraging the UK Government to establish 50 ‘marine conservation zones’ in which human activity would be limited. And now, in 2019, the Government has pledged to protect an additional 41 zones around England and Northern Ireland, covering a total 220,000 square kilometres of marine habitat. Most of the new areas are concentrated to the south of the UK, particularly around the peninsula that houses Cornwall.
Joan Edwards, Director of Living Seas at The Wildlife Trusts, wrote in a blog that the introduction of the new zones has the potential to “allow our small corner of the blue planet to recover”.
“The 41 new Marine Conservation Zones are special places and include cold water corals, forests of sea fans, rocky canyons and sandbanks – an astonishingly varied range of submerged landscapes and habitats which support the stunning diversity of marine life found in the UK,” she writes.
Edwards notes a healthy sea-bed helps tackle the climate crisis, as thriving marine areas are able to absorb higher levels of carbon dioxide.
“We must now focus on ensuring that all our Marine Protected Areas (Marine Conservation Zones and Special Areas of Conservation) are managed effectively – and the most damaging activities must be removed from these areas to allow our amazing marine environment to recover,” she adds.
The Guardian, in its coverage of the news, reports that each zone will be managed slightly differently, depending on the needs of local fisherman and marine life. It also picks up on concerns about managing the zones, quoting experts to suggest that a simple legal designation is not enough to protect marine life without proper monitoring and enforcement.
Almost a third of the UK’s seas around the coast are now protected marine areas — this could mean that it is only a matter of time before the seahorses come flooding back.
The Wildlife Trusts
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