The creation of marine protection zones around our coast is something I feel very passionate about. Last year, I was lucky enough to work with some hardworking people at Marine Conservation Society on their project Your Seas Your Voice. The project was to encourage people to vote for Marine Protected Areas, and nominate places along the English coast that they thought were ecologically important enough to warrant protection. This all came from the 2009 Marine Bill, which pledged to make plans to protect our waters.
Now, protection for the most important sites is a step closer. Proposals have been revealed to create over 100 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), which are vital for our sea's ecosystems. Many marine flora and fauna are threatened each year due to overfishing, dredging and other activities, but if the proposals are approved, more than 25% of English waters will have protection from some or all of these activities.
Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: "Today has seen our ambition to put in place special protection areas for marine life off the coast of England take a significant step forward. The thousands of species of sealife and habitats that live hidden under our waters need just as much protection as those that we can see on land."
Currently, less than 1% of our seas are protected.
So what next?
The MCZs will be scrutinised by a panel of experts from conservation, science and the government. Then, the government will make a final decision on the zones in 2012. The same will also in Scotland a little later, as their Marine Bill was passed only last year.
As an end goal, we should have a network of protected areas all along the coast which are ecologically coherent. Natural habitats and threatened species should be safeguarded, but the government also want to make sure recreational activities and commercial fishing are still viable.
"We will scrutinise the recommendations carefully," pledged Peter Ryder (chairman of Marine Protected Area Science Advisory Panel) "And in October will provide our scientific assessment on the extent to which the resulting composite network of MCZs and existing Marine Protected Areas is likely to achieve the goal of ecological coherence."
I personally can't wait to hear more. Already we have seen the creation of these areas threatened by the lobbying and opposition of surfing groups, fishermen and mining companies. Hopefully, the discussions can meet with an amicable conclusion.