There is a Government consultation currently running (until the 24 April) about the next round of Marine Conservation Zones in England. National Trust Area Ranger at Formby and marine biologist, Kate Martin, talks about why we need to protect the seas around our coastline.
The sea has always held a deep fascination for me, it is a seemingly mystical place that feels like a faraway world but it is just at your fingertips, or more usually the end of your toes.
As someone who works in coastal conservation and who studied as a Marine Biologist the marine environment plays a significant role in my day to day life.
This fascination has grown through my life as I have come to see the wonderful world that lives under the waves, a world of strange creatures, beautiful colours and fragile habitats. However, it continues to amaze me how the future of the seas around our shores barely register on most people’s radar at a time when they face such huge pressures.
People in the UK worry about the plight of the Amazonian rainforest or the melting of the polar ice caps, all very worrying things I agree, but they seem to be unaware that there are important and fragile habitats being destroyed right on their very doorstep.
So why isn’t everyone up in arms? Well it’s mostly because these things are hidden from our view, below the waves, out of sight and out of mind.
That is why Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are so very important not only to protect these delicate habitats and the life that inhabits them but also to bring these things to the public’s attention.
Most of us land dwellers may feel out of touch with the marine environment and feel that it does not have a direct impact on our lives but this just is not true.
For anyone that eats fish some of these MCZs contain habitats such as rocky reefs and eel grass beds that are nursery areas for some of the fish that we love to eat. If we lose these habitats these nurseries will be lost and ultimately there will be no wild fish big enough for us to eat from around our shores. And if we have to import fish from far afield this will increase carbon emissions and have a major impact on a suffering UK fishing industry.
Millions of us love going to the coast every year whether it’s the stunning Blakeney Point in Norfolk, the magical Farne Islands or Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel. These places are home to a wondeful diversity of seals and seabirds, which rich sealife that surround these stunning islands to feed themselves and their young. If these areas aren’t protected from destructive fishing practices and other commercial activities, then the seabirds and seals will either have to go elsewhere to breed or more worryingly, and unfortunately more likely, they will simply start to die out.
In recent times the importance of linked habitats and wildlife communities has really become apparent in the world of land based conservation and land management and this is no different in the marine world.
There is a special connection between where the sea meets the land. Think of rock pools and the sea creatures that call these watery places home. Any loss of wildlife in the seas around our shoreline will have a massive impact on the richness and beauty of our coastline.
Initially 127 MCZs were proposed in 2011 and these would have created not only a set of separate individual protected areas of national importance for marine wildlife, habitats, geology and geomorphology but would also help to protect areas that would link these habitats.
However only 27 MCZs were designated in the first phase in 2013 and only a further 23 are being considered in the 2015 phase, this is less than half the number initially proposed and it is nowhere near enough to protect some of our most fragile habitats and wildlife and also to create these essential habitat links.
Indeed one of the MCZs that has been missed off both the 2013 and 2015 phase is the Sefton Coast MCZ which would have been right on the doorstep of National Trust Formby where I work.
This is an area of rare exposed peat and clay beds that are home to burrowing clams, mussel beds and other important seabed dwelling animals, it is also an area that is in very near vicinity of the country’s largest western sea port which is due to grow even bigger in the next few years resulting in an increased amount and size of sea traffic.
However it has been deemed that there isn’t enough evidence at the moment to support this area’s designation as an MCZ, strange as I see evidence of why it should be protected sailing past every day.
The Government must do more to protect our fragile seas and we the people must demand that they do so.