On Saturday, 14 May, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) announced a consultation for byelaws to protect 13 offshore Marine Protected Areas in English waters. This is in addition to the four byelaws that ban bottom-towed fishing gear from four offshore MPAs including Dogger Bank which will come into action today, offering true protection to critical Marine Protected Areas in England.
However, according to the Marine Conservation Society, the proposed legislation will leave two thirds of critical Marine Protected Areas unprotected. In a new report, the organisation finds 16 sites of ‘critical importance’ for protection by government, while only five of the 13 proposed byelaws from the MMO are sites deemed ‘critically important’ in the charity’s newest analysis.
Furthermore, half of the 16 identified critically important MPAs experienced disturbance (seabed trawling) on over 90% of the total ‘protected’ area.
By analysing fishing data, carbon storage potential, habitat sensitivity and MPA conservation objectives, the charity has ranked the remaining offshore sites in need of legislation from ‘critically important’ to ‘important’.
Of the sites identified as ‘critically important’, the South-West Deeps (East) Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) received the highest score of all sites, making it the most critical for protection. This site – approximately 190 km southwest of the Land’s End peninsula – has not been included in the latest consultation.
The area is vital for carbon storage and is a biodiversity hot spot, experiencing a summer plankton bloom each year bringing wildlife to the area. The Marine Conservation Society’s analysis found that, on average, the area experiences over 5,000 hours of bottom trawling each year. The site has the potential to store up to 1.7 million tonnes of organic carbon; the same amount of carbon as that emitted by over 1 million return flights from London to Sydney.
Frith Dunkley, MPA Researcher at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “Many of the sites of critical importance for protection were not initially designated for their carbon storage potential. However, this added element makes ocean protection even more vital. The huge volumes of carbon which can, and should, be stored by these vast Marine Protected Areas could be put at risk by countless hours of fishing, where vessels indiscriminately drag nets along the seabed. As we face twin climate and biodiversity crises, it’s of the utmost importance that we allow these sites to recover.”
“Our new analysis represents a clear path for the Government to take in protecting our seas. We’ve found 16 sites of critical importance. It’s disappointing to see that just 5 of the 13 proposed byelaws being consulted on now are those we’ve identified as critically important. The four byelaws, due to be in place from 13th June, are a step in the right direction, but there’s a long way to go to achieve protection of 40 sites with management measures as promised by UK Government by 2024,” explained Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MPA Specialist at the Marine Conservation Society.
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Photography courtesy of Unsplash.