Marine Protected Areas

UK government must overhaul its approach to Marine Protected Areas, according to scientists

written by Oceanographic Staff

A team of UK-based marine scientists, led by the Marine Conservation Research Group at the University of Plymouth, is calling on the UK Government to overhaul its approach to marine conservation management and to be more ambitious in its ocean conservation plans, especially we regard to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Despite an increase in designated MPAs in recent years, marine biodiversity is still in decline, putting ocean health at critical risk. The desperate need for better management and more thoughtful designation of our MPAs is more apparent than ever before.


“2020 is a critical year for ocean protection as we build towards the UN Decade of Ocean Science, and a year where Governments have been invited to step up and support action to halt the global decline in marine biodiversity,” said Dr Sian Rees, Senior Research Fellow in the University’s School of Biological and Marine Sciences and the paper’s lead author. “In this ‘super year’ for the ocean it is within the gift of UK Government to set an increased ambition for ocean conservation. This would support the Governments ambition to be ‘the first generation that leaves the environment in a better state than that in which we inherited it’ and establish the UK as a global leader in fisheries management and marine conservation.”

The group have made four key recommendations for government ministers to focus on with regard to improving ocean conservation in UK waters. These include:

  • Enable the repair and renewal of marine habitats rather than managing degraded or altered habitats in their reduced state.
  • Unite conservation policy and fisheries management as the two are critically dependent on each other rather than competing interests.
  • Establish improved processes for understanding the benefits from ocean protection in a format that leaves in no doubt the links between ocean protection and human lives and livelihoods.
  • Develop a smarter approach to managing the health of the entire ocean that moves beyond MPAs and enables links to be made across sectors towards sustainability.

By addressing these issues, the UK could meet its target of becoming a global leader in fisheries management and marine conservation, according to the group.

“There has been good progress between many people and organisations to bring effective management for our seas, but this is not enough,” said Jean-Luc Solandt, Principal Specialist in MPAs at the Marine Conservation Society. “More resources and focus on recovery of entire ecosystems has not been forthcoming and we are making the case for stricter management over wider areas of our MPAs.”

“There is now substantial evidence that well managed and strategically placed marine protected areas (MPAs) can provide benefits for not only conservation, but also fisheries and human wellbeing,” added Dr Bryce Beukers-Stewart, from the Department of Environment and Geography at the University of York. “Unfortunately, many of the MPAs around the UK are not currently managed in a way that delivers their full potential. It is also important that MPAs become better integrated with other marine management measures, if we really want to ensure the long-term future of the benefits provided to us by the ocean.”

To read the full paper, “Emerging themes to support ambitious UK marine biodiversity conservation”, click here.

Photograph by Paul Carroll.

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