Scientific advisors say 127 marine conservation zones are needed, but only 31 are proposed for designation in 2013.
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) says the Government’s announcement that it will only designate 31 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) by the end of 2013 shows a complete lack of ambition on behalf of the coalition, and demonstrates little care for the damage currently being done to the seabed around England’s coast.
In July 2012, the Government’s own scientists said 127 MCZs, selected by a stakeholder process involving almost a million people and costing £8m, were needed to create an Ecologically Coherent Network (ECN). Furthermore they argued that 59 of those proposed sites were severely threatened and should be designated immediately.
MCS says the Government must take steps to designate the 59 high risk sites now and all 127 by 2014.
Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Senior Biodiversity Policy Officer, says the Government’s decision to ignore this scientific advice is appalling and will further put our seas at risk: "Designating just 31 sites in 2013 shows a complete lack of ambition and no duty of care to the 59 sites that are at severe risk of damage, let alone the 127 sites that Government was advised would create a network of marine conservation zones.
"It’s pitiful. We cannot delay protection. We wouldn’t stand by and let wildflower meadows and ancient forests be dug up and cleared, and yet heavy fishing gear is dragged across all kinds of habitats, destroying large swathes of the seabed with very little control."
Dr Solandt says, by proposing designation of so few sites at this stage, the Government has delayed the opportunity to create areas where some of the amazing wildlife and habitats in English seas would be allowed to thrive.
"There is so much at risk if those 59 sites are not all designated. Lagoon sand shrimps, native oysters, Black bream, Spiny lobsters and Short snouted seahorses to name just a few. The populations of these creatures along with their habitat could be decimated in the coming months," says Dr Solandt.
"We are now told there will be just 31 MCZs by the end of 2013, but we don’t accept that this fulfils the government’s commitments and obligations."
MCS says the Government has failed to set out a detailed roadmap for how it intends to deliver its international commitment to establishing an Ecologically Coherent Network and the designation of just 31 sites does not constitute a network.
Dr Solandt says: "MCS says this approach disenfranchises almost a million people who took part in the two and half year stakeholder process that got the proposals to this stage as well as wasting millions of tax payer pounds."
The public consultation on Marine Conservation Zones runs until March 2013.
MCS says the public must take part to show the Government that despite its own lack of ambition when it comes to marine conservation the public want to see 'national parks of the sea'.
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