Draft Marine Bill published

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A draft of the proposed Marine Bill has been published by the UK government.

The bill will see the creation of new marine reserves, improved management of marine developments and conservation, along with increased public access to coastal areas. A new government agency, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), will also be created to oversee the proposals of the bill.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, at the launch of the Bill, said that our seas are already showing the effects of climate change, and that we have a duty to look after our seas for future generations.

Marine Conservation ZonesThe draft Marine Bill proposes the creation of new ~marine conservation zones .

There are currently only three ~highly protected marine reserves in the UK (Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland, Skomer in Pembrokeshire, and Lundy Island, North Devon), which cover just 0.001% of UK seas.

The Bill would create a network of conservation zones covering up to 20% of UK seas by 2012 " but these would be afforded varying levels of protection, ranging from the ~highly protected marine reserves, to those where only certain activities are restricted.

This has caused the draft bill to be met by a mixed response from environmental groups, including WWF-UK and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

While the draft has been welcomed as a positive move, the groups fear that the ~marine conservation zones created by the bill will not cover sufficient area, or provide the protection necessary.

There is a considerable body of work that suggests that a network of marine protected areas should cover from 20 " 30% of waters with some work even suggesting as much as 40%, said Sally Bailey of WWF-UK.

The proposalsOther proposals under the draft bill include the creation of a new Marine Management Organisation (MMO), which will co-ordinate information and data to allow for more informed management decisions to be made across the board.

Further co-ordination is proposed between the authorities governing various marine interests " including those of oil and gas exploration and conservation " with improved planning procedures for off-shore wind farms, and the management of in- and off-shore fisheries.

The act will also amend previous land access legislation, with a view to allowing a public right of way to all coastal areas, including beaches and cliffs.

The Marine Bill was initially promised in the 2005 Queen s Speech, and the government has pledged to turn it into law by the end of this parliament.