About MPAs

Why have Marine Protected Areas?

As our seas become busier and more intensively used, it is important that we are careful about our long-term impact. We need to make sure that our seas remain safe, that marine animals and plants are adequately protected and that a sustainable fishing industry can be supported. A simple way to do this is by managing how we use particular parts of the sea. One way of doing this is to designate areas of sea as Marine Protected Areas, and place restrictions on the activities taking place within them.

Why a network?

A network of MPAs aims to maximise the restoration of habitats in the area. It allows processes and linkages to operate between individual sites, which can safeguard breeding and migration routes so that a species is protected through every stage in its life. It allows complex food webs and interactions between species to be maintained, and, because every habitat type in the area is protected more than once, it provides insurance in the event of an ecological disaster or the failure of any one site.

How do MPAs work?

An MPA aims to create an ecosystem in which natural processes and productivity are restored. Reducing or removing direct physical damage and disturbance, caused by human activity, can allow the recovery of benthic or bottom dwelling communities and habitats. Secondly, by reducing damaging activities in an area, an MPA can allow natural recovery of marine species and can restore balance within the food web and the larger ecosystem. There is strong scientific evidence that this can be achieved in tropical seas, and recent studies in temperate waters are promising; one example is at George's bank in Maine, USA, where after six years of closure there has been an increase in fish biomass by as much as eight fold.

What are MPAs and MCZs?

Any site at sea that has been set up to protect marine species and habitats is known as a Marine Protected Area (MPA). This is an umbrella term for any part of the marine environment that is safeguarded to some degree for its biodiversity, natural or cultural resources.

A simple way to protect an area is by managing the activities that take place there. Measures can range from restricting all exploitative and damaging human activities, to allowing some of those that have a lesser impact on the marine environment within it. Protection measures typically involve restricting or zoning specific types of activity.

Finding Sanctuary's role is to design Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) a part of a wider network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). MCZs are a new national designation which has been introduced through the Marine and Coastal Access Act. The wider network of MPAs will be made up of new MCZs as well as other existing designations such as European Marine Sites (SACs and SPAs) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

We need to be clear that MCZs will restrict some activities in some locations, in particular those that are more damaging to the marine environment. However, through our transparent, collaborative process we aim to ensure that the sites and levels of protection are very carefully selected, thereby minimising impacts to people. Activity restrictions within MCZs will dpend on the conservation objectives of each site and the features that are to be protected.

Reference Areas will be a part on the MCZ network and are areas where ‘all extraction, deposition or human-derived disturbance is removed or prevented’. Reference areas will provide an opportunity to demonstrate the unimpacted state of marine features, to act as a control against which it is possible to assess the effects the human activities.

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