Why have Marine Conservation Zones?
As our seas have 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 the sea as Marine Conservation Zones, and manage the activities taking place within them.
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 or 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. Protection measures typically involve managing or zoning specific types of activity.
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. 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 impact to stakeholders.
Net Gain's role is to design a network or MCZs to safeguard and encourage recovery of marine biodiversity, and help to ensure the long-term sustainability of marine resources in the region.
In legal terms, the MPAs we are developing through Net Gain, are termed 'Marine Conservation Zones' or MCZs. MPAs with other legal terminology also exist in the UK, which means that the MPA network which England will end up with in 2012 will include a number of different legal designations of MPA, each established under distinct European and UK legislation. Some MPAs have already been established and will be included in the network, some new ones (European Marine Sites) are being decided upon under European legislation in a process separate from Net Gain, and then there will be the new MCZs designed by Net Gain.
How do MCZs work?
An MCZ 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 MCZ 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.
Why a network?
A network of MPAs aims to maximise the restoration of habitats in the area. It allows the 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.