Highly Protected status review must result in action

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 10 June 2019

MCS says it welcomes the Environment Secretary’s decision to launch an independent review to examine how Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs), which ban any human activity with the potential to cause harm in vulnerable areas of the sea, could be implemented in English and Northern Irish waters.

Beachy Head MCZ
© Benjamin Davies

We welcome this announcement from the Secretary of State, and this level of commitment is long overdue.

Dr Peter Richardson,
MCS Head of Ocean Recovery

MCS has long called for HPMAs to be designated to offer additional protections for the marine environment.

Dr Peter Richardson, Head of Ocean Recovery for MCS said: “We welcome this announcement from the Secretary of State, and this level of commitment is long overdue. There have been other reviews of the potential for HPMAs so this one must result in action. Highly protected sites are known to be the most effective tool for marine wildlife recovery, and new sites in our waters would provide significant benefits for our threatened marine species and habitats.”

Dr Richardson says that the creation of large offshore HPMAs should be prioritised because these would protect critical habitat for commercial fish stocks, and endangered species such as common skate, halibut and angelshark.

“These sites are used by fewer stakeholder groups than inshore waters, so the benefits vastly outweigh the impacts. Inshore HPMA sites should be community-led and need extensive discussion with those that use them - for instance Lamlash Bay, on Arran, took 13 years of discussion before it was implemented - and consequently is a highly effective and successful HPMA, with recovering biodiversity and local ownership and support,” added Dr Richardson.

Targeted Highly Protected Marine Areas would complement the existing network of MCZs which last week was expanded by a further 41 areas. It would mark the most significant expansion of England’s ‘Blue Belt’ of protected areas to date, as well as supporting the government’s international efforts in calling for 30% of the world’s oceans to be protected by 2030.

MCS says it welcomes the opportunity to input into the review, which is being led by Richard Benyon MP who’s been a champion for marine protection, including HPMAs in our Overseas Territories. Mr Benyon said: “While many areas have strong protections in place, there is a need to consider whether and where we can go further to safeguard marine life, balancing the needs of fishing, conservation and local communities.”

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, Principal Specialist in MPAs at MCS, thinks all existing offshore MPAs should be considered for designation as HPMAs, where all activities like dredging, bottom-towed trawling and marine industry are kept out and species of commercially important fish, and the habitats they depend on, can properly recover and flourish: “Highly Protected Marine Areas are an important element of a protection network as they allow the rewilding of our seabed. HPMAs are good for carbon sequestration through the recovery of shellfish beds and other habitats, helping us mitigate against the threat of climate catastrophe.”

There are currently 175 Marine Protected Areas of different types and protections, spanning 32,000 square km and conserving 40% of English seas. Stretching from Cornwall to Northumberland, the 41 new Marine Conservation Zones announced last week safeguard 12,000 square kilometres of marine habitats, an area almost eight times the size of Greater London. The government is set to publish an international ocean strategy later this year, setting out further action to conserve and sustainably use the ocean.

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