Public support needed to gain more coastal protected status

Eight Cornish marine sites, from ones right on the coast to others miles offshore, could get a special protected status by 2019, but only if the public gets behind them now, says the UK’s leading marine charity.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) says the third and final round of proposed Marine Conservation Zone designations, currently the subject of a public consultation, could result in 40% of English seas being protected. However, the charity says the process is a race against time with just a few weeks remaining for the public to voice their support for these sites.

The public consultation is only open until July 20th and MCS wants as many people as possible to support the proposals.

The importance of protecting our seas has been made clear in recent high-profile TV shows and news stories which have highlighted the poor state of health of our oceans. But while we can all reduce our reliance on plastic and feel like we’re doing something to help, it’s much harder to see how we can have any influence on damage being done to the seabed in locations we may never visit.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Principal Specialist, Marine Protected Areas, says the public consultation gives everyone in England the opportunity to make a difference, and there’s clear evidence that people feel better when they’re helping bring about a healthy, thriving sea.

“The public has less than a month to take part in a consultation that could mean more protection for English waters. While marine protection isn’t as simple to understand as the damage plastic is doing to our oceans, it’s equally as important. These sites are home to some of our most familiar and also threatened marine wildlife – from oysters to dolphins – and need your support”.

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“We are intrinsically linked to the oceans whether we live in Birmingham or Bodmin. If we throw away this last chance to protect more of the seas around England, we will be missing a momentous opportunity to at last help our seas recover from decades of damage.”

“The public has been brilliant in turning the tide on plastic with millions giving up their addiction to single-use items. Now we need them to get behind this final push to protect English seas.”

Sue Ranger, MCS Conservation Engagement and Education Manager, has studied the connection between the sea and our wellbeing and says that, even though we live on an island, most of us have little idea about how much we all depend on it in our everyday lives.

“Our economy depends on the sea….most of the goods we buy and use every day were transported here on it. But research shows that visiting the coast brings calm into the chaotic lives that so many of us lead.

“The wildlife and habitats in these Marine Conservation Zones connect us to the ocean by playing an unseen role in our lives. If we look after it properly now, seagrass will go on stabilising the seabed and storing carbon; oyster beds will go on filtering the water and improving its quality; estuaries will continue to provide nursery grounds for fish. As people, many of us just need to know that wild places and wild things exist in order to feel that all is well with our own world.”

Fifty Marine Conservation Zones already exist around the English coastline, having been designated in 2013 and 2016. 41 proposed Marine Conservation Zones in English waters were put forward for public consultation by the Government on June 8th. If the Government doesn’t hear that there is strong public support they may not designate all of the sites.

The charity is calling on people in Cornwall to get behind the eight proposed sites around the county’s coastline to ensure they become a reality.

The eight sites in Cornwall are:

Camel Estuary
The largest and most sheltered marine inlet on the north Cornwall coast, which forms an essential function as a nursery area for juvenile fish. Its mudflats and reedbeds are a foraging habitat for wading birds and invertebrates including ragworms, mudshrimp and cockles. It’s also a bass nursery area and fishing for bass is prohibited during summer and autumn. Otters are regularly spotted here.

Cape Bank
Situated off the north Cornwall coast, the seabed here is made up of coarse sand, gravel and shingle, which is constantly disturbed by waves and tides. The spiny lobster, a declining species, thrives here and the site is regularly foraged by seals, dolphins, porpoises and seabirds, while basking sharks feed here during the summer. The area is currently fished with heavy bottom-towed fishing gear.

North East of Haig Fras 
An offshore site, much of which lies 50m beneath the sea’s surface. There’s a range of habitats including sand, gravel and mud. It’s home to heaps of invertebrates like worms, starfish, anemones, sea firs and sea urchins, as well as a nursery and spawning area for fish. MCS believes this site should be considered for designation as a highly protected marine area where all human activities that negatively impact marine wildlife are prohibited.

South West approaches to Bristol 
As a Marine Conservation Zone, this would protect sand, gravel and shingle habitats as well as muddy seabed. Muddy habitats are home to burrowing worms, molluscs and crustaceans, which in turn provide food for many fish species. As a closed area, it could help protect an important spawning ground for fish.

Helford Estuary 
Helford Estuary lies between the western edge of Falmouth Bay and eastern side of The Lizard Peninsula. It’s home to the native oyster which is listed by the Oslo and Paris Convention for the Protection of the North East Atlantic (OSPAR1) as a threatened and/or declining species, as well as being a UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species. Protection will mean aquaculture – specifically the farming of Pacific oysters – in the estuary will be restricted in the future if that area becomes a MCZ.

South of Celtic Deep 
As the name suggests this is a deep one. The majority of the site is 50 meters deep, with two small areas dipping below 100 meters. This is an important spawning and nursery area for fish and is also home to the ocean quahog – a type of clam which can live for up to 400 years!

South of Isles of Scilly 
Another area of the seabed that is a mixture of sand, gravel and shingle. It’s home to the fan mussel – a triangular mussel, with a thin, easily broken shell. It’s one of the largest shells found in British waters, growing up to nearly 50cm long. The fan mussel lives with up to two thirds of its length buried in the mud, sand or gravel. We’ve had historical reports of thousands of fan mussels ending up on the decks of trawlers in the past. These mussels act as homes for other invertebrates, shelter fish, and filter huge volumes of seawater.

South West Deeps (East) 
Approximately 190 km southwest of the Land’s End peninsula in the Western Channel and Celtic Sea region is South West Deeps (East). It’s currently targeted by French fishers. Designation would create the biggest subtidal habitat of all the MCZs. It is one of only two sites that will protect seabed habitats beyond our continental shelf where unique invertebrates live. The geological feature Celtic Sea Relic Sandbanks are among the deepest and largest shelf sand ridges of their kind.

MCS is urging the public to show Michael Gove how much they care about our seas by sending a response to the Government asking them to make all 41 proposed MCZ sites into real Marine Conservation Zones, including the eight in Cornwall, at: www.mcsuk.org/help-protect-english-seas 

The consultation closes on July 20th.

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