Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Marine conservation zones: A viable method of protection?

It is widely agreed that human impact contributes a large proportion of environmental damage. To counter this in the marine environment it has been suggested that a network of MCZs (Marine Conservation Zones) could be set up in which would a) allow suffering populations time to recover, b) prevent irreversible degradation to any species therein, and c) preserve areas which best represent a range of habitats and species. There are three already in place around the coast of the UK, in Lundy, Skomer and Strangford Lough but there are numerous other voluntary MCZs and voluntary Marine Nature Reserves as well as areas closed to fishing to allow struggling fish stocks to recover. As yet there is no part of the Marine Bill which dictates that there needs to be designated MCZs but should there be? Should we close off certain areas of the coast to fishing and development? Will this impact too heavily on the livelihoods of those who depend on these areas? And what effect will they have on the national economy?

There are environmental and ecological conditions which have to be met before a MCZ can be assigned. The area has to be connected so that nutrients and larvae can be transported in and out and there must be a wide enough representation of habitats and organisms.

Some NGOs advocate that MCZs should be chosen purely on scientific environmental factors and that the ecological impacts should be handled as part of the management of the site after it has been designated. The problem with this is that if the more destructive human activities are banned in a certain area they may be displaced to an area which had previously avoided undue disruption, disturbing the ecosystem which is in place. Another problem is that those who depend on these areas for a livelihood are unlikely to appreciate being told that they can’t live and work there anymore.


  1. I think the pros and cons in each case needs to be assessed and a complete overview reached before a decision can be made.
    I think any decision should be decided by looking at the social, economic and environmental factors. Only once all are considered should there be any movement in a given location.

  2. There is also the consideration that every site is unique, and therefore a new set of standard must be created each time a new MCZ is proposed.

  3. This would lead to a very time consuming system that would probably cost a lot, then again, perhaps that is necessary to protect an environment that will be destroyed without any protective measures.

  4. Dear Alex,

    Just a note in response to your post on MCZs. Lundy, Skomer and Strangford are currently Marine Nature Reserves (designated under the WCA in England and Wales and NCALO in Northern Ireland). When the UK Marine and Coastal Access Bill achieves Royal Assent hopefully later this year i.e. becomes an Act, Lundy and Skomer will become MCZs although as the Northern Ireland Marine Bill is only out for consultation next April the Bill itself will not become an Act until 2012. This means Strangford will not become an MCZ for some time and this is not definite.

    Re the Bill and MCZ networks (following the UK and international targets for setting up a network of MPAs (MCZs) by 2012. (The ecological network criteria in the MCZ guidance notes are similar to the international IUCN criteria). Please see the Defra guidance notes and MPA strategy for more up to date details on the English/Welsh MPA network.

    Re your comment 'Some NGOs advocate that MCZs should be chosen purely on scientific environmental factors and that the ecological impacts should be handled as part of the management of the site after it has been designated.' Just a small correction on this - the majority of NGOs through the Link partnerships in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are advocating for MCZs to be identified using scientific criteria alone and that the socio-economic considerations should be taken in at the site mananagement stage. This is to ensure the ecological integrity of the network is not compromised in the long term, as this is the foundation of social and economic dependents.

    If you want any other information on the UK Bill or NI Bill or want to see a report out June 30th on advice for the NI MPA network please do not hesitate to contact me and I'll gladly send you more up to date information.

    Yours sincerely