BBC has reported a sharp increase in the amount and scope of marine protected areas in UK waters.Under the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009) there is a legal obligation to implement a 'coherent' network of MPAs, driven in turn by agreements at the international level such as OSPAR and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Under the Act, MPAs within an 'ecologically coherent network' should be developed for the waters of England and the offshore region for Wales. In Scotland this would occur under a separate legislative process (The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010) and in Northern Ireland the process has not started.
It is a considerable expansion - from an approximate level of 1% to 25% - that would significantly protect marine ecosystems.....and livelihoods. The zones, while incorporation marine protection, also allow for human activity at various levels - particularly activities that do not adversely damage the features under protection. This will clearly be a challenge to activities that generate some impact, and will potentially drive innovation towards sustainable uses of the sea. Management plans and zoning of activities have not been discussed at this point, what we see today is the initial designation of sites that will feed into a scientific review and a further political negotiation.
Two points to end on - it is likely that the network will be altered under the negotiation process; and the management planning process for protected sites will be critical to ensure marine features are conserved and appropriate and sustainable marine activities are allowed to flourish.