Committee finds a worrying landscape in Marine Protected Areas

25 April 2017

The Environmental Audit Committee is disappointed with the government's lack of ambition on designated Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

The Marine Protected Areas Revisited report published today, found MPAs are not being effectively managed, and the Government needs to do more to protect vulnerable marine habitats, features and species once a site is designated as an MPA.

High standards of evidence for designating MPAs

The Committee also expressed concern that the Government had moved the goal posts by setting unreasonably high standards of evidence for designating MPAs

The Committee recommended that the Government should:

  • Adopt a precautionary principle approach to Tranche 3 site selection and designations.
  • Put in place strong monitoring and surveillance regimes to deter illegal activity.
  • Commit to establishing highly protected reference areas within the MPA network.
  • Provide support to the UK Overseas Territories to help them properly detect and deter illegal activities.
  • Provide its assessment of any additional budget and resources that will be provided to the Marine Management Organisation and the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities to enable them effectively to manage the third tranche of Marine Conservation Zones and Marine Protected Areas

EFRA's handling of MPAs

The Committee also found a number of concerns about the Department for Environment Food, and Rural Affairs’ handling of MPAs, including:

  • The slow progress made in designating Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). Only 50 MCZs have been designated so far — well short of the 127 sites originally recommended by the regional projects in 2011.
  • The Committee was shocked and disappointed by the Government’s decision to exclude highly protected reference areas from the Third Tranche of MCZs before the Government received expert evidence on the subject.
  • The delays in creating a well-coordinated and ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas. There are still a number of gaps remaining , particularly for sites to protect sand, mud and highly mobile species
  • The Governments unwillingness to provide adequate investment for the gathering of further evidence for the vulnerable areas.
  • Weaknesses in communicating the potential benefits of MPAs to stakeholders.

Chair's comments

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of Environmental Audit Committee Said:

"It is worrying and disappointing the Government have still not got their act together on assigning the vulnerable Marine Protected Areas. The Government needs to focus on monitoring and protecting the current areas rather than moving the goal posts to create unachievable and over complicated demands on the management of susceptible areas. Without effective management, surveillance or monitoring our MPAs are just paper parks.
"The government needs to put firm plans in place to stop further degradation of our vulnerable ecological systems, before they are destroyed forever."

Marine Protected Areas create significant opportunities and benefits for marine habitats and wildlife. It was clear that few people were aware of these potential benefits. The Government must implement a robust communications strategy to raise awareness of the MPA network amongst businesses and the general public

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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