The commitee’s report ‘Marine Protected Areas Revisited' asserts that MPAs are not being effectively managed, and that the Government needs to do more to protect vulnerable marine habitats, features and species. MPAs are sea areas that are supposed to be partially or fully protected from damaging activities.
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The Government had also set unreasonably high standards of evidence for designating MPAs, said the committee, which recommended that it should adopt a “precautionary principle” approach to the third tranche of designations.
Among other steps it recommended were the setting up of strong monitoring and surveillance regimes to deter illegal activity, while helping UK Overseas Territories to do the same.
The Government should also provide an assessment of additional resources required by the Marine Management Organisation and Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities to manage the third tranche of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), which are components of the MPA network, and the MPAs themselves.
The committee further expressed concern about the slow progress of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in designating MCZs – only 50 of the 127 sites recommended in 2011 – and delays in creating a well-co-ordinated and ecologically coherent MPA network.
It stated that the Government seemed unwilling to invest adequately in gathering further evidence for protecting vulnerable areas, and identified weaknesses in communicating the potential benefits of MPAs to stakeholders.
“It is worrying and disappointing that the Government have still not got their act together on assigning the vulnerable MPAs,” said committee chair Mary Creagh MP. She said it needed 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,” she said. “The Government needs to put firm plans in place to stop further degradation of our vulnerable ecological systems, before they are destroyed forever.”
Dr Jean-Luc Solandt from the Marine Conservation Society commented: “I am disappointed at the level of investment in MPAs, both in England and the wider UK. This report shows clearly that, in England, progress is limited to a number of inshore sites in the South-west and North-east, and is piecemeal and simply too slow elsewhere, particularly in areas further offshore.
“Funding needs to be prioritised to secure the benefits of protection for marine nature and for coastal communities who depend on it. The returns will be massive if we invest properly.”
But Dr Solandt recognised that progress has been made in coastal waters, “particularly the management of inshore waters around Cornwall, Isles of Scilly, Devon and Dorset, Yorkshire and Northumberland.”
The committee’s full report can be read here