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Written by DIVE Magazine Tuesday, 19 February 2013 11:01
Protest over delays in introducing marine protection zones.
The Marine Conservation Society has joined forces with Sea Life, British Sub-Aqua Club and celebrity chef and Fish Fight campaigner, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, to march on Westminster on 25 February to demand the government protects the seas around the English coast.
The government has announced it is going to designate 31 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in English waters this year, rather than the 127 that conservationists and government scientists told ministers were needed to create a comprehensive network of protection.
The Marine Conservation Society has organised the march, to be led by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from the South Bank in London, over Westminster Bridge to the Houses of Parliament, where the chef and presenter of the Channel 4 Fish Fight series will address the rally.
MCS Biodiversity Policy Officer, Dr Jean-Luc Solandt says English seas have suffered decades of damage by human activities such as bottom trawling and dredging. 'We need to protect our seas now. Over a million people took part in the process that resulted in the list of 127 recommended MCZs. It cost the British taxpayer in excess of £8million. Thirty one is a start, but shows a lack of ambition for the responsible management of our seas. Government must make a firm commitment to designate these now, and the rest of the 127 zones in 2014.'
Sea Life Senior Marine Biologist, Rob Hicks, says it’s both sad and disappointing that it appears the government is only likely to approve only 31 of the 127 recommended MCZs: 'At Sea Life we see, in a microcosm, the amazing wildlife that inhabits our seas. To know that there are both sea creatures and habitats in English waters that are now at serious risk because of this decision is incredibly concerning. The evidence of dwindling catches, shrinking average sizes of those fish that are caught and disappearance of species like the undulate ray is sufficient in our view to justify action now. It may well be too late in four, five or ten year’s time!'
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is highlighting the need for better marine protection in the Fish Fight series, being shown on Channel 4. He says: 'Marine protection must happen now - and not on a limited scale. I've seen in the Isle of Man and in Lyme Bay that MPAs are helping the seabed, helping fish and scallop stocks, and improving the lot of sustainable fishermen. The Government must take notice and implement 127 MCZs around England.'
Mary Tetley, BSAC Chief Executive, said: 'We believe that Marine Conservation Zones will allow our seas to recover their health and sustain our marine species and seabed types for the benefit of everyone. This is why I and fellow BSAC divers will be joining the march and will call for the full 127 MCZs to be protected immediately and stop irreversible damage to the beautiful and essential habitat which exists off our shores. We are also working to ensure that, as divers and snorkellers, we will be able to continue to enjoy and contribute to the long-term success of these zones and, ultimately, to the health of our seas.'
MCS Campaigns Manager, Thomas Bell, says it will be hard for politicians to miss the event as they return to Westminster after the recess. 'We’ll have men in rubber, or to put it another way, a number of boats full of divers who will join the rally after a trip up the Thames. There will be performers dressed as giant sea creatures, banners, placards, flags and streamers. This could be the last opportunity we have for a generation to help our seas recover. We can’t afford to leave it to chance.”
People can register to take part in the march at www.mcsuk.org/mpa/march. If you can’t make the march, you can pledge your support for 127 MCZs or take part in the public consultation on marine protection at www.mcsuk.org/map/england.