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Gove launches review into sea life and marine habitats

Protecting the world's oceans / iStock-153971297

Environment secretary Michael Gove announced last week on World Oceans Day he was reviewing measures to protect England’s sea life and marine habitats.

The review will examine how the strongest protections for areas of sea, known as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs), could be introduced to help to safequard England’s precious coastline by closing off specific areas to any human activity with the potential to cause harm.

HPMAs would complement the existing network of Marine Conservation Zones, which recently expanded by a further 41 areas. This would allow vulnerable marine wildlife to fully recover, free from all damaging human activities, with the aim of restoring areas to a pristine state. Operating these measures together would mark the most significant expansion of England’s ‘Blue Belt’ of protected areas to date, supporting the government’s international efforts in calling for 30 per cent of the world’s oceans to be protected by 2030.

Gove said: “Last week we designated 41 new Marine Conservation Zones with an area almost eight times the size of Greater London, and our review into Highly Protected Marine Areas will help inform our next steps in the government’s work to expand and strengthen the UK’s Blue Belt to create richer habitats for marine life.”

The review will be led by MP Richard Benyon, who will establish an evidence-based process and criteria for selecting HPMAs. If Benyon is supported by the evidence, he will recommend potential locations for pilot sites.

Benyon said: “Our ocean is a precious resource, valuable not just for its marine diversity but also for the many livelihoods it supports on our coastline.

“While many areas have strong protections in place, there is a need to consider whether and where we can go further to safeguard marine life, balancing the needs of fishing, conservation and local communities.”

The views of sea users will be at the heart of the review over six months. It will consider the economic and social effects on businesses and individuals who use the sea, taking into account the views of fishermen, conservation groups, marine industries, and local communities.

The review into HPMAs comes after the government backed plans for more than 150,000 square miles of a ‘no take’ zone around Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, closing the offshore area to any fishing activity and meaning that more than half of the UK’s global waters would soon be within Marine Protected Areas.

The government said it would publish an international ocean strategy this year to set out further action to conserve and sustainably use the ocean.

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