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Marine zones aim to protect hidden habitats
8:10am Thursday 14th June 2012 in Country matters
I’m fascinated by the immense wealth of colourful wildlife in the coastal shores and on the seabed around our islands, because it’s hidden most of the time beneath the waves, clinging to rocks and buried in sandbanks and mud.
On World Oceans Day last week The Wildlife Trusts launched a campaign to encourage more of us to be aware of beautiful and fragile creatures, like the short-snouted seahorse and the extraordinarily long-lived ocean quahog clams, living in our nearest seas.
It has never been more important to champion the wildlife of the seas than now. Under the Marine and Coastal Access Act the Government has an obligation to create an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protection Zones, but there’s a real danger that only a few sites will receive this important designation.
Through a massive consultation with more than one million people and extensive scientific research costing the Government £8.8m, a list of 127 recommended Marine Conservation Zones have been identified, ranging from tiny shoreline lagoons to deep canyons on the edge of the Continental Shelf. The Zones lie in broad bands from areas west of the Isles of Scilly through the Irish Sea to the north Cumbrian coast, along the English Channel into the North Sea, and hug some of our pretty estuaries.
Now The Wildlife Trusts are recruiting people to become Friends of Marine Conservation Zones. We can choose which Zones to champion by exploring the amazing underwater world around our shores from the comfort of our homes, via an extensive collection of images and information on The Wildlife Trusts’ website www.wildlifetrusts.org/MCZfriends You will discover Utopia and The Manacles, as well as more familiar places like Lundy and Beachy Head. These sites are fragile habitats and many of them have already been degraded and damaged by commercial fishing, gravel extraction and pollution. The Wildlife Trusts are urging the Government to act on the recommendation of the extensive consultation and protect the Zones as one joined-up marine network of Living Seas.
Utopia, just off Selsey, urgently needs protection because it hosts the rare combination of delicate white-striped anemones living on rocks alongside corals such as dead man’s fingers and fragile sponges. The name Utopia is derived from the tope shark that uses part of this area as a pupping ground. The dreadful threat to this underwater idyll comes from the nearby dredging for sand and gravels, which risks damaging the precious habitat.
One of the more extraordinary underwater creatures is the ocean quahog clam. South Rigg has the only known breeding population of these clams in the Irish Sea. Given that they can live for up to 400 years, the clams are incredibly useful to climatologists studying the effects of sea temperature changes. This summer, many of us will be enjoying seaside holidays, and the nearest wildlife we find may be crabs in rock pools; but there’s so much more waiting to be discovered. So why not do one thing for marine wildlife and support The Wildlife Trusts’ campaign to secure protection for all Marine Conservation Zones. To find out more about the conservation zones visit www.wildlifetrusts.org/MCZfriends