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Marine Protected Areas for now, the future and beyond.

This could be it for a generation in England – the last chance to really see a significant increase in the area protected at sea.

July 2018

We’ve come a long way since the 1980s where only 3 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were really available to shout about, investigate, manage, and appreciate.

The future is a mess – it always is. Aside from important factors such as elections and markets, the way the seas ‘act’ is also unpredictable. But there are some determinants that we can manage. We can control how much of the seabed we impact; we can limit the amount of fish we take out of the sea. We can provide great things for society from our seas but to do this we need to focus more on ecosystem services.

Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) can allow for this increased sophistication in wider marine ecosystem management. My fear of course is that another agenda, either at sea or elsewhere takes the place of calm, reasoned management. Some would have us eliminate fishing from a third of our seas right now. This can’t be the case ‘right now’, because systems aren’t in place to control, account or even perhaps pay for this. We can and must slowly and incrementally increase protection in our MPAs – all of them. We can and will bring communities together to find a common ground and meaning to ‘designation’ and ‘well-managed’. We can look around and learn about the provisioning services of the seas to make them more fruitful. We need to isolate the individual sectors who don’t want management, and show – economically, that this makes huge sense.

We need more investment. There are two areas that really come to mind: (1) Time and time again we’ve heard about Vessel Monitoring Systems being put on every inshore and offshore vessel in our fleets. When Marine Management Organisation? When? This will allow us to join the dots in the ever circular argument of saying X may damage Y in MPAs. We need this yesterday. It’s taken far too long. (2) We also must take back control of our offshore MPAs. How many 100s of thousands have been spent on the Dogger Bank site since 2011 to see no protection at all because of a failed process? This is an outrage. Stop the spending now, and please protect (our part) of the site. Similar controls must be pursued for our other offshore sites with significant or total controls on trawling.

These outstanding, huge and important gripes aside, the future is bright. The awareness of the ocean and its limits is at its greatest in the public. We need regulators to step up and deliver ‘whole-site’ approaches to management. We need precaution in places where evidence is lacking, and we must keep communicating, visiting, talking, fishing, loving the sea, and taking time out from writing blogs like this to get in, on and around it. I feel it gives you (and I) legitimacy. It helps us understand and drive what we’re all working towards, and offers us great pleasure too.

Jean-Luc Solandt, Principal Specialist for Marine Protected Areas, Marine Conservation Society.

Follow @JeanLucSol and @mcsuk

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.