If you look out from the coast today and explore the waters beyond, you may see some wonderful marine wildlife, but it’s hard for anyone alive to imagine the abundant scenes that historic records reveal – seabed carpets made of a diversity of interwoven fauna, fish larger than people, marine mammals like harbour porpoises frequently seen in groups of tens and hundreds, and seabirds wheeling in such numbers the sky was filled with the colour of their wings.
Decades of overexploitation and pollution have damaged and depleted the wealth of wildlife once in our seas. Our seabed carpets have been torn apart, many fish are smaller and harder to come by, and numerous species that were once common are now rare, with far too many worryingly in decline. As our waters become increasingly crowded with the growth of renewables, our fragile wildlife is facing multiple pressures and our seas are in crisis as the Government has failed to meet targets to recover our waters.
Existing Marine Protected Areas are limited in their ability to restore nature as they only go as far as conserving the status quo of the select features for which they are designated. Therefore, we were pleased that last year the Government committed to a historic and much-needed new designation - Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) - and the designation of the first ‘pilot’ sites by the end of this year. This new designation will offer the highest level of environmental protection for our seas, banning all damaging activities across the sites to give nature the best chance of recovery.
It’s clear HPMAs are an opportunity to turn the tide. That’s why today, Link has published a briefing setting out the benefits HPMAs could provide, and the key principles that must be recognised to ensure HPMAs are on the road to success. While we appreciate the designation process is underway, we hope this paper serves as a reminder that these principles must not be forgotten in the critical decisions which remain.
Successful HPMAs could act as havens for wildlife away from human pressures, allowing us to see what true recovery at sea looks like and setting the bar against which other protected areas could be measured. They could help the UK achieve numerous objectives for wildlife, people and climate by enhancing biodiversity, re-stocking our seas and protecting habitats and species which store carbon.
However, to achieve these much-needed benefits, HPMAs must be delivered in the right manner. To ensure this new designation is a success for our seas, we are calling for HPMAs to be:
These key principles must be adhered to throughout the shortlisting process and crucial decisions which remain. We have an opportunity to support our seas in recovering from our overexploitation, for the benefit of nature, people and climate, but to do this we must ensure HPMAs are on the road to success.
Read the full Link briefing, The Road to success for new Highly Protected Marine Areas here.
Daniele Clifford is the Marine Conservation Officer at The Wildlife Trusts, follow @WildlifeTrusts
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
Latest Blog Posts