The Government has created 41 new Marine Conservation Zones, marking the most significant expansion of England’s ‘Blue Belt’ of protected areas to date.
Stretching from Cornwall to Northumberland, the new protections safeguard 12,000sq km of marine habitat, an area almost eight times the size of Greater London.
The announcement by Environment Secretary Michael Gove follows the Government’s manifesto commitment to create a Blue Belt of marine protection for Britain’s overseas territories and its own coast, and builds on the ambition of the 25 Year Environment Plan.
The rare stalked jellyfish, short-snouted seahorse and blue mussel beds are among the species and habitats that will benefit from the protections.
The UK now has 355 Marine Protected Areas spanning 220,000sq km – nearly twice the size of England.
The Environment Secretary said: “The UK is already leading the rest of the world by protecting over 30% of our ocean – but we know there is more to do.
“Establishing this latest round of Marine Conservation Zones in this Year of Green Action is another big step in the right direction, extending our blue belt to safeguard precious and diverse sea life for future generations to come.”
Management plans will now be put in place to protect the newly-designated habitats and species.
Regulators, such as the Marine Management Organisation and local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCA), will be responsible for ensuring the Marine Conservation Zones are managed to protect their species and habitats, working with local fishing communities and other organisations.
Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England, said: “These new protections are based on advice from our world-leading marine scientists and we believe will go a long way toward safeguarding over a million hectares of England’s ocean and coastal environment, and the many species which rely upon it.
“Today really does mark a major step forward for the conservation of our precious marine environment, but there is still much to be done, including putting in place more of the good practices that we know are needed to secure the long-term health of our seas and their wildlife.”
The UK government has called for 30% of the world’s ocean to be protected by 2030 and has co-chaired the creation of the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance with Vanuatu.
The government will also publish an international strategy later this year setting out further action to conserve and sustainably use the ocean.