Remote island off coast of north Devon is the first in a network of MCZs to be designated by 2012

A threshold in the protection of our coastal waters has been passed with the announcement today that Lundy Island has become the first Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) to be designated under the Marine and Coastal Access Act.

The remote island, off the north coast of Devon, is the first link in a chain of MCZs which by 2012 should span the coasts of England and Wales.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act, which only gained royal assent at the tail-end of 2009, handed responsibility for designating MCZs to four regional bodies – Finding Sanctuary for the south west; Balanced Seas for the south east; Net Gain for the North Sea; and Irish Sea Conservation Zones for the Irish Sea.

There had been concern that boaters’ interests would be ignored in the designation of protected areas, and that certain behaviour like speeding or anchoring might be restricted, but each group is open to comment from boaters on which areas gain protection.

The RYA and British Marine Federation also lobbied successfully to have key working in the Marine and Coastal Access Act changed to make sure that conservation didn’t drown out recreation in the selection of MCZs.

For Lundy Island environmental protection is nothing new, as it had been the site of a Marine Nature Reserve until today’s announcement. The new Lundy Marine Conservation Zone will cover the same area as the reserve.

Helen Phillips, Natural England’s chief executive, said: “Lundy is a showcase of what a well protected marine environment can become. Today’s designation ushers in a new era of marine protection and it is important that the momentum to develop more Marine Conservation Zones is now sustained.”