Call for protected areas around the UK coast

Divers from across the UK have completed a protest march on Westminster to demand that the proposed Marine Bill establishes a network of marine reserves to protect marine wildlife.

The marchers, clad in diving gear, started at noon, arriving at Parliament at 1pm to hand over a 100,000-signature strong public petition, urging Government to set up the network of highly protected marine reserves.

The marchers were led by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC). They have taken action on the day the Government publishes a draft of the controversial Marine Bill.

Ramblers and conservationists are also preparing for fight with ministers over the bill, which among other measures sets out access to Britain’s coastline.

Environment minister Hilary Benn has refused to give an estimate of how much extra coast would be added to the 70% of coast that already has rights of way access.

Marcus Allen, chairman of BSAC, said: “Divers see first hand how the environment is changing and how protection really can make a difference.

“We believe that protecting areas from any exploitation is the most pressing issue the Government must address to safeguard our seas.

“Every day thousands of British divers enter the sea knowing that there is currently only one tiny marine reserve where marine wildlife is left in a natural state.

“This isn’t enough; we are demanding that the government introduce a comprehensive network of sites purely for nature conservation reasons, where nothing is taken, and no damage is done”.

The British Sub Aqua Club, representing over 40,000 divers, has given its full support to the Marine Conservation Society’s call for a network of Highly Protected Marine Reserves, areas of the sea where no fishing or extractive industries are permitted.

The club say the UK falls far behind international action on this issue with only one tiny area (at Lundy Island, 3.3km2) covering 0.002% of inshore waters fully protected.

Mrs Sam Fanshawe, Director of the Marine Conservation Society, who will hand over the 100,000 strong petition to Government said: “The call for Marine Reserves Now! has been monumental.

“Its not just conservationists that see the benefits of setting aside sea areas to allow marine life to recover and thrive, but sea users too know they will reap the benefits of highly protected marine reserves including larger fish, greater diversity and higher biomass.

“We must also save some areas of the sea for future generations to enjoy rather than just leaving a legacy of over-exploitation, extraction and pollution.

“We are taking resources from the sea at an unprecedented rate – the Marine Bill and a network of Highly Protected Marine Reserves is our chance – government’s chance – to make sure we leave something of nature’s marine bounty for the future and for its own sake.”