Marine Conservation Society and The Co-operative map out marine ‘Jewels in the Crown’

10 November 2009

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and The Co-operative Group today (10 November) unveiled suggestions as to where more than 70 new marine reserves should be considered as a priority.

The sites have been identified following six years of surveying work carried out by divers around the UK, and represent “the Jewels in the Crown” of UK marine wildlife sites. The recommendations would increase the amount of UK seas protected in marine reserves from just 6km2 to 212km2.

In UK seas there are 22 species of wildlife considered to be facing the threat of global extinction. Once common species such as common skate and Atlantic halibut are now listed as endangered and only eight of the 47 fish stocks found around the British Isles remain in a healthy state.

Under the new Marine and Coastal Access Act, due to become law later this week,
The Government will have a ‘duty’ to designate marine conservation zones (MCZs), which will include a range of protection levels including ‘no take’ marine reserves closed to damaging activities such as commercial fishing and dredging, and has committed to introduce a network of these MCZs by 2012.

Last month, more than 527,000 Co-operative customers (over 80 per cent of participants) stated they supported the introduction of marine reserves in a survey conducted via chip and pin pads at the checkouts of more than 2,400 Co-operative food stores throughout the UK.

Miranda Krestovnikoff, BBC Coast Presenter, who is unveiling the proposed sites in London today, said: “For far too long, we have left our valuable, living seas open to any and every form of exploitation. I've dived with survey divers, gathering records of the rich but fragile wildlife that occurs in our seas. Marine reserves are needed – they really do allow wildlife to recover and thrive.”

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS biodiversity policy officer said: "Our 73 recommended reserves would help protect a spectacular array of nationally important marine life and habitat, which many would be surprised to find in UK seas, from vibrant cold water corals to rare seahorses to giant basking sharks.”

Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals and Sustainability at The Co-operative, said: “We applaud the new Marine and Coastal Access Act and the duty it places on Government to introduce marine reserves, something our customers strongly support and the science demands. Arguably, these 73 sites are the jewels in the crown of our inshore waters and require consideration as a priority under the new Act.”

Even the 73 recommended marine reserves would increase the percentage of UK seas that are fully protected from 0.005% to just 0.14%. MCS and The Co-operative are calling for 30 per cent of UK seas to be designated as marine reserves by 2020, which scientists say is required if fish stocks and the marine environment as a whole is to recover from decades of over fishing and habitat destruction.

The public is being asked to vote for the sites they would like to see protected at the MCS ‘Your Seas Your Voice’ website - (opens in new window).

Editors Notes:

  • All 73 of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) / The Co-operative proposed marine reserves are described and mapped online at, and accompanied with photographs of the wildlife that can be found within those sites. Supporters can vote for the reserves they would like to see introduced or nominate their own.
  • MCS has been campaigning for marine reserves for over twenty years and a Marine Bill for over eight years to deliver better protection for our seas. Since November 2008, MCS and The Co-operative have been campaigning in partnership for ‘Marine Reserves Now’, calling for a strong Marine and Coastal Access Act and for 30% of UK waters to be designated as marine reserves by 2020.  
  • The 73 proposed sites cover 641km2 of UK territorial seas, with 212km2 recommended as ‘no take’ marine reserves. The current total of UK seas in ‘no take’ marine reserves is only about 6km2. The remaining 429km2 would be buffer zones around the ‘no take’ marine reserves where some activities such as recreational angling would be allowed. Recreational anglers would then be the first to benefit from the larger and more plentiful fish that would ‘spillover’ the marine reserve boundaries. See appendix for details of the sites.
  • Over 124 scientific studies have been compiled regarding the overall affect of marine reserves on ocean wildlife diversity and biomass. On average, diversity increased by 21% and the biomass (weight) of marine species increased by 446% inside marine reserves (Partnership for Interdisciplinary Study of the Oceans (2008) – the science of marine reserves.
  • Common Skate, Atlantic Halibut and Angel Shark were once extremely common in waters around the UK. According to the IUCN they are all now ‘endangered’. The 22 species of wildlife in British waters considered to be facing the threat of global extinction include: (critically endangered:) common skate, angel shark, sturgeon, leatherback turtle, balearic shearwater, (endangered:) atlantic halibut, white skate, sei whale, fin whale, north atlantic right whale, blue whale, loggerhead turtle, (vulnerable:) basking shark, atlantic cod, tope, deepwater spiny dogfish, spurdog, porbeagle, haddock, humpback whale, sperm whale and harbour porpoise.
  • In its 2004 report ‘Turning the Tide: addressing the impacts of fisheries on the marine environment’, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) recommended that 30% of UK waters be protected. The report stated, “The UK government should develop selection criteria for establishing a network of marine protected areas so that, within five years, a large-scale, ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas is implemented within UK waters. This should lead to 30% of the UK’s exclusive economic zone being established as marine reserves closed to commercial fishing.”
  • The RCEP report found marine reserves increase fish populations outside their boundaries through what are known as ‘spillover’ effects. For example, as numbers of fish build up within the reserve, some will steadily migrate to fished areas. There is evidence that within a period of 5-10 years, there is likely to be an increase in catches in surrounding fisheries as a result of effectively enforced no take reserves.
  • The Marine & Coastal Access Bill will receive final approval in the Lords on 11th November and Royal Assent probably on 11th or 12th. The bill proposes an ambitious new approach to managing the marine environment that will include establishing marine conservation zones, a Marine Planning system, inshore fisheries reform, streamlining of licensing, establishment of a Marine Management Organisation (for England and UK matters) and coastal access provisions. The Marine Bill can be found at
  • Under the Marine & Coastal Access Act, marine conservation zones will be established in order to protect, and / or recover rare and threatened species, and those underwater features that are representative of UK seas (e.g. reefs, sandbanks, eelgrass beds and sea fans). A Marine Planning system will be established that enables the forward planning of all activities throughout UK waters.
  • The recommended reserves surveying data and the results of public voting will be provided to the regional agencies tasked by the Marine & Coastal Access Act to undertake local stakeholder engagement and make recommendations on an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones (MCZs).
  • The surveying for the proposed marine reserves was carried out by Seasearch, a volunteer underwater survey project for recreational divers, enabling them to contribute to protecting marine wildlife through recording underwater habitats and the plants and animals they support. Seasearch provides training for volunteer divers and organises dives and survey expeditions. Seasearch is co-ordinated by the Marine Conservation Society on behalf of the Seasearch Steering Group which comprises the Marine Conservation Society, The Wildlife Trusts, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, Environment and Heritage Service Northern Ireland, Environment Agency, Marine Biological Association, Nautical Archaeological Society, British Sub Aqua Club, Sub Aqua Association, Professional Association of Diving Instructors, Scottish Sub Aqua Club and independent marine life experts. Details of all Seasearch activities, including training courses and survey dives can be found on the Seasearch website at
  • Devolution: Responsibility for marine activities in the seas off Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is a complex mix of devolved and reserved powers. Wales has signed up to the UK bill while the Scottish Government have introduced a Scottish Marine Bill that is presently going through their parliament. Similar legislative measures are needed in Northern Ireland.
    Calum Duncan, Scottish Conservation Manager, MCS, said “If we are ensure a sustainable future for coastal communities, the UK and Scottish Marine Bills, and forthcoming legislation for Northern Ireland, must fit neatly together and have the environment at heart.”

See for further information on the Scottish Marine Bill. 

For the list of 73 MCS recommended sites visit on November 10th.