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Have your say on Marine Conservation Zones

The MCZ interactive map

A new interactive map was launched on 16 June by the Marine Conservation Zone Project to create an insight into how the sea is being used, and to build upon what we know about existing marine species and habitats in our seas. Anyone who uses the sea is invited to contribute to this initiative, which will help to identify potential sites for Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). MCZs are a new type of Marine Protected Area (MPA) which will conserve nationally important marine species and habitats, and will become part of a network of MPAs that the UK is committed to establishing by 2012.

This interactive map has been specially developed for the Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) Project, a partnership project which is working with people who use the sea ̶ for their livelihood or leisure pursuits ̶ to identify MCZs in English inshore waters and offshore waters next to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. People can take part in two ways: either by uploading information about their marine activities, and the location of marine wildlife, notable habitats and geological features they have seen; or by just looking at the layers of data out of personal interest to discover more about their region’s sea.

All data will be analysed and will inform recommendations for potential MCZs as part of the work being delivered by four regional MCZ projects covering the south-east (Balanced Seas), south-west (Finding Sanctuary), Irish Sea (Irish Sea Conservation Zones) and North Sea (Net Gain).

Tom Hooper, project manager of Finding Sanctuary said: “We’ve been using a regional version of this interactive map in the south-west for just over a year now, and it is fantastic news that it is now being rolled out nationally across all of the MCZ projects. All of us involved with the MCZ Project want to ensure that these important decisions are based on the best data; not just from marine industries, but from individuals who use the sea. Together, with information from face-to-face interviews that all four regional MCZ projects have been conducting, it will help to build up a detailed picture of the ecological value and use of our seas.”

He continued: “It is easy to use – you follow a series of simple steps showing you how to upload your information onto the map, or how to just browse and have a look around. It is a window into what exists under the waves, easily accessed easily from a computer, without having to don a wetsuit and mask.”

Tom Hooper concluded: “It is easier to obtain data from sectors that have a national body, for example, the cables industry. But it is more difficult to collect information on activities such as sea angling, diving and other recreational activities as they are more dispersed. It is crucial that people get involved at this stage so their voices can be heard. The maps of anonymous data that we have gathered over the past couple of years have already been tremendously valuable.”

Using this exceptional level of public participation and the best evidence available, the MCZ Project is working with sea users and interest groups to plan Marine Conservation Zones for a healthy, sustainable marine environment. The interactive map is at: www.mczmapping.org and the deadline for uploading data is 30 September 2010.

Marine species and habitats online

Details of species and habitats that MCZs will be designed to protect can also be found online at: www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/marine/protectandmanage/mpa/mcz/features/default.aspx

For example, did you know that …?

· The fan mussel family was prized for its gold-coloured byssus threads, produced to anchor themselves to the seabed, which were woven into expensive fabrics; but superstitious seamen believed that the threads were the hair of drowned sailors.

· Maerl (the collective term for several species of red seaweed, with hard, chalky skeletons) is extremely slow growing. Parts of large maerl beds may be up to 8,000 years old.

· One cubic metre of intertidal mud might contain over 1,000 worms.

· Peacock’s tail seaweed is used as an ingredient in anti-aging cosmetics.

· Seahorses have a single mate for life. Every morning, they come together, dance, change their colour, twirl around with linked tails and then separate for the rest of the day.

· File shells are one of the few species of bivalve that can swim: they achieve jet propulsion by ‘clapping’ their shells to force out streams of water.

Ecological Network Guidance

The Ecological Network Guidance is the manual which gives advice to the four regional MCZ projects on how to identify MCZs. The manual describes the variety of marine wildlife and habitats that will be protected by MCZs. Key components of its advice are: how much each habitat should be protected; how many examples of marine species and habitats should be included in each project area; and how big and how far apart the MCZs should be. This statutory advice has been written by Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). The four regional MCZ projects will use this guidance to develop their recommendations. Government will use these recommendations as a basis for selecting MCZs for designation in 2012. Visit: www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/100608_ENG_v10_tcm6-17607.pdf

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