Yet again World Oceans Day is a good news day for our seas! - Joan Edwards

Joan Edwards of The Wildlife Trusts reflects on being a member of the HPMA review panel and is calling for an ambitious delivery plan for Highly Protected Marine Areas within a year

On the 31st May last year, the Government announced the creation of 41 new Marine Conservation Zones. With the aim of protecting vulnerable and rare habitats and species, these sites added to the rich tapestry of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in the UK. A long time in the making but I really felt the UK’s MPA network was taking shape. It was certainly moving closer towards ‘ecological coherence’, the national and international aspiration for our MPA network. In other words, the MPA network was getting bigger, becoming better connected, represented and more resilient.

Yet, while we celebrated the announcement, I knew, as did other marine conservationists, that getting MPA boundary lines drawn on a map, is the first rather than the last step in achieving ecological coherence and healthy seas. At the time, The Wildlife Trusts called on the Government to ensure appropriate management of the network, where activities damaging to the protected habitats and species were reduced or eliminated altogether.

Therefore, on World Oceans Day last year, when a review was announced into how and whether the first Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) could be introduced, we were over the moon. The possibility of designating MPAs with the highest level of environmental protection - the first of their kind in the UK - was a huge opportunity for parts of our seas to recover to as natural and pristine conditions as possible. It was such exciting news for Wildlife Trusts marine conservation teams who have been campaigning for the introduction of such protective measures for years. Even more exciting then, when I was offered a place on the HPMA Review panel to help inform the report and the recommendations within it. As the only environmental NGO at the table, I was honoured to contribute to this important piece of work and voice my views why HPMAs are a necessary and key part of our MPA network.

red dead men's fingers

Linda Pitkin

The HPMA panel and I worked tirelessly for over 10 months, holding meetings, engaging with stakeholders, learning from site visits and debating the nuanced and complex details of whether and how HPMAs could work in practice. With many strong views to account for among the stakeholders, settling on the precise wording of our recommendations was not easy. Yet, from early on it was clear on what we could agree; that to give our seas the protection needed to return to a pristine and natural condition as possible, HPMAs should exclude all damaging activities within their boundaries, setting a bar from which recovery in the rest of the network could be judged.

Read the full report here

It is fitting that the HPMA report is published on World Oceans Day, exactly two years after the consultation on the third tranche of MCZs was announced, and one year and one week after they were designated. Progress towards recovery in the marine environment and an ecologically coherent MPA network is building, and this report represents a major step toward recovery of nature at sea.

However, this opportunity for lasting change will be lost if the Government does not act quickly on the recommendations set out in the report. The Wildlife Trusts are calling on Government to commit to an ambitious HPMA delivery plan as soon as possible within a year. We now need swift action to stop nature’s decline at sea and help safeguard our wonderful marine habitats and wildlife for the future.

Raise your hand for HPMAs

Help protect our seas by raising your hand to tell Government they must not waste any time in delivering HPMAs.