.     England will create 27 new marine conservation zones (MCZs) around the English seas to protect coral reefs and marine animals such as jellyfish and seahorses.

The UK has one of the world’s richest marine environments and these new sites will join over 500 marine protected areas that already exist to ensure it stays that way.

The 27 new zones, chosen from 127 recommended in a government consultation, will cover 9,700 km2 and together with the existing 30,000 km2 MCZ, the UK has now 9% of its waters and 1/4 of inshore waters somehow protected.

Professor Callum Roberts, a marine expert at the University of York, said: “The 27 is far, far away from where we need to be.”

Environment minister George Eustice said: “We very much see the new MCZs as the beginning and not an end. It is important to remember that MCZs are only one part of the jigsaw. Over 500 marine protected areas already exist around the UK.”

Eustice has also announced plans to designate two more phases of MCZs over the next three years to complete our contribution to a network of marine protected areas. A consultation on the next phase is expected to be launched in early 2015.

Melissa Moore, with The Marine Conservation Society, said: “This announcement is a significant milestone for marine conservation.

“We urge Government to bring forward designation of future tranches to prevent many threatened seabed habitats being further damaged.

“These 27 sites represent less than a quarter of the number recommended by scientists to complete an ‘ecologically coherent’ network.”

The head of the Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas campaign, Joan Edwards, said: “We welcome today’s designation of 27 Marine Conservation Zones. This is the first active step in what we believe to be the most important action Government can take to address the shocking state of nature at sea.

“Marine protection is an issue which matters to anyone who has ever spent happy afternoons exploring rockpools or been enchanted by chance encounters with dolphins, whales or one of the many other captivating species we enjoy in our waters.

“We are buoyed by the Government’s commitment to establishing future tranches of MCZ’s.

“They are vital to protect and restore the marine environment and are also needed for mobile species – such as whales, dolphins, basking sharks and seabirds – in order to create a network that is truly ecologically coherent.”

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