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Access to more data will help protect our seas

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This week is national marine week. Celebrating everything from sharks to shrimps to rocky shores, it’s a great reminder of the amazing sea life we have here. It also reminds us of how important our marine protected areas (MPA) are.

View across the harbour at Torquay, Devon.

An MPA’s success is not just in the designation – it’s also how we use and manage them. To help with this the MMO’s conservation team launched a new MPA monitoring programme and we’ve just recorded our 100th inspection.

By understanding how we are interacting with MPAs we can make sure the right measures are introduced and also observed. So, last year we introduced a new system called MPACT. It’s a great new tool to help monitor activity taking place in MPAs. It brings together different data including sightings and satellite monitoring, from a range of sources including the MMO, inshore fisheries and conservation authorities and the Royal Navy.

The new inspections are an important part of gathering the evidence for MPACT. Our marine officers have recorded nearly 1600 activities taking place in MPAs. These include recreational activities like jet skiing and surfing to commercial activities such as construction and anchored vessels to the fishing activities of potting and trawling.

As well as recording the activities taking place within MPAs, Marine Officers often enter comments about the wildlife they have seen whilst carrying out these inspections. A quick snap shot of these include:

  • 230 swans in the Tweed Estuary Special Area of Conservation
  • puffins, seals and a sunfish in the Isles of Scilly Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ)
  • 120 moored vessels and a man shore netting, as well as grey mullet, geese and dippers in the Upper Fowey MCZ
  • harbour porpoises in the Torbay MCZ
  • a crane and some tufted ducks in the Isle of Wight lagoons MCZ

At the 100th inspection at Whitsand and Looe Bay MCZ it wasn’t just marine life that was recorded – over 300 people were spotted on the beach within the MPA boundary, as well as a military vessel operating at sea.

It’s fascinating to see the diversity of activity within MPAs and these sightings really demonstrate how important our network of MPAs is to fragile habitats and species.  With every inspection that is carried out we learn a little more about the pressures that these areas face. We can now use these data to help us make better decisions about management of activities in MPAs to prevent damage to the habitats and species that they are designated to protect.

MPA inspections have been carried out all around the coast and marine officers have worked really hard to make this new area of work part of their normal routine. Well done to everyone who has contributed towards these inspections, they really will help improve our understanding of the characteristics of these areas, which is so important in putting in place effective management.

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