The Problem With England’s New Marine Parks

About 20 percent of the nation’s coastal waters have been protected as marine conservation zones, but environmentalists say enforcement is lacking.

(Photo: Nigel Hicks/Getty Images)

Jan 20, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

England’s government on Sunday nearly doubled the country’s marine conservation zones, announcing 23 new coastal protection areas.

About 20 percent of the nation’ territorial waters now have been protected. But conservationists aren’t quite applauding the move, even though expansion of the marine zones should offer more safeguards. While that should mean more protections for the region’s spiny lobsters, stalked jellyfish, dolphins, sea grasses, and unique cold-water coral reefs, conservationists fear designating zones without enforcement won’t do any good.

“The problem is, the zones have been selected on a national level, and they’ve left the enforcement and monitoring of fishing and other resource uses up to the local governments,” said Beth Pike, conservation scientist at Marine Conservation Institute.

England, for instance, has yet to designate half of the 127 marine conservation zones established by the 2009 Marine and Coastal Act and has not issued regulations governing fishing, monitoring, and enforcement for the new protected areas.

“It’s great to raise the awareness, but it’s a little early to call it a victory for the ocean,” Pike said. “By leaving the devil in the managing details at the local level, it leaves out a singular voice for establishing regulations at these individual parks.”

Michael Gravitz, director of policy and legislation at the Marine Conservation Institute, said enforcement is an expensive undertaking.

“Trying to patrol and enforce regulations in some of these reserves can be difficult, and you’ve got to have the manpower and funding to do so,” he said.

Deploying new technology, such as satellite tracking systems that can spot illegal fishing activity from space, to enforce the marine zones, faces legal hurdles, according to Gravitz.

“Most courts today won’t just accept that you have satellite imagery showing a boat acting suspiciously inside a marine reserve. You’ve got to have photo evidence,” he said. “Once you identify the suspicious boat, do you have the resources to dispatch a plane or vessel out there to get that evidence or board that boat?”

That type of budget is hard to come by, as conservationists in California found when the state recently implemented a network of 124 marine protected areas along its 840-mile coastline. When the regulation and enforcement of the zones took effect, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife lacked the funds to deploy extra patrols for the new marine parks.

England’s Department of Environment is expected to establish another set of conservation zones in 2018, but a timeline for implementing enforcement has not been issued.