How do you feel about MCZs? Cruising GP Jonty Pearce looks at what they mean for sailors
While many leisure yachtsmen might support the idea of Marine Conservation Zones, there is simultaneous apprehension about them – the echo of a caveat such as ‘as long as they don’t stop me visiting/anchoring/using the area as a port of refuge’ is never far away. I wrote a spoof MCZ piece ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ back in March 2013 when my own Welsh cruising area was set to come under the MCZ regulations. Poorly researched and ludicrous as my article was, it still drew a response from ‘green’ exponents and, although I enjoyed and supported the light-hearted rejoinder, I was slightly saddened as I had not intended to be considered anti MCZ. I was, however, amused when the editor accused me of being the reason for the delay of the introduction of the Welsh MCZ’s – as if!
But am I anti MCZ? No, as long as sailing safety and yachtsmen’s interests are not needlessly compromised. I watched with interest the long argument over Studland Bay and its seahorse and eelgrass habitat. It did seem tainted by poorly presented and under-evidenced science as well as by an instinctive ‘NIMBY’ reaction from the sailing community. There is no doubt that introducing regulations into our leisure sphere that hitherto has been a refuge from red tape is going to cause rather more than ripples. Despite all the consultation processes involving ‘interested parties’, yachtsmen do not really accept that their corner has been defended fiercely enough.
Sailing interests aside, I am in no doubt that MCZ’s are essential for ongoing preservation of maritime ecology. Visiting marine craft could be accused of causing pollution, sewage, and seabed damage though all these could be overcome by sensible measures. I think the main leisure concern is the potential loss of access to sheltered havens along our coasts. Many of us ‘bay hop’ along our shores, and any potential restriction to an overnight anchorage could limit our activities. Worse still could be a scenario where bad weather forces sanctuary in a prohibited MCZ cove. Common sense and compromise should be able to divert all of these issues. A granite faced stance of unwavering intent should cause concerns in either camp – why is it felt to be so rigid?
The yachting press has just published news of the designation of 23 proposed new MCZ’s – none were rejected. This brings the number of protected areas around our coast to about 50. These new areas cover over 4000 square miles, so this is not an insignificant announcement. I won’t go into the detail of different areas here, but notice with interest that ‘while recreational activities will be restricted’, the exact prohibitions will be decided on a case by case basis. This could be good, or could be bad. I always hate it when official bodies leave the small print vague – it normally means that they are softening the blow. I suppose that for yachtsmen, the main concern centres around the aforesaid possible anchoring restrictions. While ‘some level of management of anchoring activity is likely’ (to me, this means a ban…), the RYA reassures us that many of the areas designated are not in regular use as anchorages. Activity will be monitored, and voluntary codes of practice may be sufficient to divert the need for official edicts.
The final tranche of English MCZ’s will roll out for consultation in 2017, to be designated in 2018. More may follow, as will the Welsh and Irish proposals. While it is important for our chosen recreational activity to be well represented, let us not ignore the environmental benefits of these marine protected zones. Once an ecology system is damaged, the knock-on effects can be far reaching and irrecoverable. We should wholeheartedly support those zones that are of indubitable benefit, and appeal to our representatives if inappropriate restrictions are placed on poorly researched or thought out areas.
Balance is all, and all is in balance.