Marine Protected Areas

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are areas of the sea which may be identified as important for marine wildlife, habitats, cultural heritage or for fisheries purposes.

The UK now has legislation which implements MPAs in UK coastal and Offshore waters.  There are various types of MPAs which are derived from UK and European legislation and International Conventions.

  • Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are derived from UK legislation, the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 designed to protect marine and coastal environments and promote sustainable practices. The Act introduced new legislation to the whole of the UK, but the devolved administrations of Scotland and Northern Ireland have developed their own arrangements, in the form of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010  where MCZs known as Marine Protected Areas) and the Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013.

    These Acts were developed in response to the EU's Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which aims to see European seas reach 'Good Environmental Status' (GES) by 2020, and which will provide the governments of the UK with the tools and advice they need to achieve that goal.
  • European Marine Sites is an umbrella term describing the marine areas of sites designated under the European Habitats and Birds Directives. These marine sites, together with terrestrial and freshwater sites, form part of the European Natura 2000 network of protected areas.
  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in England, Scotland and Wales and Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) in Northern Ireland are designated to protect the best examples of the UK's plants, animals or geological features. They are primarily land-based, but some sites extend below the low water mark. They are set up under national legislation; SSSIs under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and ASSIs under the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.
  • Sites designated under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, called the 'Ramsar Convention', agreed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971. This convention is designed to protect marsh, fen and shallow water habitats.

The UK has also signed up to an international agreement the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (the 'OSPAR  Convention') that aims to establish an 'ecologically coherent' network of MPAs in the North-East Atlantic. The UK MPA network described above, together with MPAs designated by other signatory states contributes to that network. There are also MPAs designated by the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, which also contribute to the OSPAR network for High Seas areas outside National Exclusive Economic Zone.

Seafish does not have a direct role in MPA issues.  However, Seafish has previously worked collaboratively with others; National Federation of  Fishermen's  Organisations (NFFO) and ABPmer to assess the effects of fisheries in European Marine Sites, full details of which can be found here [accessed 06/03/2017]. 

For more information, please contact Bill Lart

Seafish also maintains a Guide to Marine Protected Areas which contains further information;