Marine Protected Areas

Anenomes © Tim NicholsonAnenomes © Tim Nicholson

There are various types of Marine Protected Areas across the British Isles, all designed to afford more protection to the important species and habitats from various threats.

Why protect the marine environment?

In recent decades there have been global declines in the health of the marine environment. Not only does this impact on biodiversity and the richness and beauty of the sea, it also reduces the economic and social benefits the sea can bring us. Threats to marine life include loss of habitats, invasive species, pollution, over-fishing and climate change. One way to address these threats that has been used internationally is the creation of marine protected areas. Marine protected areas are areas of the sea that are protected from fishing and other impacts, with the aim of restoring habitats and supporting sustainable fisheries.

MPAs in the Isle of Man

The Isle of Man currently has ten Marine Protected Areas around our coast, encompassing 10.4% of Manx waters. Five are designated as Fisheries Closed or Restricted areas, primarily for the enhancement of the scallop stocks. The sixth is a Marine Nature Reserve, designated primarily for conservation and for fisheries management. More recently, four Conservation Zones have been designated to protect important species and habitats from mobile fishing gear. 

Fisheries Closed and Restricted Areas

Marine Nature Reserves

These are areas around the Island where certain fishing practices are either entirely prohibited or restricted in some way.

The longest running Fisheries Closed Area is the Port Erin Closed Area, which was established in 1989 and is recognised worldwide for its success.

Later, Douglas Bay was closed to mobile fishing gear in 2008 and Niarbyl Bay and Laxey Bay were closed in 2009. Additionally, Niarbyl Bay and Laxey Bay were seeded with juvenile scallops.

In late 2009, Ramsey Bay was closed as an emergency measure to protect the scallop stock as the fishermen could see it was in decline. Ramsey Bay was also seeded with juvenile scallops to help improve the stock, in 2010, which were tagged so that their survival and movement can be monitored.

The latest addition to the Manx marine protected area network was Bay ny Carrickey, in the south of the island, which was closed to the extraction of scallops by any means in late 2012. This was following a plea from various community sectors for protection from dredging, including anglers, pot fishermen and conservationists.

Marine Nature Reserves

Marine Nature Reserves are the strongest protection afforded to our marine environment. They are designated conservation areas legally protected under Manx legislation through Section 32 of the Wildlife Act 1990.

In late 2011, Ramsey Bay and the Ballacash Channel were designated as the Isle of Man’s first Marine Nature Reserve. This was achieved after extensive consultation with the public and with the support of the Manx fishing industry. This area was selected to support sustainable fishing practices and to afford greater protection to three habitats consideredpriorities for conservation under International Conventions. These habitats are: horse mussel reefs, maerl beds and eelgrass meadows.

By protecting these areas as a Marine Nature Reserve, the habitats and species will be allowed to recover from any damage that has been done and to thrive into the future.

These six marine protected areas equate to 3.2% of Manx waters.

Marine Conservation Zones

After a long period of consultation with the mobile fishing industry and the wider public, on 1st November 2016, four new Conservation Zones were implemented in Manx waters (shown in dark green on the map).

The Conservation Zones were created as a fisheries management measure to protect important habitats from mobile fishing gear, such as dredging and trawling.

This designation is not as strong as the legal protection afforded to Marine Nature Reserves. However, it is hoped that further consultation in 2017 by DEFA will enable the Conservation Zones to be designated as full Marine Nature Reserves under the Isle of Man Legislation, Section 32 of the Wildlife Act 1990.

This means that DEFA has achieved our 2020 Target under the Convention on Biological Diversity and Isle of Man Biodiversity Strategy to protect over 10% of Manx waters. This equates to 50% of the 0-3nm Zone around the Island being protected.

Further Protection Needed

These are all great achievements for marine conservation on the Isle of Man. However, there is still much more protection needed. The new Conservation Zones still need stronger designation, which will hopefully be achieved towards the end of 2017.

Additionally, the 3-12nm Zone surrounding the Isle of Man is currently not protected at all. This leaves this valuable zone vulnerable to pressures such as fishing and marine developments.

There are many important species and habitats that are still not protected, for example the bivalve Quahag and mud habitats. Further studies are needed in order to identify areas that need further protection. Find out more about what needs to be done to Sustain our Living Seas.