The recently passed Marine and Coastal Access Bill gives the assembly the power to set up the zones to protect nationally important habitats and species.

They will act like a kind of underwater nature reserve, with restrictions on fishing and other potentially harmful activities.

Establishing marine conservation zones (MCZs) it partly an administrative issue, as in many cases they will simply replace existing marine nature reserves, Special Areas of Conservation or other designated protected sites.

But the new legislation, which feeds down from Europe, gives governments powers to control the level of restrictions placed on potentially damaging activities and weigh them against social and commercial agendas.

It also allows them to set a blanket ban on types of activities within the site, rather than specifying the individual species or habitat types which must be protected.

Environment Minister Jane Davidson said: “Wales has a rich marine environment and people come from all over the world to enjoy our coast and waters.

“Protecting this environment is one of the biggest challenges we face. We want our seas to be clean, healthy and biologically diverse. They must be managed sensibly and responsibly for the sake of our economic, environmental and cultural well-being.

“Our coast and marine environment makes a significant contribution to our economy. It is estimated that the marine environment directly and indirectly supports 92,600 jobs in Wales, contributing £2.5 billion each year to the Welsh economy.

“We must make sure we cherish this environment and make sure it is in a healthy state for current and future generations.

“The UK has made an international commitment to create a coherent network of marine protected areas by 2012. Wales is already making a significant contribution to this goal through the number of existing protected sites that we have. These new powers to create Marine Conservation Zones will allow us to complete the journey.”

Sam Bond

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