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  1. ITV Report

UK's marine conservation zones to be expanded in effort to protect sea life from plastic

  • Video Report by ITV News Wales & West of England Correspondent Rupert Evelyn

More than 40 new zones to protect sea life in UK waters will be designated to block "harmful" activities like dredging, sea-bed trawler fishing and offshore development, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has announced.

To mark World Oceans Day on Friday, Mr Gove told ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke the government plans to create a "blue belt" around the United Kingdom's coast.

Stranded turtle found drifting along with a pile of plastic off the Greek island of Samos. Credit: Archipelagos Institute for Marine Conservation

Alongside the planned 41 new marine conservation zones (MCZs), Mr Gove said saying his department was committed to ensuring the new rules would be enforced.

"We are going to set up a new environmental watchdog with teeth and with enforcement powers - we're talking to the public as well as those who care about our environment about how exactly that would work.

"We want to make sure that we don't just rely on here today, gone tomorrow politicians, we want a permanent commitment to a sustainable future and that watchdog will ensure that we get it," he said.

Cornwall has the highest rate of seal entanglement anywhere in the world. Credit: Cornwall Seal Group

The move will mean rare or threatened marine habitats and species will be protected including the short-snouted seahorse, eider ducks, stalked jellyfish and peacock's tail seaweed.

The new zones cover approximately 11,700 square kilometres, bringing the total area of protection to over 32,000 square kilometres.

Mr Gove also reiterated his plan to tackle the escalating plastic waste problem.

"I think we all agree that there is more to be done in order to ensure the tide of plastic which is finding it's way into our seas and oceans is halted," he said.

"That plastic is contributing to not just marine and wildlife but also changing the bounds of our seas and oceans in a profoundly unhealthy way."

Bottles, cans and plastic rope found in the rubbish collected from the seabed near the UK. Credit: ITV News

Mr Gove said the country was recognised as a "leader" in the fight against single use plastic but admitted more needed to be done.

He also took aim at the European Union, saying they were "playing catch up" with the UK on environmental issues.

He said: "I think we've gone further and faster than the European Union has in order to ensure there are bans in place, whether it's our plastic bag tax which has meant that 90% reduction in their use our micro-bead ban, which is the strongest in the world."

A 5p plastic bag charge led to a dramatic drop in their use across the UK. Credit: PA

The fear of damage from microplastics, the tiny particles created by the breakdown of larger plastic items – and which can be ingested by marine animals and thereby enter the food chain - has prompted bans on plastic straws and cotton buds in Scotland, and promises from corporations to reduce plastic consumption.