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Page last updated at 15:26 GMT, Monday, 23 August 2010 16:26 UK
Norfolk coast's marine habitats awarded new protection
Happisburgh (Copyright Getty Images)
The new Marine Protection Zones will help ecosystems thrive

Ecosystems off Norfolk's coast are to be protected after being designated as Marine Protection Zones.

Sites include sandbanks off the north Norfolk coast as well as reefs off Happisburgh and Winterton.

The sites covered by the protected status are shallow areas that are rich in nutrients for bird and fish life.

"It's important that we preserve the life that lives around those sandbanks in perpetuity," said Jean Luc Solandt from the Marine Conservation Society.

"Up until now we've only protected something like 1.5% of our seas.

"It's a very small amount relative to what international conservation scientists recommend, which is anything up to 30%.

"At the Marine Conservation Society we're very clear in understanding that overfishing and seabed fishing definitely damages a lot of seabed life, so we would like to see that curtailed in these new sites."

Environmentally important

The seas around the UK are environmentally important due to the diversity of life that survives within them.

"They're extremely productive seas. The southern north seas are very shallow - that means a lot of life is very near and accessible to marine organisms that are actually on the surface of the sea such as seabirds," said Mr Solandt.

"Sand eels feed in large numbers on these sandbanks and they themselves are extremely important at the lower end of the food source for a lot of the commercial species that we need for our fishermen's livelihood.

"We see this as a beneficial measure for the whole of the biodiversity of the North Sea."

The UK Government has submitted the sites to the European Commission to be included within the European Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

Other sites to be listed include Land's End, Margate and Long Sands.

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