IF YOU DIVE AROUND THE COAST of England, your country needs you - to participate in a plan to protect its marine life.
Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are being introduced through the Marine Bill to safeguard wildlife in English waters. Four regional projects have now been set up to bring together scientists, divers, conservationists, fishermen and other sea-users to plan where these MCZs should be located.
The first project to be established was Finding Sanctuary, and we have now launched an online interactive tool, webGIS, to help get divers and other sea-users involved in shaping the MCZ network in the South-west.
This is the first time these groups will have a say in how we protect our seas.
MCZs will, together with European Marine Sites (Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas), make up the network of marine protected areas that the UK has to introduce by 2012.
Some MCZs could be Highly Protected (also known as No-Take Zones), to allow the environment to return to a natural state. In such sites all extraction, including takes by recreational divers or recreational sea anglers, would be stopped.
MCZs could, however, provide an opportunity for divers, potentially improving underwater experiences.
The Cape-Rodney-Okakari Marine Reserve in New Zealand covers nearly 2 square miles and, since it was closed in 1977, it has seen a five-fold increase in the density of lobsters and some exploited fish species inside the reserve.
This boost has led to an unexpected surge in visitor numbers, with more than 100,000 tourists bringing valuable revenue each year.
Monitoring the effects of the Lundy No-Take Zone, the only one in England, has revealed some encouraging initial results. Since 2003 there has been a seven-fold increase in the number of lobsters of catchable size within the reserve. Sponges and corals are also being monitored, though any firm changes will take longer to show.
With their detailed knowledge of local dive sites and their ecology, divers can play an important role in making suggestions for MCZs. We hope that as those involved begin to see the benefits, they will support and champion MCZs.
The Finding Sanctuary Steering Group, made up of sea-users and interest groups, will meet a number of times to discuss potential options, to ensure that MCZs are planned in a way that minimises impact on sea-users and maximises the conservation benefits. Final recommendations will be made to the Government before October 2011.
The British Sub Aqua Club and PADI will represent divers interests during these negotiations. To do this, they need accurate information on where you dive across the region.
The webGIS allows you to map out simply where you dive, and to share your valuable knowledge with us.
Go to www.finding-sanctuary.org and follow the link to the Interactive Map, which shows some of the fascinating scientific and human-use data we have already mapped.
Then register as a user and start mapping where you dive, and what you know about your favourite dive sites.
If you dont have access to the Internet but would still like to contribute, please call us. Our liaison officers will help you map your diving activity using charts.

MCZ PROJECTS - Finding Sanctuary (South-west): www.finding-sanctuary.org, 01392 878 328. Balanced Seas (South-east): www.balancedseas.org, 01227 827 839. Irish Sea Conservation Zones (Irish Sea): www.irishseaconservation.org.uk, 01925 813 200. Net Gain (North Sea): email: dani@yhsg.co.uk, 01482 382  007. Information on marine conservation in Wales: www.wales.gov.uk/environment. Scottish Marine Bill: www.scottish.parliament.uk/s3bills/25-MarineScot/index.htm