Conservation zone in Fal Estuary 'could cost economy £1.5m'
Creating a maritime sanctuary around one of the Westcountry's biggest port areas could cost the local economy millions, it has been claimed.
Last month, the Government announced that it would set up 31 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ) around the UK, far fewer than had been expected.
The highly anticipated aquatic reserves, which have been in the pipeline for years, will create areas where fishing and industry are severely restricted in order to create underwater national parks.
The zone around the Fal Estuary, which the town council claimed would have threatened "350 years of history and shipping power", is not in the first tranche.
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However, concerns have been voiced about whether it should form part of a group of special Referencing Areas, which are offered the highest level of protection, with all activity such as fishing or dredging banned.
Roger Hollingsworth, spokesman for a broad coalition involving sailing clubs, fishermen, councillors and the owners of Falmouth Docks, said matters were being rushed through instead of being given due consideration.
"There is the potential for a lot of problems and they're being ignored," said Mr Hollingsworth, former chairman of the Port of Falmouth Sailing Association.
"The potential cost to industry is astronomical, they're just crazy. What's going on could just end as a nasty tax on the expansion of marine businesses."
Mr Hollingsworth said the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, which had warned that rolling out the zone could cost the local economy almost £1.5 million, has been working with postgraduate students at Camborne School of Mines to scrutinise the area in question.
Using boats provided by the club, students have taken photographs of the seabed to chronicle the changes to it over a period of time.
By using GPS technology, the students are able to locate with precision the exact area they have been looking at for every return analysis.
"Nobody is against conservation," said Mr Hollingsworth.
"We all want it.
"But conservation comes from good science, not rushed science.
"If we were allowed to study it for five or six years we would have a far better understanding of the impact on activity on seabeds.
"Without those sort of databases [a Reference Area] would be pointless."
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the MCZ consultation was open until March 31 and they encouraged people to express their views.
A spokeswoman said that once that had been concluded, proposals would be drawn up which would then go out to further consultation.