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World recognition for Suffolk's coast

PUBLISHED: 14:51 10 April 2003 | UPDATED: 13:43 03 March 2010

SUFFOLK'S beautiful coastline could be ranked alongside such world famous gems as the Florida Keys and Great Barrier Reef to stop an oil spill disaster.

SUFFOLK'S beautiful coastline could be ranked alongside such world famous gems as the Florida Keys and Great Barrier Reef to stop an oil spill disaster.

Government officials are seeking to make the east coast a "particularly sensitive sea area" which would ban controversial ageing single-hull oil tankers and re-routed them away from its protected shores.

If agreed, the move will be a huge boost for conservationists and give Suffolk's Heritage Coast even greater protection from suffering a calamity like that of the Prestige tanker sinking, when 77,000 tonnes of oil devastated beaches in Spain.

Being a "particularly sensitive sea area" would mean only double-hull tankers or single-hull tankers under 15 years old could sail past Suffolk.

The bid for the classification enjoyed by the Barrier Reef is to be put before the International Maritime Organisation in July.

Simon Hooton , manager of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Unit, welcomed any moves to increase the protection for the county's coast.

"This is a highly sensitive wildlife area both for breeding birds and overwintering ones, and also other species, too, and is of European importance" he said.

"Fortunately, we have not seen any serious oil spills here but if we did have one like the Prestige it would be catastrophic for the wildlife. In an area like a dock you can contain a spill, but in wide open areas of coast it is far more difficult, though we do have emergency plans to deal with it."

But Mr Hooton said even if tankers are banned, a big concern was that oil could still be washed ashore from other ships illegally flushing out tanks at sea.

This is believed to have caused the oil slick last December when beaches from Felixstowe to Walberswick were left littered with fist-sized lumps of sticky oil and dozens of seabirds were killed and hundreds left contaminated.

Andy Smith, Suffolk Coastal cabinet member for planning, welcomed the government proposal but said it needed to be balanced with commercial realities.

"Crucially the regulations would have to be tailored to each area to get balance right between protecting the coast and wildlife, but not damaging normal trade from well built and properly controlled shipping," he said

"Ensuring only double hulled tankers can use these areas is an obvious benefit. I would support most of the ideas from the WWF, such as improved maintenance and inspection of ships."

As well as the east coast, the government – backed by France, Spain, Ireland and Portugal – will also ask for the English Channel and approaches extending to Belgium, the Orkney and Shetland Islands, parts of Scotland and the whole coast of Ireland to be made into "particularly sensitive sea areas".

n What do you think? Write in to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or email EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk or visit the forum at www.eveningstar.co.uk

factfiles:

Great Barrier Reef:

n Sited off the north-east coast of Australia, it comprises 2,800 coral reefs.

n The reef is the only "living" organism visible from space.

n It is greater in area than the UK and longer than the west coast of the USA.

n It is the largest green turtle breeding area in the world.

n The reef contains at least 1500 species of fish, 350 types of hard coral and 5,000 varieties of molluscs, and six of the world's seven species of marine turtle.

n It is home to the world's most important, but threatened, dugong (a type of sea cow) populations.

Suffolk:

n The county has more than 47 miles of coast, including sand dunes, vegetative shingle, cliffs, estuaries and saline lagoons.

n It is already classed as internationally important for its habitat – and is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Special Protection Area.

n Habitat provides vital feeding and nesting grounds for breeding birds and also for overwintering birds.

n Among the many different birds to be found are avocets, little terns, egrets, geese and ducks.

n The North Sea is also a vital fishing ground, providing a livelihood for many trawlermen.

n The coast is a major visitor attraction, bring many tourists each year to walk its beaches, visit its nature reserves and seaside villages and towns.

panel:

WHILE major oil spills attract massive publicity for the horrendous environmental damage they cause, the number of incidents is shrinking.

According to latest figures from the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, the number of spills over 700 tonnes per year has dropped from a high of 24.2 in the 1970s to 7.3 spills per year in the 1990s.

Before the Prestige broke up and shed its wildlife-killing cargo, 2002 was set to be one of the best years on record.

The biggest tanker disasters over the past 25 years have included the Atlantic Empress (which shed 287,000 tonnes of oil in 1979), the Castillo de Bellver (252,000 tonnes, 1983), Exxon Valdez (37,000 tonnes, 1989), Khark V (80,000 tonnes, 1989), Erika (20,000 tonnes, 1999) and Prestige (77,000 tonnes, 2002).

Only around eight per cent of the oil spilled in the sea comes from tankers, while the amount transported by tanker has increased 90pc in the past 20 years.


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