A major project to safeguard the marine environment off Hampshire and the Isle of Wight was launched in Southampton yesterday.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) has selected the south coast, from Folkestone in Kent to Devon’s River Dart, as the second area in the UK for marine planning.

This is highly significant for the local waters off the county’s coastline which contain some of the busiest commercial shipping lanes in Europe, huge numbers of yachts and marinas, as well as sensitive wildlife habitats. Marine planning is a new system to help manage the huge demands on space in and around the nation’s seas, especially in areas already having a wide range of marine activities competing for limited space.

The plan aims to inform and guide users along the south coast to manage the sustainable development of industries such as wind farms, shipping and ports, aggregates and fishing alongside the need to conserve and protect marine species, habitats as well as leisure uses.

The marine economy is currently worth more than £47 billion annually to the UK, and has the potential to increase significantly. Britain is the first country in the world to plan across all marine activities, for all territorial waters, and eventually a total of ten plan areas will be developed over the next decade.

Steve Brooker, the MMO’s head of marine planning, said: “England’s South Inshore and South Offshore marine areas were chosen for their wide range of marine activities that need to co-exist in these busy waters.

“These marine areas are identified as environmentally sensitive so it is vitally important that new activities are introduced in a sustainable way, ensuring that social, environmental and economic implications are considered together.

“As the demand for space increases, so will the need for use of our seas as a key resource. “This is an ideal time for marine planning to begin in these areas, to ensure there is a clear framework for sustainable development.”

More than 70 organisations, including Southampton City Council, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Associated British Ports, the National Trust, the Renewable Energy Association, Trinity House and Solent Forum, attended the launch organised by the MMO.

“Marine plans will guide developers about where they are likely to be able to carry out activities and may indicate the kind of conditions or restrictions which may be placed on what they do,” said Mr Brooker.

“The views of all those with an interest in the South marine areas are vital to the plan making process, and the next step will be speaking to as many people as possible affected by these plans.”