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    This report details the findings of dedicated seabed surveys at the Utopia recommended Marine Conservation Zone (rMCZ). The site is being considered for inclusion in a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in UK waters designed to meet conservation objectives under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. Prior to the dedicated surveys the site assessment had been made on the basis of best available evidence drawn largely from historical data modelled habitat maps and stakeholder knowledge of the area. The purpose of the survey was to provide direct evidence of the presence and extent of the broadscale habitats (BSH) and habitat FOCI (Features of Conservation Importance) that had been detailed in the original Site Assessment Document (SAD) (Balanced Seas 2011).

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    The Alde, Ore and Butley Estuaries SAC is nationally and internationally important due its populations of breeding and overwintering birds. Within the Alde, Ore and Butley Estuaries there is a range of littoral sediment and rock biotopes (the latter on sea defences) that are of high diversity and species richness for estuaries in eastern England. Water quality is excellent throughout. The area is relatively natural, being largely undeveloped by man and with very limited industrial activity. The estuary contains large areas of shallow water over subtidal sediments, and extensive mudflats and saltmarshes exposed at low water. Its diverse and species-rich intertidal sand and mudflat biotopes grade naturally along many lengths of the shore into vegetated or dynamic shingle habitat, saltmarsh, grassland and reedbed. The features associated with the Alde-Ore and Butley Estuary are subtidal sediment communities including, Mid-shore areas of mixed substrata, covered by a blanket of the ephemeral algae Ulva lactuca and Enteromorpha spp. Tide swept communities present on the low shore, where the Alde joins the Butley, featuresanemones Sagartia spp., the peacock worm Sabella pavonina, the slipper limpet Crepidula fornicata and red algae. Well-sorted mud on the low shore throughout the estuary with a range of polychaetes.

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    Broadscale habitat (EUNIS level 3) for Hythe Bay (rMCZ) recommended Marine Conservation Zone (rMCZ) Updated habitat map resulting from an intergrated analysis of the acoustic and ground-truth survey data from 2012. The ground-truthing survey was carried out by the Environment Agency (EA) on the 26th March 2012 using the MV Sea Vigil. The site is predominantly characterised as A5.3 Subtidal mud.

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    Updated habitat map resulting from an intergrated analysis of the acoustic and ground-truth survey data from 2014 (onboard the RV Cefas Endeavour). Sediment types at each groundtruthing station were used to inform a semi-automated process of map production using object-based image analysis (OBIA). The majority of the seabed was classified as 'A5.4Subtidal mixed sediments', with patches of 'A5.1 Subtidal coarse sediment'and 'A5.2Subtidal sand'.

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    Updated habitat map resulting from an intergrated analysis of the acoustic and ground truth survey data in 2014 (onboard the RV Cefas Endeavour). Broadscale habitats at each ground truth station were used to inform a semi-automated mapping process using object-based image analysis (OBIA). The majority of the seabed was classified as the BSH 'A4.1 High energy circalittoral rock/A4.2 Moderate energy circalittoral rock', with a with a large sediment bank in the north of the rMCZ made up of the BSHs 'A5.1 Subtidal coarse sediment' and 'A5.2 Subtidal sand'.