The Wildlife Trusts aim to use and target charitable donations wisely. The Seas around the UK have sufferred decades of neglect, that have left them damaged and degraded, a shadow of their former diversity and abundance.
It is acknowledged that new laws and commitments are needed from the government and the Trusts are working hard to ensure that a network of Marine Protected Areas is created and well managed by 2012.
But we can not wait until new laws and agreements have been made and work must go on to increase our knowledge of the seas, the creatures within those seas as well as the projects to start to restore the seas around the coast of the UK.
Some examples of this work can be found below
DORIS – DORset Integrated Seabed survey
For most of us the UK’s underwater landscapes are as remote as the surface of the moon, even though they begin no more than a few feet from our beach towels and bucket and spades.
Recognising that many of the problems affecting the sea are rooted in this lack of knowledge, Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) is undertaking a major new seabed mapping project (DORIS), aiming to vastly increase our understanding and appreciation of the sea.
Simon Cripps, Chief Executive, Dorset Wildlife Trust said:
“It is amazing that we know more about the surface of Mars than we do about our own coastal waters. If we are to manage this economically vital, beautiful, wildlife rich resource, we have to know what, where and how sensitive the habitats and species are. This cutting edge project will provide that vital information needed to better understand, protect and manage our shared marine environment.”
Now in the second year of the project, all the survey work has been completed, including 800km2 of seabed mapped using high-resolution multi-beam sonar, 84km of seabed video transects completed, and 3000 seabed photographs taken, along with 50 grab samples. Much of the data is being analysed at the moment, but the survey work has already revealed a new seagrass bed, extensive mussel beds, and more rocky reef habitat than previously expected.
The information from DORIS is of immediate use to inform better management of the sea and improved protection of marine habitats. Dorset Coast Forum is undertaking a marine planning pilot project in Dorset, and the seabed habitat map will provide the basis of this plan; Southern Sea Fisheries Committee will use the information to help guide inshore fisheries management; Finding Sanctuary (the project to design a network of Marine Protected Areas around South West England) will incorporate the maps into their planning process.
Meanwhile DORIS is already giving us a much better understanding of the geology of the area and the adjoining World Heritage Site. By revealing the full beauty and complexity of the seabed to a wide audience, DORIS will engage thousands of people with this hidden world beneath the waves.
Funding has come from Viridor Credits (Landfill Community Fund) with partnership funding from Dorset Strategic Partnership and Natural England. Around 50% of this funding was used to enable a partnership between DWT, Maritime & Coastguard Agency and Channel Coastal Observatory to jointly commission a geophysical survey of the seabed. The remainder is being used to commission a biological survey to produce the final habitat map.
Solent Seal Project
Harbour seal numbers are in steep decline in some parts of the UK. This project aims to help conserve a small but significant population of harbour seals in the Solent and wider South East region. The Solent and South East seals - a group of 15-20 animals - are the only known population of harbour seals in the Eastern English Channel. Harbour seals are a priority species under national and international conservation initiatives, but their numbers are falling.
Very little is known about the harbour seals in the South East. Casual monitoring efforts have provided basic information as to their approximate numbers. However, resting, foraging and breeding areas are still unknown. Seals are reliant upon these areas and so they are crucial for the population’s success. Without knowledge of where these areas are, they cannot be adequately managed for the conservation of the seal population.
Jolyon Chesworth, The Wildlife Trusts’ South East Marine Programme, said:
“Few people believe that the busy waters of the Solent and South East could host such large and charismatic predators. This project is raising awareness and demonstrating the importance of our waters for marine mammals, as well as highlighting those areas most in need of protection for the long term benefit of this declining species."
To improve seal conservation in the region, this project is carrying out seal counts to provide accurate information on population, and taking photographs to help identify and track individuals as they move around. The project is also using the latest technology to tag a number of the seals. These tags record seal location and diving behaviour, which will help indicate resting, feeding and breeding sites. The first seals were tagged in March 2009, and these transmitted their data until August when the tags dropped off during the moulting process. The information gathered has highlighted some of the seals’ primary resting and foraging grounds, sites of particular importance to the population’s wellbeing.
The research will allow us to encourage the seals’ inclusion in local conservation and management plans. Our data on the seals will inform the Wildlife Trusts’ recommendations for potential Marine Conservation Zones in the South East. In addition to the research and monitoring, the project is raising awareness of the local marine environment and its importance for the Solent seals, via a code of conduct, a seal sightings form and an education pack aimed to inform and inspire schoolchildren.
The project has received part-funding from Natural England’s Countdown 2010 fund, SITA Trust, Chichester Harbour Conservancy, Friends of Chichester Harbour and Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. We are seeking funding to extend the work, tagging more animals to further highlight important areas and behaviours and enable us to develop our conservation plans.
Satellite tagging of basking sharks
The Manx Basking Shark Watch first began tagging sharks in 2007. The project found that tagged sharks typically leave Isle of Man waters, but tend to remain within the UK. One of the original sharks tagged in 2007, however, revealed something new. In 82 days, the 8 metre female shark travelled across the Atlantic, some 9,589 km, whilst reaching depths of up to 1,264m.
This work has highlighted the need for any protection measures to take into consideration the large-scale movements that the sharks are capable of. There is still further work to be carried out to establish how frequently these large-scale migrations may occur and since 2007 a further 13 tags have been deployed in Manx waters.
This catalysed the need for coordinated scientific and management policy and subsequently led to the international conference “Basking Sharks: A Global Perspective” held in the Isle of Man during 2009.
As this project is advancing our scientific knowledge and understanding of the species, it is helping us achieve our vision for Living Seas. This knowledge is invaluable when it comes to making conservation decisions.
Duncan Bridges, CEO, Manx Wildlife Trust said:
”This project has led to major advances in the knowledge of the biology and behaviour of this species and its potential importance as an indicator of marine habitat condition. With further tagging work it is hoped that we can unlock some more of the mysteries of this species.”
Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world, measuring up to 12 metres in length. While we are steadily finding out more about them from observations at the surface, much of their behaviour is hidden from us when they disappear beneath the water. The objective of the satellite tagging work is to provide scientific information about the basking sharks’ movements, where they go, how deep they dive and into what temperatures they venture.
Seagrasses are a unique group of plants, being the only kind able to survive and flower in salt water. They are an enormously rich marine habitat, a nursery ground for fish, shellfish and other species, and an important source of food for wading birds.
They can form dense meadows in sheltered, shallow soft sediment waters. Seagrass beds underwent a severe decline in UK waters in the early half of the 20th Century as a result of disease and their recovery has been slowed by pollution and physical disturbance.
They are now considered Nationally Scarce. Declines particularly affected South East England, where many beds are believed to have disappeared altogether. However, the Solent, with its sheltered harbours and bays is a national hotspot for the plants.
Debbie Tann, CEO, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said:
“With seagrass being scarce and vulnerable, a knowledge of where it exists and in what state it is in is vital to achieving the Trusts vision for Living Seas, enabling us to better protect our sensitive habitats and ensure they are incorporated in the new Marine Spatial Plans and Conservation Zones.”
Despite the importance of seagrass, little is known about its location, extent and health. The Solent Seagrass Project aims to fill these data gaps and improve seagrass conservation through a programme of survey and awareness raising. Surveying has used a variety of techniques from hi-tech boat deployed underwater video sytems to volunteer led scuba diving and shoreline surveys.
The work has highlighted how important the Solent is for its seagrass population with extensive beds found along the north coast of the Isle of Wight and in the harbours of Hampshire. The work has also highlighted impacts and declines in some areas largely as a result of water quality and damage through trawling activity.
The awareness raising elements have led to leaflets, displays and a DVD documentary being produced and the project has featured on regional television programmes. As part of the awareness work sailors have been a particular focus, highlighting potential impacts from anchoring in sensitive seagrass beds. Talks have been given to local sailing clubs and a factsheet for national distribution was produced with the Royal Yachting Association.