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Reserves campaign – Where’s my Bill?

(Written for the Evening Star September 2007)

In a separate article I described a few of the activities of the Marine Conservation Societies Seasearch project – using amateur divers to collect data on marine habitats and wildlife. Adding extra relevance to the collection of information is the growing campaign amongst wildlife and diving organisations to press for the creation of a Marine Bill, legislation which would formally protect the marine environment. The Bill had been promised for this session of parliament but has slipped from the program. This omission has not been popular and there is a concerted campaign to have it reinstated as soon as possible. The Wildlife Trusts and Marine Conservation Society are leading this activity and the Seasearch program is an important source of the information to support the need for protection of marine environment and the establishment of reserves in particularly important areas.

We’ve dived in many places and almost without exception wildlife flourishes in areas with protected reserve status. Of course that’s no surprise at all, but where the reserves flourish other benefits follow; tourists enjoy a fertile and well populated sea but existing local sport and commercial fisheries also tend to benefit. The reserves act as magnets for wildlife and nurseries for increasing communities of existing and new species.

Before anyone assumes that the Bill is all about bans and reserves it is worth highlighting that it also includes provision for flexible control of fishing. Where previous measure required absolute bans or liberal access the new Bill was expected to include mechanisms to allow for the short term protection of areas and the removal of prohibitions where fish population recovered. These measures would allow survey data to be used to steer fishing to the areas which could sustain it.

Identifying reserves is contentious as it takes an optimistic long view to appreciate all the benefits which might be achieved. Left to their own devices people tend to polarise for or against and again the information collected by projects such as Seasearch can prove very valuable here. This year we have dived near Lyme Regis and observed the massive damage done to rare fan corals off Dorset. That was actually within a voluntary no-trawl area – official protection could give the area the force of law. Around the Welsh island of Skomer we saw the thriving tourist industry that reserve status has brought. On the Norfolk coast we have seen changes, an influx of snake pipefish – a long, bright yellow relative of the sea horse – which in some places are displacing other creatures from the food chain. Puffins are catching this indigestible bony fish instead of their usual sand eels and their chicks are starving. Whether this is a climate induced change or merely an unlucky migration needs formal research, but the observations made from beach specimens and underwater photos were vital in recognising this change.

The arrival of new species is almost as notable as the loss of existing ones. The snake pipefish are an attractive immigrant and we have also seen a single example of perhaps the most charismatic and charming of all British fish – the Tompot Blenny. There will always have been migrations big and small, some by accident and some due to environmental factors. Sometimes the migration is significant in and of itself but more often it is merely an indication of the creeping effect on the existing population which is the true price being paid. So the arrival of these two species is another spur to more complete and accurate observation. It may be that we are gaining a sustainable new habitat or, more likely, that something else is losing out.

Under these conditions the last thing we need is careless human interference, it is of the utmost importance that during this critical period in environmental history that we are able to protect the wildlife under our care. 

Please take part in the marine Reserves now campaign and press wherever you can for the marine Bill to be reinstated.

Resources:

We have a page devoted to 
local resources for the campaign for a Marine Bill

Seasearch is a nationwide project run by The Marine Conservation Society

Our Local Seasearch page has more information on what we are doing

The Shore Thing is an initiative of MarLIN, the Marine Life Information Network - Shorething

If you fancy a dive our guide to North Norfolk shore diveable shipwrecks is here.

Feel free to email us at: hello (at) 1townhouses (dot) co (dot) uk
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If you still don't believe British dives can be colourful and interesting perhaps a browse through our UK galleries will help change your mind :-)

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