Devon's marine wildlife needs a wave of support

Photo, Paul Naylor

We have just days to help secure greater protection for Devon's wildlife by taking part in the government's consultation on new Marine Conservation Zones
Compass jellyfish near Thurlestone

Compass jellyfish. Photo, Paul Naylor

Walk anywhere along the stunning coastline of south Devon and you’ll soon come across one of many long and sinuous inlets, where the sea extends its dark blue feelers deep into the hilly green countryside.  These are ‘drowned’ river estuaries, caused by the tilting of the whole south west peninsula over millions of years. 

Each hosts its own distinctive array of marine habitats and species, and all of them count among the most important, precious but least known wildlife gems in the region.

Marine Conservation Zones

That’s why the government’s recent announcement, that five estuaries in the South Hams and East Devon could be protected, is such a landmark.  They will be among nine sites around Devon’s shores, 20 across the south west peninsula and 41 around English and Welsh coasts, that have been listed as potential Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).  

50 such sites have already been designated in two previous rounds, referred to by Defra as ‘tranches’.  This third tranche is likely to be the last occasion when a large number of Marine Protected Areas could be designated, and so getting the right sites properly protected is absolutely crucial for the health of our seas and the wildlife they hold.

White-beaked dolphin pod

White-beaked dolphin pod. Photo, Michael Tetley

The nine potential MCZs around Devon vary hugely in size and nature. They include coral studded rocky reefs like Morte Platform off the north coast, and large areas of shifting sediments off Start Point and in the Bristol Channel.

These areas include essential feeding grounds for many species of fish, some of commercial importance, some vital prey for dolphins, porpoises and seabirds.

The 'missing' sites

There are some disappointments in the government’s proposals, although the South West has fared better than many other regions. But the hoped-for extensions to the protected areas in Torbay and in the Taw and Torridge estuaries aren’t included, and neither is the 1,000 square kilometre site in Lyme Bay for which The Wildlife Trusts had lobbied so hard and inspired so much public support.  This would have been the only Marine Protected Area in English waters designated to conserve dolphins. 

And we desperately need such areas if we want to see populations of these charismatic and beautiful creatures to thrive around our shores.

Corkwing wrasse in Torbay

Photo, Paul Naylor

Devon and Cornwall are almost synonymous with the sea.  For years the protection of marine wildlife has lagged far behind that on land.  But the huge wave of support generated by last year’s Blue Planet series shows just how much people care about this issue. 

More of us visit and swim in the sea every year, and research has shown that just living by the sea makes us happier and healthier. Looking after the marine environment is good for us too.

Public support is needed

Protecting specific marine sites isn’t the answer to all the problems in our seas.  We still need to tackle the massive issues of plastics, pollution from rivers and the challenge of harvesting our seas sustainably; the government is expected to consult on the future of fisheries in the coming months. 

But designating the richest, most varied and sensitive marine areas - and protecting them properly - is a big, bold and relatively straightforward step to helping our seas on the way to recovery.

None of this is protection is confirmed yet.  These sites will be designated if enough people show their support.  So we are asking everyone to get behind the push to protect our seas and ensure their wildlife is safeguarded for the future. 

How to respond

The easiest way to respond positively to the government’s public consultation on new Marine Conservation Zones is via The Wildlife Trusts’ ‘Wave of Support’ campaign. The closing date for responses is Friday 20 July.

Add your Wave of Support and help us protect marine wildlife

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