Studland Bay-The Marine Bill, Stakeholders, Seahorses/Eelgrass.
Herewith a few facts and thoughts on The Marine Bill and how the presence of Seahorses in the Eel grass beds of Studland Bay may affect the current enjoyment of thousands who use the sea for recreation and a living.
There has been considerable Media coverage about Seahorses and how anchoring and Moorings may cause damage to the Eelgrass beds where the seahorses have been seen in recent years. Although the media has been full of “This amazing new discovery...” ,”Colony of Sea horses breeding in...” there is nothing new about Seahorses in The Bay. They have certainly been summer visitors for the last hundred years. Further thoughts on Seahorses follow later but first
The Marine Bill.
The Marine bill was passed by Parliament last year made provision for a number of Marine Conservation zones to be selected around the coast of England and for these areas to be set up by 2012. The areas referred to as Marine Protected areas (MPAs) will each have its own degree of protection.
The Government has set up through DEFRA a semi official group called Finding Sanctuary. This group which consists of a plethora of committees is to research which areas of sea should be designated MPAs around the coast of South West England. These areas will be recommended to the Government during 2011 to become law in 2012. Natural England, Crown Estates, County Councils, National Trust and others are all part of Finding Sanctuary. The Liaison Officer for Dorset is John Weinberg who lives in Swanage.
More information is available on Finding Sanctuary website.
Stakeholders-that is anybody who uses or has an interest in the sea is being asked for their input to ensure that all uses of the sea are taken into consideration before MPAs are designated. This is to be done through Liaison Officers who will be collecting information over the next few months to be completed by October this year.
Already there is a website run by a Charity- The Marine Conservation Society which has selected Studland South Bay (from Redend rocks to Old Harry) as an area that deserves protection from anchoring and mooring. This has probably been selected and placed on the website by Seahorse enthusiasts, who would like to see neither anchoring nor mooring in the areas of the Eelgrass beds. These enthusiasts consist in the main of a few divers who are fanatical about Seahorses. They have carried out a relentless media campaign to further their own ends. This has been partially successful and has misled large numbers of the public.
If you are a stakeholder please register your uses/interest with John Weinberger.
Seahorses and their habitats are now protected under European legislation. There is considerable interest in these delightful little creatures worldwide and scientific research is being carried out to find out more about them. Where Seahorses breed ,live etc is still unknown. The media headlines that there is a breeding Colony, which implies they are present all year round, in the eelgrass beds of Studland Bay is unlikely. A local view is that Seahorses, like other marine life, arrive in The Bay for the summer months. They probably come in on the Spring high tides in April/May as the waters warm. Their temporary habitats are the eel grass beds and under the Japanese weed early in the season. The warm waters in the thick eelgrass beds around the moorings are ideal habitats for the summer months. The Seahorses also enjoy a certain amount of shade from the boats moored and anchored above. In early September along with other marine life they start to move out to sea for their wintering waters. By the time of the autumn storms around the time of the autumn equinox (late September) they are gone. Media cries of breeding seahorses is probably correct as a few pregnant seahorses are bound to be amongst these summer visitors. This last summer some marine life left earlier than usual, in August , and probably the Seahorses left then as well.
The Eelgrass beds in the Bay have expanded considerably in the last few years and now spread across parts of the Bay where a few years ago there was just a sandy seabed. The thickest and most healthy beds are found amongst the Moorings which offer protection from the Fishing trawlers which come into the Bay dragging their nets along the sea bed.
Media coverage of how the moorings and anchoring cause damage to the beds is grossly exaggerated and has been fed to the Media by a few Seahorse fanatics. The fact that the beds are expanding and so healthy is proof that misinformation has been fed to the media. The Crown Estates with Natural England are carrying out a 2 year survey by having a Voluntary no anchor zone (VNAZ) to compare an area where boats do not anchor/moor with an area where they do. The results of this Survey will be known in 2012.
Above is the background to The Marine bill, and a few thoughts on Seahorses and Eelgrass in Studland Bay. The danger is that the many uses of the Bay will be curtailed just because Seahorses are present for a short time in the summer months. The hundreds of yachts/motor launches which anchor in the Bay during the summer may be forced to go elsewhere.
Hopefully all uses of the sea will be taken into consideration before any degree of protection is imposed. There is a danger, however that decisions will be taken which will limit people’s enjoyment. Any decision to ban boats from anchoring/mooring in The Bay off South beach has serious implications for local businesses in Studland. The cafe, shop, Pub, Hotels, B&Bs etc will all suffer.
As the MPAs are to be decided next year it is important that “Stakeholders” register their uses of The Bay with The Dorset Liaison Officer for “Finding Sanctuary” before October this year.
John Weinberg can be contacted as follows: