Living Seas. What picture does this phrase conjure up in your mind? A rocky reef bursting with brightly coloured fish, corals and sponges? A boat trip in the company of leaping dolphins and playful seals? Fishermen hauling nets brimming with big, tasty fish? Living Seas are all these things and more. We urgently need your help to bring back the UK’s Living Seas.
A healthy marine environment is vitally important to the economic and social welfare of Norfolk. Despite the decline in the fishing industry there is still an important inshore fishery – most famously the Cromer crab – which needs to be well managed. Recreation is hugely important to the local economy and is affected by the quality of bathing beach waters and also the abundance of wildlife that attracts tourists to the coast.
The coastal and marine areas off Norfolk are not renowned for their clear water and teaming sea life. Dolphins, whales and sharks are not a common feature of our offshore area. But the protection of our marine environment is important because we do have a huge range of species that need protecting and there are many potential threats.
The offshore marine environment has a variety of habitats that support different species. The substrates comprise sand, mud and gravel. One particular feature of the sea floor are Sabellaria or Ross worm reefs. These are dense aggregations of small tube dwelling worms. These reefs whilst not as spectacular as the coral reefs provide a habitat supporting many other species of marine fauna. They are highly susceptible to damage.
Sabellaria or Ross worm reefs. These are dense aggregations of small tube dwelling worms. These reefs whilst not as spectacular as the coral reefs provide a habitat supporting many other species of marine fauna. They are highly susceptible to damage.
Norfolk has a wide range of species that are dependent on the marine environment. The most obvious are those species that we can see on visits to the coast. Common and grey seals depend on a healthy marine environment. Norfolk has important breeding populations of both these species. Large numbers of breeding terns visit the coast and need a reliable supply of small fish in order to thrive. The little tern colony at Gt Yarmouth is one of the most important in Europe and its success is dependent in part on the fish that live offshore. Unseen by those standing on the beach, but nonetheless important, are large flocks of sea ducks such as common scoters that winter offshore and are susceptible to marine pollution.
The Wash and other coastal areas are important nursery areas for commercially caught fish such as sole, plaice, herring and cod as well as brown and pink shrimp. To illustrate the importance of caring for the marine environment as a whole it is thought that the edible crabs caught off the Norfolk coast are derived in part from larvae that drift south from Yorkshire.
Amongst the threats to the marine environment are fisheries, where destructive fishing activities can affect the seabed and destroy sensitive habitats like the Ross worm reefs. Gas exploitation can cause contamination of the seabed from drilling muds and also the laying of pipelines. Aggregate dredging is a controversial activity with some people considering that it is increasing rates of coastal erosion and also destroying sensitive sea bed habitats. Pollution from shipping is ever present and in particular the release of oil which threatens the numerous seabirds that move along the Norfolk coast.
Only 2% of the UK’s seas currently have a minimal level of protection awarded for wildlife, and only 0.001% is considered as fully protected from all damaging activities. The tide is now turning. By 2012 the government agencies have committed to have established a network of ecologically coherent Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in UK waters.
This is a first for the UK’s seas and is incredibly exciting. The Wildlife Trusts’ collectively aim to ensure that this happens and that our seas receive the protection they have so long been awaiting.