Conserving the Wildlife Treasures of the Pembrokeshire Coast

19 February 2008

Sea Trust South and West Wales monitors the seas, educating people about the glories of Welsh marine wildlife. These include; “Porpoise Picnics” and outreach such as an exhibition which opened at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff and then toured the UK.

Seal

“Marine megafauna such as whales and dolphins, are difficult to get a handle on. Not enough is known about them. Sea Trust is about local people taking responsibility for monitoring and conserving their own wildlife,” says Cliff Benson, Director of the Pembrokeshire-based organisation, which is the marine arm of the Wildlife Trust South and West Wales. As an volunteer community group charity, they have many projects conserving, monitoring and recording the sea creatures around the coast of South West Wales.
They investigate Common, Bottlenose, and Risso’s Dolphins, as well as Harbour Porpoises. Other marine life such as whales, seals, sharks, various fish, turtles and plankton are also surveyed by Sea Trust volunteers in Pembrokeshire – the only coastal National Park in the UK, which has one of the only three Marine Nature Reserves and two Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) designated under the EU Habitats and Species Directive. This makes it one of Britain’s wildlife treasure troves.

Dolphins

The oceans are already showing the effect of the carbon that is dumped in it from the atmosphere. Mark Lynas, in his book Six Degrees, about global warming, says that humans have already managed to reduce the alkalinity of the seas by 0.1 pH units. This means the sea is becoming more acidic, which will have effects on everything that dwells there. Monitoring what is happening around our coasts is vital to obtain information about the impact of climate change on fish, algae, plankton, and of course sea mammals such as whales and dolphins – who are particularly vulnerable as they are at the summit of the food chain. This is on top of the disruption caused to them from oil spills and jet-skis.

These strongholds of marine wildlife are also being probed by energy companies in the search for good areas for renewable energy – rugged places with high wind speeds or big tidal ranges are prime sites for wind, wave or tidal stream projects. While being pragmatic, Cliff Benson is concerned that with commercial interests, conservation becomes secondary. He says that by working with conservationists from the beginning the needs of commerce and conservation can be balanced: “In my view it is win/win.”
One of the greatest concerns for Seatrust volunteers is that although theoretically the areas are legally protected, in reality, there is little enforcement. Cliff Benson would like to see marine rangers who could prevent people doing harmful things to the environment. He is also concerned that - unlike driving a car – there is no need for a licence for powered craft .A proper nationwide licencing system for them would massively contribute to safety whilst paying for adequate policing.

Dolphins

To promote responsible, sustainable tourism, Sea Trust, Stena Lines and Pembrokeshire County Council are promoting West Wales as “The Dolphin Coast”, with the intention of showing off the wildlife as a natural asset that should be valued and conserved. There are whale-watching cruises and nature photography courses available for the eco tourist at www.dolphincoast.co.uk .

Links:
Seatrust: www.seatrust.org.uk
Dolphin Coast www.dolphincoast.co.uk
Pembrokeshire National Park www.pcnpa.org.uk
Naturewatching Cruises: www.ramseyisland.co.uk
Images courtesy of Janet Baxter: www.cymriccards.co.uk

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