A year in review: thousands wade-in to protect UK seas according to The Wildlife Trust

According to Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ director of living seas: “2019 saw a sea-change in people’s attitudes. The extent of the nature and climate emergency is becoming increasingly clear, and more people than ever are volunteering to be citizen scientists and conducting important surveys or taking action to tackle the profound problems of marine litter and plastic pollution. They’ve shown their commitment to healthy seas by supporting The Wildlife Trusts’ campaigns to ensure government policies create more and better protection for marine wildlife and waters around the UK.”

Citizen science

This commitment has seen the rise of citizen science, such as a new project recording sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises off Yorkshire’s east coast. A network of 30 volunteers trained by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and the Sea Watch Foundation became the ‘eyes and ears’ of the coast and spent over 330 hours surveying from 30 different locations. They logged 320 individual sightings including minke whales, bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises.

Photographs identified one pod of bottlenose dolphins and showed they’d journeyed from Scotland. The sighting off Flamborough Head was the furthest south they have been officially identified.

Seal commutes

Wildlife Trust evidence continues to reveal surprising glimpses into animal behaviour. This year for the first time, an individual seal was discovered commuting between the Isle of Man and Cornwall. Photographs sent by the Manx Wildlife Trust to the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust revealed that the same seal, nicknamed Tulip Belle, has been a regular visitor to the South West since 2001, returning to Calf of Man every couple of years to have her pups.

While the good news continued with a record year for a grey seal colony at South Walney, Cumbria, an excellent year for Sandwich terns at Cemlyn Bay, Wales and razorbill recovery on Handa Island Wildlife Reserve, Scotland, there was bad news too. A Kittiwake colony failed on the Isles of Scilly, no chicks survived, there were increasing incidents of disturbance to wildlife and continued wildlife peril from plastic, nurdles, litter and discarded fishing gear. There’s also been a spread of non-native Pacific oyster as waters warm.

Jet skis, kayaks and drones causing distress

Wildlife is increasingly being disturbed by people. Trusts reported jet skis frightening dolphins, kayakers scaring seals, drones causing wildlife to flee, and increased numbers of tripper boats operating from harbours. The trauma can separate animal parents from their young and disrupt feeding or successful breeding. The last two years have seen the highest numbers of dolphin disturbances reported to Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Disturbance Hotline since monitoring began in 2013, with 16 dolphins, 8 each year, alarmed by leisure activities such as jet skiers. Latest overall hotline figures (2018) show a total of 245 serious incidents involving marine wildlife, 234 of which involved seals. The hotline took the first call and co-ordinated action to tackle a particularly distressing incident in Falmouth in which dolphins were harassed by jet skiers (Feb 2019). In Yorkshire jet skiers scattered seabirds from their colonies, and in Essex seals were worried by recreational disturbance.

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