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Conservation efforts on UK coasts help rare marine life make comeback

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Conservation efforts on coasts around the UK have helped rare marine life including seahorses and basking sharks make an unexpected comeback.

According to a review of 2018 by The Wildlife Trusts, it has been a bumper year for sea slugs, autumn was a fine time for divers to catch a glimpse of curled octopus, and in the summer a rare sea grass bed measuring 60,000 square metres was discovered on the floor of Glenarm Bay in Northern Ireland.

:: Six easy steps you can take to protect the environment in 2019

Divers in Falmouth Bay caught glimpse of the curled octopus in healthy numbers during the autumn months
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Divers in Falmouth Bay caught glimpse of the curled octopus in healthy numbers during the autumn months

Basking sharks were seen in Cardigan Bay in the Irish Sea for the first time in three years, fishermen in Dorset reported sightings of the extremely illusive short-snouted seahorse off the Purbeck coast, and crawfish reappeared in Cornwall after being decimated by overfishing in the 1960s and 1970s.

And the little tern, one of the rarest breeding seabirds in the UK, was successfully bred at the South Walney nature reserve in Cumbria for the first time in 33 years – and also nested on Tollesbury Wick nature reserve in Essex for the first time in a decade.

Two little terns on South Walney. Pic: Cumbria Wildlife Trust
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Two little terns on South Walney. Pic: Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Dr Lissa Batey, senior living seas officer at The Wildlife Trusts, welcomed the results of heightened conservation efforts across the country, but warned that more needed to be done in the years ahead.

“This review of sightings and action from across the UK has given a glimpse, a mere taster, of the wonders of our marine wildlife – delightful species that everyone has the opportunity to encounter and learn more about,” she said.

“But it has also shown us the problems that remain and the challenges that our sea life faces.

“It’s not too late. We are already seeing recovery in some of our marine protected areas, but we don’t yet have a fully functioning network of nature reserves at sea, where wildlife has the opportunity to thrive.

“That’s why we are looking forward to the third designation of marine conservation zones in 2019 – with these we would have the potential to reverse current marine wildlife declines.”

The rare short-snouted seahorse. Pic: Paul Naylor
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The rare short-snouted seahorse. Pic: Paul Naylor

Despite the positive signs, there was also plenty of bad news for marine wildlife in 2018, with millions of helpless creatures washed up on beaches along the North Sea coast after a storm in March.

Crabs, starfish, mussels and lobsters all ended up on the shore, with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust working with fishermen to rescue lobsters that were still alive.

Gannet nests on Alderney have been polluted by plastic. Pic: Alderney Wildlife Trust
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Gannet nests on Alderney have been polluted by plastic. Pic: Alderney Wildlife Trust

Elsewhere, sewage spills and storm drains dumped wet wipes and sanitary products onto beaches, and plastic pollution continued to be a major problem nationwide.

Huge amounts of rubbish were collected during beach cleans, with 400 bags of litter gathered on the Isle of Wight and more than 14,000 pieces picked up all over Wales.

In Kent, some 2,892kg of rubbish and 60 shopping trolleys were collected from the Medway Estuary.

And on Alderney in the Channel Islands, plastic is now present in almost 100% of gannet nests, mostly from fishing industry rope or line, posing a significant risk to birds and chicks.

:: Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign encourages people to reduce their single-use plastics. You can find out more about the campaign and how to get involved at skyoceanrescue.com

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