The UK has been experiencing some uncharacteristically hot weather over the last few weeks, so what better time to get out to our beautiful coast? Take this opportunity to find out more about the fantastic diversity of species and habitats we have off our shores, and join in The Wildlife Trusts’ annual National Marine Week! This celebration of all things marine actually runs for more than two weeks, from Saturday 27 July to Sunday 11 August, to make the most of the tides.
We are fortunate in the UK to have an awe-inspiring range of habitats and species around our coasts. From shallow seagrass meadows and kelp forests to gullies and canyons over 2,000 metres deep, these habitats provide homes and feeding grounds for countless species, including colourful sea slugs, charismatic fish such as the tompot blenny, and the bottlenose dolphin, one of 11 species of whale, dolphin and porpoise regularly seen in our waters! Our seas are also home to the second largest fish in the world, the basking shark. This gentle giant can be spotted in the summer as it comes close to the shore, filter feeding micro-organisms.
All around our coasts, Wildlife Trusts staff and volunteers will be sharing their knowledge, so whether you want to find out more about minke whales or molluscs, velvet swimming crabs or strawberry anemones, breadcrumb sponges or butterfish, and seals or seabirds, there will be events where people can enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the sea and learn more about its riches.
The Wildlife Trusts hold these events to showcase some of the UK’s marine wildlife, and to educate and enthuse people about this fantastic resource on our doorstep. As well as being a source of wonder, our seas are also a playground, a food supply, a conduit for our imports and exports, and a climate regulator that absorbs vast quantities of greenhouse gases while releasing the oxygen we breathe. We are an island nation, and the sea is a vital part of our national identity.
However, the seas are not as productive as they once were. For years, we have taken too much with too little care. Our seas’ resources are not inexhaustible, and their ability to cope with the pressures we put on them – damage from fishing, industrial pollution and the impacts of a changing climate – is limited. Much of our marine wildlife is in decline. Two species of whale and dolphin have become extinct in UK waters in the last 400 years, and basking shark numbers have declined by 95%. Commercial species are also under pressure, and in 2009 the EU Commission declared that 88% of marine fish stocks were overexploited.
In order to provide better protection for our marine environment, here at The Wildlife Trusts we are campaigning for an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas – areas that offer protection not just to our most rare and vulnerable species, but to the full range of species and habitats found in the seas.
These areas will protect marine life within their boundaries, and with careful management they can also have an influence beyond these boundaries, as burgeoning populations spill out into the surrounding sea. A well-designed and effectively managed network will help boost the health of the marine environment as a whole, helping it to recover from past impacts and sustain current pressures. Although we have made a start on our network, we still have a long way to go, and at the moment progress towards achieving the network is slow.
The Wildlife Trusts’ National Marine Week and our events provide us with a crucial opportunity to highlight the need to continue to put pressure on UK Governments to ensure that this vital ambition is achieved. It offers countless opportunities for people to savour the seaside and find out so much more about what our coasts have to offer. Why not head over to The Wildlife Trusts’ marine wildlife weeks page to find an event near you!
Ali Plummer, Living Seas Officer for The Wildlife Trusts