|A Plan for Protecting Carmarthen Bayâ€™s Marine Wildlife â€“ Blaise Bullimore|
Tourism advertisements for West Gower, Pendine and Tenby usually boast of the local beaches and the wonderful sea views over Carmarthen Bay. Quite right too – both are beautiful natural treasures. But as everyone knows - think Pirates of the Caribbean – treasure is often also hidden under the surface.
Carmarthen Bay is no exception, the marine wildlife – the biodiversity – out of sight beneath the waves and under the sands is also a natural treasure. It is also under pressure from how we use the Bay and its estuaries.
Some of the Bay’s marine wildlife is colourful and lives out in the open. Dahlia anemones carpet the rock surfaces on Woolhouse Rocks just offshore from Tenby. But the greatest variety is well hidden - either tiny, or drab shades of sandy browns, or buried in the sandy and muddy sea bed. Each handful of sand in the seabed is stuffed full of tiny worms, sand-hopper-like crustaceans and bivalve shellfish – over 5000 individual animals of more than 60 different species in every square foot of seabed in parts of the Bay.
Amongst these miniature creatures live burrowing sea urchins, anemones and razor clams, while hermit crabs, whelks and starfish crawl over the sand surface. It’s a fantastically complicated web of life with some animals grazing on minute marine algae, others scavenging dead algal and animal remains, and many more that are predators, that can be upset by overexploitation or pollution.
Humble whelks are predators, but also recyclers in that they are important scavengers of other dead animals. They are very common in the Bay, or at least they used to be. Over ten thousand tons of whelks have been caught and exported since the mid 1990s. That’s a lot of whelks. What effect removing all those scavengers from the ecosystem has isn’t known, but it must be considerable.
Carmarthen Bay supports huge numbers of jellyfish – check out the jellyfish project at www.jellyfish.ie – and it’s because of them that the Bay is one of the British hotspots for sightings of leatherback turtles. Yes, these huge, sub-tropical, reptiles are also part of our local biodiversity.
So too are diving sea-ducks, common scoter that breed in the sub-arctic and migrate south to the Iberian peninsula and North Africa to overwinter. Carmarthen Bay is a rest and refuelling stop to feed on abundant small shellfish in offshore shallow waters.
Carmarthen Bay and its estuaries are part of a Europe-wide network of areas established to protect wildlife that is important or threatened on a European scale. Every effort is needed to protect these areas from harmful human activity.
European Marine Sites are the most important marine areas needing conservation and protection, and are part of the European Union’s contribution to taking care of marine biodiversity. They are not nature reserves since they continue to be used for many kinds of activities, but high priority must be given to the protection of marine wildlife.
The public authorities responsible for management of the various activities that take place in the Bay have worked in partnership to prepare a management scheme which identifies the pressures and proposes solutions to minimise them.
The draft Management Scheme is open for comment at www.cbeems.org.uk until 31 October 2011. Responses from the public, stakeholders, local communities and regulatory and management authorities are invited and welcomed.
Copies of the scheme are also available at the offices of the County Councils and the Countryside Council for Wales. Phone 01792 635077 for the nearest location to you.