Discoveries of marine life in 2022 show how “spectacular life is beneath the waves,” but the marine environment faces major threats, the Wildlife Trusts have said.
In their annual year in review for the seas and coasts of the UK, Alderney and the Isle of Man, the coalition of local and national wildlife charities unveils some exceptional marine finds.
These include a new species of coral found at depths of up to 2,000m in the Rockall Trench, some 240 miles off Scotland’s west coast, a 100-year-old Greenland shark that washed up at Newlyn, Cornwall, and new records of sea slugs.
The Manx Wildlife Trust recorded the first-ever swordfish off the Isle of Man, Leicester and the Rutland Wildlife Trust discovered the fossilized remains of Britain’s largest ichthyosaur, a prehistoric ‘sea dragon’, and ‘Albie’, the northern hemisphere’s only albatross, returned to the Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire.
Whale sightings show how populations are recovering after bans on commercial whaling, the trusts said.
These include a humpback whale near Brighton Marina and a calf spotted near Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula.
In very rare sightings for the area, the Cumbria Wildlife Trust reported minke whales near its Walney Island nature reserve and off the coast of Workington, while a large group of normally solitary minke whales congregated off the Yorkshire coast in August.
Monitoring by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust also suggests that bottlenose dolphins now have a year-round presence off the region’s coasts, while two new orca calves were sighted off Shetland in January – a positive sign for the North Island group.
And in the summer, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust reported large numbers of octopuses around the Lizard Peninsula in what experts say is a sign of a healthy population and a possible octopus boom – the last time being 70 years ago.
But a host of pressures threaten the seas, from the global avian flu pandemic that has killed thousands of seabirds across the UK, to pollution, including oil spills and plastic, and people irresponsibly disturbing wildlife.
The bird flu outbreak is the worst ever recorded in the UK. Research shows that 13% of Britain’s Skua population – 8% of the world total – is dying, while the Northumberland Wildlife Trust collected more than 800 dead birds, mostly sandwich terns from its Druridge Bay reserve alone.
There have been several oil spills, including an incident where around 500 barrels spilled from a ruptured pipe 20 miles from North Wales at Rhyl. The Kent Wildlife Trust reported an oil spill off the coast of Thanet and the Alderney Wildlife Trust rehabilitated birds found covered in oil after Storm Eunice in the spring.
A study of dead Manx shearwaters on the island of Skomer found that the majority had eaten plastic.
The Wildlife Trusts are encouraging people to follow the ‘Wise’ programme, which promotes responsible wildlife observing, amid reports of people disrupting nature.
These include a group of jet skiers filmed plowing through seabirds on Puffin Island in North Wales and reports of people disturbing a group of 100 seals at Point of Ayre on the Isle of Man.
dr Lissa Batey, Director of Marine Conservation at The Wildlife Trusts, said: “From ancient sea creatures to new species to science, the discoveries in this year’s Marine Report show just how spectacular life is beneath the waves.
“While our oceans are full of surprises, they’re also busy places where wildlife faces a variety of pressures — including climate change, pollution and development.
“The sea desperately needs better protection to allow nature to recover and thrive.”
She called on the government to abandon proposed legislation – the Retained EU Law Bill – which conservationists warn could threaten existing laws protecting wildlife and wild places on land and at sea.
She also said, “Protecting large areas of our oceans is vital for fisheries and other industries that depend on healthy seas, as well as for the security of important carbon-storing habitats such as seagrass beds and seafloor sediments.”
The Wildlife Trusts have worked on projects to protect marine and coastal habitats and wildlife, including several major projects to restore seagrass beds, which can absorb and store carbon up to 35 times faster than rainforests, as well as important wildlife habitats.
The Trusts are also working with other experts to produce a world’s first complete national map of ‘blue carbon’ stores – where the seas store carbon – while the Essex Wildlife Trust has produced a toolkit on salt marsh restoration and also part of an initiative is to help the local oyster population recover.
Wildlife trusts have also had some good news for seabirds – despite the threat of bird flu and other problems – as the South and West Wales Wildlife Trust has seen puffin populations on the islands of Skomer and Skokholm increase by 240% over the past 10 years.
The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust built nearly 50 nest boxes for Manx shearwaters, at least 69 little tern chicks that successfully fledged from Point of Ayr in Wales, and the Alderney Wildlife Trust reported a record year for ringed plovers thanks to beach barriers protecting the nests .
The Wildlife Trusts also said they have worked with people on citizen science projects and coastal welfare programs, helping schoolchildren learn about wildlife and schoolchildren restoring salt marshes and seagrass beds.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Wildlife Trust has even published a series of snorkeling trails to encourage people to experience the ‘wonders beneath the waves’.
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/12/30/wildlife-trusts-2022-review-marks-new-discoveries-and-ongoing-threats-18009324/ The Wildlife Trust's 2022 review marks new discoveries and ongoing threats