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Marine Life & Conservation

Divers asked to look after Cornwall’s Crawfish after dramatic comeback

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A Cornwall Wildlife Trust initiative introduced by Jeff Goodman

I always thought it was OK to take one for the pot. Diving in the early seventies we hardly ever climbed out of the water without something for our tea. But as the eighties approached I saw less and less marine life as full ‘goody’ bags from divers got bigger and more frequent. I started to feel uneasy about what we were doing to our seas.

Of course commercial fishing and angling have always taken an horrendous toll on marine life but now we as divers were in a position to find and take what was left. There is no finer example to this than the wonderful Crawfish. Along with them the Lobsters and Scallops were equally depleted. Scallops reproduce far quicker than Crawfish and so had a better chance to recover. Lobsters were and are reintroduced by hatcheries in their hundreds of thousands. The Crawfish was ignored and left to simply vanish from the marine ecosystem.

Finally against all the odds, Crawfish are starting to re-appear in Cornish waters and already fishermen and divers are eager to take them.

I spoke with Matt Slater, Marine Awareness Officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trust and as a result he sent me the following article on their new initiative to give these incredible animals a fighting chance. Whether you live in Cornwall or Timbuktu, I urge, no implore you to read this and give it all the support you can.

Matt Slater:

After nearly forty years crawfish have made a dramatic comeback as large numbers of young crawfish have reappeared on wrecks and reefs all around the Cornish shores.

The crawfish or spiny lobster is a spiky and ornate relative of the common lobster, with incredible long antennae and a powerful finned tail. This species was overfished back in the 1970’s and 80’s by both fishermen and divers but in recent years marine conservationists have been thrilled to see their return.

However Cornwall Wildlife Trust is now calling on divers to show that they care about crawfish by pledging not to catch them through a new national campaign called #HandsOffOurCrawfish

Image: David Morgan

They hope through education to get a high proportion of divers supporting this campaign with the eventual aim to see crawfish better protected in our waters, ensuring a sustainable fishery for the species. Dive schools, dive boats and dive clubs will be provided with stickers saying ‘no crawfish on this boat’ and the Trust hopes to provide a much needed clear message for the benefit of these creatures.

Crawfish can live to up to 60 years and are very slow growing. They have long antennae which are used to taste the water to help them look for food as they scavenge on the sea bed.

They also communicate by generating a strange creaking sound by rubbing the bases of their antennae against their shell. This sound can travel for long distances and may play a role in attracting mates.

Matt Slater, Marine Awareness officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trust describes his first encounter with these creatures.

We dropped down to the seabed on a rocky reef off Newquay that I have dived many times over the years. Where previously I had never seen any crawfish, on this dive within just a few minutes we found 18 beautiful crawfish.”

Through our Seasearch citizen science project our volunteer divers have recorded huge numbers of crawfish over the past few years in Cornish waters. And we now carry out repeat survey dives for this species at several locations in Cornwall.”

Image: Matt Slater

Divers all around the south west are reporting crawfish at their favourite dive sites and everyone is really pleased to see them back. However, there is a strong concern from many that we must ensure that they are back for good and that fisheries for this species are carried out at sustainable levels to ensure that history does not repeat itself and they become over fished again.”

The majority of recreational divers appreciate all the marine creatures they encounter and very few collect marine life to eat, preferring to enjoy peaceful encounters and underwater photography. Having said this, many popular dive sites appear to have groups of resident crawfish. If even small numbers of divers start collecting them, it would not take long for them to disappear once again.”

We already have the support of many of Cornwall’s dive operators and dive schools but we would ask everyone to get involved and to pledge not to take crawfish on their dives – that’s why we started the ‘Hands Off Our Crawfish’ campaign.”

Dive Newquay were the first company to sign up to the campaign. Paddy Maher of Dive Newquay says, “Since we first set up our dive company five years ago we have always made our customers return any collected crawfish back into the sea. No one wants to see these creatures wiped out again as they were in the 1980’s. It makes absolute sense to educate divers and to ask people to think more about their impacts on the underwater world.”

To pledge please visit www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk/crawfishproject  Look out for the hash tag #HandsOffOurCrawfish on social media as the Trust hopes divers will share their photos and crawfish news to help spread the word about the project!

This campaign will also be promoted through the national Seasearch programme in Devon, Dorset and the Channel Islands.

Further information

Crawfish or spiny lobster

Palinurus elephas

  • These ancient crustaceans are usually found on exposed rocky reefs at depths of at least fifteen meters.
  • They are heavily armoured, with sharp spines for defence.
  • Unlike lobsters crawfish don’t have large claws instead having spikey front legs.
  • Crawfish grow slowly, and can grow to a maximum size of 1 meter living for at least 60 years.
  • They take at least three years before they are old enough to breed. Larger females produce far more eggs than smaller ones.
  • Crawfish use their spectacular, long antennae to taste tiny amounts of chemicals in water allowing them to detect predators and other mates as well as food.
  • Crawfish can communicate using strange creaking sounds that they produce by rubbing the base of their long antennae against each other. This sound can travel for long distances underwater. Some Cornish fishermen actually call crawfish ‘creakers’

Seasearch

  • Seasearch is a national citizen science project that trains recreational divers to record marine life and habitats they encounter on their dives.
  • The project is led by the Marine Conservation Society and in Cornwall it is coordinated by and funded by Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

Aims of Seasearch

  • To encourage the participation of volunteer recreational divers in marine conservation through gathering data, particularly for areas where little data exists or where there is a conservation need,
  • To provide training in recording skills to enable volunteer recreational divers to participate in Seasearch,
  • To make quality assured Seasearch data available to partner organisations and the general public,
  • To raise public awareness of the diversity of marine life and habitats in Britain and Ireland through the dissemination of information gathered and the identification of issues arising from it.

Matt Slater, Marine Awareness Officer CWT

A Cornish Marine biologist and educator, experienced in aquarium and community engagement work. I am passionate about our marine world and love sharing this passion and encouraging us all to take better care for the oceans.

Jeff Goodman is the Editor-at-Large for Scubaverse.com with responsibility for conservation and underwater videography. Jeff is an award-winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker who lives in Cornwall, UK. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

Marine Life & Conservation

Boating and conservation worlds unite to save Studland’s seagrass and seahorses

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Charity The Seahorse Trust and national marina group boatfolk have joined forces to deliver a practical solution for saving Studland’s unique marine environment.

The two organisations have collaborated on a not-for-profit scheme to put ten ‘eco-moorings’ into Studland Bay to give boaters an attractive, environmentally friendly alternative to dropping their anchors. The dropping of anchors has damaging consequences for seabed environments including seagrass meadows. This is a significant concern as seagrass provides essential habitat for species including seahorses and also stores up to twice as much carbon per hectare as terrestrial forests, playing a major role in keeping climate change in check.

The scheme was recently approved by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) following its designation in 2019 as a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) and installation of the new eco-moorings is now underway. The organisations’ eco-mooring proposal was supported by letters from high-profile conservation advocates including Chris Packham and Steve Backshall. The scheme is also being supported by Mitch Tonks and Rockfish who will provide funding for the installation of one of the eco-moorings.

The MCZ designation was made on the basis of Studland Bay’s seagrass meadows, which are an internationally important breeding ground for the Spiny Seahorse, one of Britain’s native seahorse species. The Spiny Seahorse was protected in 2008 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act following campaigning by the Seahorse Trust. The legal aim of the MCZ designation was to return both seagrass and seahorses to ‘favourable condition’.

Image: Ross Young

Neil Garrick-Maidment, Founder and Executive Director of The Seahorse Trust said: “The designation of Studland Bay as a Marine Conservation Zone was a long-awaited and hugely significant moment in safeguarding UK seahorse populations. It is now vital that the area is effectively protected and that everyone who uses the bay does so responsibly and sustainably. I am delighted to be working with boatfolk to develop a practical solution, which allows boaters to continue enjoying this remarkable site, in a way which also enables the conservation of rare seagrass meadows and crucial seahorse breeding grounds.”

Michael Prideaux, Managing Director of boatfolk said: “In late August, I met Neil on the beach at Studland Bay. We were united by our shared passion for the environment and by a desire to work with, and alongside, the boating community for a solution that everyone can get behind. boatfolk is all about making it easy for people to get out on the water and to enjoy their time afloat. Providing an alternative option at Studland that protects this incredible marine environment is about doing the right thing for boaters and for our planet. Financial return is not an objective here; we are committed to making Studland Bay a sustainable boating destination for generations to come and are proud to be putting our name and resources behind the scheme.”

The scheme forms part of boatfolk’s wider sustainability strategy, Coastline Deadline, a new platform designed to back projects which have a real, positive and measurable impact on the coastline.

Michael Prideaux adds, “We know our industry has an impact on the environment and that not enough is being done to raise awareness and change behaviours. Our goal isn’t to stop people boating. In fact, it’s the opposite. By making changes now we want to ensure that the coastline and oceans remain a place that can be enjoyed for generations to come.”

Image: Neil Garrick-Maidment

The benefits of eco-moorings are well-documented. Such moorings involve a helical screw anchor being driven into the seabed. An elastic rode is then attached, connecting the anchor system with the mooring buoy. The elastic rode will stretch at higher tides and contract at lower tides meaning that none of the equipment scours the seagrass around it. The moorings also provide a hassle-free option for boaters, saving them the trouble of having to drop their own anchors (which can often drag before taking a hold and leave the boat owner to clean the equipment afterwards).

Neil Garrick-Maidment and Michael Prideaux commented: “The Seahorse Trust and boatfolk are united in a clear belief that eco-moorings are the way forward for Studland, allowing boaters to continue enjoying the site while seagrass and seahorses thrive alongside. We were thrilled  to secure  MMO approval   for our proposal, which we believe provides a practical and collaborative roadmap to finally giving Studland Bay the effective protection it deserves, and are delighted that installation of the eco-moorings is now underway following successful tests of the helical screw.

The Seahorse Trust and boatfolk are very grateful to award-winning Devon and Dorset restaurant group Rockfish for their generous sponsorship of one of the initial ten eco-moorings.

Mitch Tonks, restaurateur, Rockfish and Seahorse restaurants, and co-founder of the Devon Environment Foundation, expressed his support for the scheme: “We believe Rockfish has a purpose beyond our restaurants. This is exactly the sort of project we like to support – practical, visible and useful, as well as changing the way we impact our world. It’s this on-the-ground stuff we love that people like The Seahorse Trust go out there and do.”

For more information on the work of The Seahorse Trust visit their website by clicking here.

Header image: Neil Garrick-Maidment

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Marine Life & Conservation

Huge thresher shark is the latest of six murals to be painted around the Solent this summer

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The murals celebrate the Solent’s extraordinary marine life – marking National Marine Week.

Secrets of the Solent have commissioned street artist ATM to paint a series of marine-themed artworks at various locations around the Solent this summer. The latest mural to be finished shows a thresher shark on the Langstone Harbour Office. Langstone Harbour is an important area for wildlife as well as a bustling seaside destination for sailing and water sports.

Artist ATM, who is painting all six murals, is well-known for his iconic wildlife street art. This, his second artwork of the series, took three days to paint freehand, from a scaffolding platform. The thresher shark was chosen out of six marine species to be the subject of the artwork by the local community, who were asked to vote via an online form or in person on the Hayling Ferry.

Secrets of the Solent hope the mural will become a landmark in Langstone Harbour and inspire visitors to learn more about this enigmatic oceanic shark. The project, which is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, works to celebrate and raise awareness of Solent’s diverse marine environment.

Aiming to highlight the exotic and unusual creatures found close to our coasts, artist ATM says: “I really enjoyed painting the thresher shark because it’s such an amazing looking animal, with a tail as long as its body. I hope when people see the murals, they will become more aware of what lives under the waves and the importance of protecting the vital habitats within the Solent.”

Dr Tim Ferrero, Senior Marine Biologist at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust says: “The thresher shark is a wonderful animal that visits our waters every summer. It comes to an area to the east of the Isle of Wight, and this appears to be where the sharks breed and have their young. Not many people know that we have thresher sharks in our region, and so having our mural here on the side of the Langstone Harbour Office building is a fantastic way of raising awareness of this mysterious ocean wanderer. I really hope that people will come away with the knowledge that the Solent, our harbours and our seas are incredibly important for wildlife.”

Rachel Bryan, Project Manager for Secrets of the Solent at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust comments: “We are really excited to have street artist ATM painting a thresher shark on the side of the Langstone Harbour Office building. We chose this building because of its prominent location right on the entrance to Langstone Harbour so that anyone who’s visiting, whether that’s walkers, cyclists or people coming in and out of the harbour on their jet-skis or sailing boats, will all be able to see our thresher shark. People on the Portsmouth side of the harbour will also be able to see the mural from across the water.”

The thresher shark is a mysterious predator which spends most of its time in oceanic waters. It uses its huge whip-like tail as an incredibly effective tool for hunting its prey. Herding small fish into tight shoals, the shark will lash at them with its tail, stunning several in one hit and making them easier to catch.

Secrets of the Solent hope to work with the species this summer to discover more about its behaviour.

Dr Tim Ferrero explains: “Nobody really knows where thresher sharks go in the ocean. Later this summer we are hoping that we are going to be able to attach a satellite tag to a thresher shark and monitor its progress for an entire year. This will provide really important information that will help us learn so much more about the shark’s annual life cycle.”

The new thresher shark mural is a fantastic start to National Marine Week (24th July – 8th August), which celebrates the unique marine wildlife and habitats we have here in the UK. Over the two weeks, Wildlife Trusts around the country will be running a series of exciting events to celebrate the marine environment. We really hope people will be inspired by our murals and want to learn more about each chosen species.

Events in the Solent include the launch of a new Solent marine film on the 29th July, installation of a new Seabin on the 4th August to reduce marine litter, and citizen science surveys throughout summer.

For more information click here.

Header image: Bret Charman

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