New protected area proposed for  Lyme Bay dolphins

New protected area proposed for Lyme Bay dolphins

Devon Wildlife Trust is calling for a Marine Conservation Zone for dolphins, whales and seabirds in south-west of Lyme Bay. The area is important for two species in particular – white beaked dolphins and Balearic shearwaters.

More than 1000 Devon residents pledge support after Devon Dolphins campaign launch. Marine conservationists are calling for a new protected area for dolphins and seabirds in Lyme Bay. Earlier this summer, Defra invited proposals for new Marine Conservation Zones to protect ‘highly mobile marine species’ – animals such as whales, dolphins, sharks, and seabirds.

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The proposed area

Devon Wildlife Trust wants to see legal protection for a 1055 sq km area of Lyme Bay which hosts important numbers of white beaked dolphin, common dolphin and harbour porpoise, along with significant records of minke whale and basking shark.

This area is also an important feeding ground for seabirds such guillemot, razorbill and gannet and for a nationally important population of Balearic shearwaters.

Dolphins and porpoises are often sited from Berry Head. Just a few miles offshore is an area where Lyme Bay’s population of white beaked dolphins spend almost all of their lives – this is they where they feed, breed and raise their young.

In Lyme Bay, pods of up to 200 white beaked dolphins have been recorded. Surveys carried out by the Dorset-based charity MarineLife since 2006 have identified distinct individuals.

However, since 2013 the number of sightings of new individuals has declined.

White beaked dolphins are most often seen in the deeper central waters of the Bay, 4 to 15 miles east of Torbay, which support shoals of prey species sprat, cod and whiting.

Small fish are drawn to the area by the masses of plankton that feed on the nutrient-rich waters in this part of Lyme Bay. This whole ecosystem supports the larger animals, such as dolphins and seabirds, that thrive here. That’s why The Wildlife Trusts want to see the whole area protected from damaging human activities.

White beaked dolphins are sensitive to sea surface temperature, thriving in waters cooler than 17 degrees. The species is very rarely present where sea surface temperatures are higher than 18 degrees.

As white beaked dolphins off western Europe move further north in response to increasing temperatures, the dolphin-friendly habitats of Lyme Bay will become increasingly important.

Large marine animals face a number of threats from industrial and recreational use of the seas. Some of these threats in Lyme Bay – habitat destruction, fisheries bycatch, collisions with vessels, acoustic and physical disturbance – could be managed for the benefit of marine wildlife by creating a Marine Conservation Zone.

Devon Wildlife Trust’s Dan Smith said: “This area off Torbay is so important for dolphins and other large marine animals that we need to recognise the site as a whole – for everything from the plankton and the smaller fish that bring in the dolphins and the nutrient upwelling that provides the base for all this wildlife. Creating a Marine Conservation Zone here is about future-proofing the area to manage any threats that arise. For example, the dolphins often feed where small fish cluster around submerged wrecks – these artificial habitats could be damaged by dredging, an activity that can be managed when a site has been designated an MCZ.”

Of the 50 Marine Conservation Zones currently designated, none are for dolphins or other large marine animals. The third, and final, round of Marine Conservation Zone designation offers the first opportunity to create a protected area for the dolphins of Lyme Bay.

Devon Wildlife Trust has launched the Devon Dolphins campaign for people to pledge their support for protecting Devon’s white beaked dolphins and other cetaceans.

Dolphin fans can support the campaign at www.devonwildlifetrust.org/devon-dolphins or when visiting Wembury Marine Centre, Seaton Jurassic and a range of other wildlife attractions in Devon.

Photography by Martin Kitching

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