IN recent years we have begun to realise just how threatened our oceans have become and how the decline of our seas is impacting on people.
As Sylvia Earle, former chief marine science advisor to the US Government, recently put it: ‘If the sea is in trouble, we are all in trouble.’
Around the world we’ve seen fisheries collapse and coastal communities suffer from the loss of vital habitats. We’ve also become increasingly aware of the role that marine habitats can play in storing carbon, like rainforests of the sea, helping to reduce the impact of climate change.
One solution that is increasingly being put forward by scientists, fishermen, conservation organisations and global leaders is the use of Marine Protected Areas, areas of the sea protected from damaging human uses.
In the Isle of Man we are close to finalising the island’s first Marine Nature Reserve. The Ramsey Marine Nature Reserve was initially proposed by the Manx Fish Producers’ Organisation and was developed by the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture in partnership with a wide range of sea users, scientists and other members of the community. The Marine Nature Reserve will form part of a global network of Marine Protected Areas, safeguarding the future of our oceans.
Marine Reserves have been used all over the world to protect marine life and sustain local fisheries and their benefits have been well documented. A well designed, well-supported Marine Nature Reserve can have the following positive impacts: recovery of fragile seabed habitats inside the Marine Reserve; increase in available food and shelter for young fish and shellfish inside the Marine Reserve; increases in the diversity of species inside and outside the Marine Reserve; increases in the size and age of animals and plants inside and outside the Marine Reserve; improvement in nearby fisheries, both commercial and recreational; improved resilience against extreme events and climate change impacts; and increased opportunities for tourism, leisure and education within the Marine Reserve and in the surrounding area.
The better an area of the sea that is protected, the greater these benefits will be. In recent years there has been increasing use of No Take Zones, areas of the sea where nothing can be extracted. These highly protected areas allow the seabed to recover to a much more natural state, helping us to understand the impact of our activities and to appreciate the richness of marine ecosystems.
The proposed Eelgrass Zone at Port Lewaigue will be the Isle of Man’s first No Take Zone, protecting rocky reefs, sand banks and kelp forests, as well as our special flowering underwater eelgrass meadows.
We are lucky in the Isle of Man because we have had a successful Fisheries Closed Area in place for over 20 years which has clearly demonstrated the fisheries benefits of protecting an area of ground.
Densities of scallops are now thought to be 10 times higher within the Port Erin Closed Area than in nearby fishing grounds and those scallops are estimated to be producing over 100 times more young. Having seen the benefits of the Port Erin Closed Area, Manx fishermen have worked with DEFA to implement another Fisheries Closed Area in Douglas Bay and special Fisheries Restricted Areas at Laxey and Niarbyl, and now the first Marine Nature Reserve in Ramsey.
The zoning plan for Ramsey Marine Nature Reserve has been developed through a long process of public consultation and stakeholder involvement. The zones have been designed to bring the maximum benefits to the marine environment whilst considering current commercial and recreational uses of the Bay.
Whilst the Ramsey Marine Nature Reserve will protect just 2.6 per cent of Manx waters, its benefits will be experienced over a much larger area and out into the wider Irish Sea.
If we effectively protect Ramsey Marine Nature Reserve we can hope to benefit through: creating a refuge for scallops which will seed the surrounding fishing grounds with young scallops, boosting future fisheries; protecting maerl, a special seaweed which forms a coral-reef like habitat which provides a good nursery ground for queenies, cod and many other species; allowing eelgrass meadows to recover and expand to cover larger areas; supporting the recovery of kelp forests, which provide shelter for many species of fish and other marine life; protecting our special horse mussel reef off the Point of Ayre, recognised as an internationally important habitat and one of the best remaining examples in the Irish Sea; letting our natural carbon sinks flourish – kelp forests, eelgrass meadows and maerl beds; promoting Ramsey Bay as the special place that it is and encouraging more visitors, both tourists and residents; and increasing understanding of the coastal and marine life of Ramsey Bay.
To realise these diverse long-term benefits we need support from everyone who uses Ramsey Bay and the rest of Manx seas.
As the Marine Nature Reserve develops there will be many opportunities for people to get involved – whether you are a fisherman, a diver, a school pupil or a Ramsey resident, there will be a way you can help. We look forward to working with you.