Signs of recovery in one of UK’s ‘most degraded marine areas’

The Firth of Clyde, on Scotland’s west coast, has the dubious honour of being dubbed ‘one of the UK’s most degraded marine environments’.

A century of overfishing in the area has decimated populations of many species (including cod, mackerel, herring, haddock, skate and more), and today the only fish landed commercially in the Clyde come as by-catch from the prawn fishery.

In September 2008, in an effort to address this sorry state of affairs, a fully protected marine reserve (the first in Scotland) was established in the area, at Lamlash Bay on the Isle of Arran.

It is hoped that the reserve will allow marine ecosystems and species to recover; however during the first two years no formal monitoring scheme existed to investigate its impacts.

Then, in 2010, researchers from the University of York (in conjunction with the Community of Arran Seabed Trust – COAST) began a series of underwater surveys to learn more about what effects the 2.67 km2 no-take zone has had so far.

Thanks to financial support from Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the surveys were repeated in 2011, and are scheduled to run again in 2012. This research (which is being led by PhD student Leigh Michael Howarth) aims to find out how various marine animals and habitats respond to protection, both inside and outside the reserve.

Already the signs are encouraging, with surveys showing that scallops are substantially older, larger and more abundant within the reserve.

The researchers have also used baited underwater cameras to get a better understanding of how fish populations are being affected. The footage they collected showed significantly more individuals inside the reserve than outside, and provided the first evidence that the area may be in the early stages of recolonisation, with juvenile cod and haddock spotted.

Another theory for the existence of these juveniles is that (without the destructive influence of fishing activity) Lamlash Bay may be an important nursery area for these commercially-valuable species.

Diving into our troubled oceans

FFI’s involvement with this project forms part of its much larger marine programme, which received a major boost in March, thanks to a USD $5 million grant from Arcadia.

“Although we have been involved in coastal marine conservation for more than a decade, the scale of threats facing the world’s oceans and coasts present an urgent need to focus more resources and strengthen our efforts to prevent significant and irreversible impacts to vulnerable marine ecosystems,” said Nicola Barnard, Marine Programme Manager at FFI. “This grant from Arcadia will allow us to build on the great successes we have achieved already.”

Download the press release to learn more about how Arcadia is helping FFI to expand its marine programme (PDF).