Based a few miles from Ilfracombe, we are proud to be associated with the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. From the highlands of Dartmoor and Exmoor, down the river valleys to the sea and beyond Lundy, the North Devon Biosphere is one of 668 Reserves in 122 countries designated by UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme and was the first of 6 to be designated in the UK.
The Biosphere is simply a demonstrator, an example of what our world should look like now, to lead by example. This area acts as a focal area for research and development, sustainable development concepts that aim to accelerate net zero targets, and inspire green blue initiatives.
We are networking with boat and marina owners and operators, academia, industry, clubs and marinas to investigate our most pressing issues and devise new and imaginative ways to overcome them. Increasing ocean literacy, the understanding of our impact on the ocean, is critical to influence the choices we are about to make. below is just a fraction of the marine life in the South West UK
Think ocean, always.
Common Dolphins (short-beaked common dolphins) are an offshore species, but often come close to shore to feed. Their diet is mainly fish, for which they will work together to herd into a ball. A highly social species, they are normally found in groups called pods, travelling at speed alongside boats.
They have a distinctive hourglass pattern on their sides. The dorsal fin is tall and triangular and curves slightly backwards.
This video shows some of our encounters with this amazing species.
Often seen around the shallows, singularly or in small pods, is the harbour porpoise. They are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, listed under CITES Appendix II and classified as a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.
The harbour porpoise is identifiable by its small, triangular dorsal fin, small stocky body and dark grey back with lighter underbelly. Their faces are rounded and have no beak.
Harbour porpoise; Mike Davison
Lundy Island is home to a large grey seal colony, who can often be seen hauled out on the rocks enjoying the sun at low tide.
Seals are naturally curious creatures, but they are still wild animals and as such, should be treated with caution and respect. Grey seals are often mistaken for being injured or unwell, when they are simply resting between swimming and feeding at sea.
You should never approach a seal that you find hauled out. If you have a dog or small children with you, ensure they are kept close by and will not disturb the seal. Should you suspect the animal may be injured, please contact the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, whose fast response medics will attend. Please see our Rescue Hotlines page for full details on how to help.
Grey seal; Mike Davison
We have to give a mention to these incredible sea birds. Puffins generally spend most of their time out at sea, returning to land to mate.
Lundy Island, meaning Puffin Island in Norse, is home to a permanent colony of the marine birds. Puffins can be seen all year round here, but the surest sightings are during their breeding season between the months of March and August.
The birds produce one egg a year, which hatches out into a puffling. Around the globe, puffin numbers are in decline due to overfishing, but here on Lundy, safe within the crucial conservation area of the MCZ, they are thriving.
Puffin; Mike Davison
Herring gulls are perhaps one of the infamous creatures of the coast. These large, noisy birds are often found in urban areas though, where they have a bit of a reputation for breaking into bins and building nests on rooftops. Adults have light grey backs, white under parts and black wing tips with white patches, their bills are marked with a red spot. Juvenile birds are mottled brown.
Herring gulls are however, a protected species. They are on the UK species red list due to ongoing population and wintering population declines. The reason for these declines is currently unknown, but is thought to be connected to commercial fishing practices and marine pollution. Changes to daily life, such as stopping single-use plastic purchases and more sustainable fishing practices, will indefinitely help their numbers to increase again.
Europe's largest wading bird, curlew can be seen feeding in groups on tidal mudflats, nearby farmland and saltmarshes. There are around 68,000 pairs of breeding curlews in the UK – between 19 and 27 per cent of the global breeding population - says the RSPB.
Whilst some of the population migrate to France, an influx of Scandinavian-breeding curlews come to the UK for our milder winters, making the UK arguably the most important country for curlews in the world! With their numbers in decline due to loss of breeding habitats from changes in land-use and management, raising awareness in-land for our coastal wildlife is paramount, something that organisations like the North Devon Biosphere are working passionately to achieve.
During a seagrass habitat monitoring dive, marine biologists from the Ocean Conservation Trust have encountered a rare seahorse along the South West coast days ahead of the G7 event taking place in Carbis Bay, Cornwall in the Summer of 2021.
Long snouted seahorses (also known as spiny seahorses) can be found in seagrass beds throughout the South of the UK. However, due to environmental changes such as the destruction of seagrass habitat, there has been a sharp decline in the seahorse population and this once common marine species is becoming increasingly rare.
To protect local marine ecosystems, the Ocean Conservation Trust has been restoring seagrass meadows along the South West coastline and raising awareness about the environmental importance of healthy seagrass beds. Seagrasses are an essential nursery habitat for marine species, they also absorb 35 times more carbon dioxide than forests and hold it in the sediment for thousands of years.
Credit to Mark Parry, Development Officer at the Ocean Conservation Trust
Credit - Mark Parry
The waters of North Devon see a range of fish species throughout the different seasons, many of which are a familiar sight to most; bass, mackerel, rays, grey mullet, wrasse and triggerfish in the warmer months and dogfish, cod and congers in the winter months. Many of these species can enjoy safety within the boundaries of the Marine Conservation Zone around Lundy Island, putting restrictions on fishing practices to help prevent over-fishing.
By tackling the way we fish our seas, pushing for more sustainable methods and raising awareness for fish stocks and lessening by-catch, our seas will be able to recover and fish species can multiply again. Our pioneering approach to green technology at sea will also reduce carbon in the marine environment, allowing nature to recover and replenish.
Some more unusual visitors have been seen in our waters over the last few years, one of which is the sunfish. The size and shape of a dustbin lid, this unusual fish has a fin on the top and bottom which gives them an ungainly appearance when swimming. They predate on jellyfish and have been seen a number of times in our waters during the warmer summer months.
Sunfish (mola mola) by Tonny Watanebe
With a huge variety of wildlife, such as crabs, limpets, anemones, mussels, worms, whelks, periwinkles and starfish, our rockpools and intertidal areas are incredibly diverse marine environments to explore.
The North Devon Coast AONB completed a two year Coastal Creatures bioblitz project across four North Devon coastal areas in 2018, recording a staggering 732 individual species at Lee Bay alone in just an hour's survey! Proof that our waters are teeming with invaluable life, life that sustains us as humans and also the wider marine world.
Climate change indicator species (CCIS) are a vital part of marine conservation as they give us an indication of what affect warming waters is having on our marine ecosystems, where more species are likely to move to northern waters as their temperature range extends.
Some of these indicator species were discovered in North Devon, during the North Devon Coast AONB Coastal Creatures project 2016-2018. Species included painted topshells, Celtic sea slug and red algae.
By holding regular citizen science opportunities marine conservationists are able to further their studies on the impact we're having on our oceans, as well as increasing ocean literacy through the volunteer opportunities made available.
Celtic sea slug by Rob Jetsum
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