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The sea - the lifeblood of our island nation.
Some 10,000 species are known to live in British waters.
Yet this undersea world is endangered
from our indifference and exploitation.
Tonight, I'll find out why seahorses are under threat.
Nobody has done a single thing
to protect seahorses in the wild, under water.
Why fishermen feel aggrieved.
We are just seen to be rapists and pillagers of the sea
and that's not the case.
And look at how our ocean inhabitants might be protected in the future.
If I'm honest with you our record when it comes to marine conservation
is pretty patchy.
Perhaps that's because for the likes of you and I,
it's out of sight out of mind.
So, join me because I'm on a quest
to find out what the future actually holds for our marine creatures.
I'm on a quest to find out the truth about wildlife.
Grey skies, a biting wind, it's the great British seaside,
the closest most of us get to the salty stuff.
Here on the beach near Brighton the rocks are rich
with unlikely seaside stars. Limpets.
I know they don't look much
but they do play a valuable role in the ecosystem on this shore.
These animals are grazers.
If you like, they are the sheep of the shore.
At the moment they are resting on the rock here in this shelter
but when tide comes in they'll become active
and they will roam, yes, roam, all over the surface of this rock
eating the algae that grows on it.
And, the only reason that this rock is clear of algae
is a bit of wave and wear and tear,
but also because it's been scoured by these limpets.
So without limpets the balance of life on this shore
could easily be turned upside down.
Believe it or not, the Portuguese love eating them
and I'm joining Mario and John for breakfast.
These limpets didn't get eaten and they're still alive
and the naturalist in me says, "I've got to save them."
My good deed for the day.
-Are they done then?
-Yep! All done.
That'll be good, will it?
You may be wondering what eating limpets has got to do with conservation.
It's really, really tasty.
I feel a bit of a traitor saying that, though.
I'm eating the cast!
So, if a few people come along the shore here and collect a few limpets
it's a bit like us going out on a summer's afternoon and picking a few blackberries.
But if hordes of people were to come and completely denude the beach
it would be a catastrophe.
That over-harvesting might not be happening here, on shore,
but it's certainly happening out there at sea.
This is a scallop dredge at work.
These pictures from a research video show how the teeth of the trawl
rake along the seabed.
Everything, everything, including starfish,
is churned up as the dredge speeds over the boulders.
Eventually the seabed gets so worn it looks like this.
This is a reef off Lyme Bay on the Dorset coast.
Rare, slow-growing pink sea fans lie broken.
These pictures helped convince the Government
to ban scallop dredging from 60 square miles here,
but it took 16 years to get that ban.
Lyme Bay was the forerunner of what's happening now.
A new network of marine conservation zones will ring Britain's coast.
Some zones may restrict fishing or ban it outright.
How do fishermen feel about this?
How are you?
-Well, I'm all right at the moment.
'I'm taking to a South Devon scallop boat to find out.
'Dave Hurford has been fishing all his life.
'Seven months of the year it's sprats, the rest, scallops.
'The Lyme Bay closure still rankles.'
How aggrieved were the fishermen?
-Are they really bitter about it?
-I think they are.
They've closed 60 square miles of ground off,
but a lot of that ground still could be fished quite easily.
And, not doing any harm to anything.
Why don't you trust the fishery scientists, the conservationists?
I think that the scientists... I don't believe the scientists, no,
because the scientists get it wrong with the fish quotas.
There are species of fish which are much more abundant than they were years ago
and they're being dumped back into the sea.
It's a total waste of a resource.
I would argue, that's paperwork, that's bureaucracy,
-that's European regulation.
-It's not fish science.
I would argue that the fish science has got to a point of understanding
where we know we have to protect the stocks
to give you guys a sustainable future and keep the seas
rich enough to function.
We want to see a sustainable stock of fish of all species
for years to come, of course we do,
but there's lots of areas that are already closed off,
like the crabbing areas. All that is breeding ground for fish.
Scallops are fast breeders with no quota,
so more fishermen are going after them.
When the scallop grows it produces these rings on its shell.
You can see there's a pale one here.
We used to think these equated to annual growth rings,
like those we find on trees.
It may or may not be the case,
these are clearly periods where the animals are growing more quickly
because it's finding a lot more food.
And these can live up to 20 years.
20 years, you wouldn't think it, would you?
That is, of course, unless they get caught.
There doesn't seem to be a lot of stuff in here that isn't scallops.
No, the odd swimmer crab and the odd starfish,
nothing of any consequence. The ones that are undersized, below 100ml go straight back.
Anything that looks a little bit dodgy, will be measured.
Anything that's not big enough will go back in.
Fishermen are involved in drawing up the map of these conservation zones
but Dave feels that no-one's really listening to them.
-Are you being bullied?
At the end of the day all of this has been decided behind closed doors.
Everybody can bleat all they like, it's going to happen and that's that.
Let's hope not all our fishermen friends are quite so gloomy.
To be honest with you, Lyme Bay has become a bit of a cause celebre
in the conservation world on account of
all of the animosity and bickering
we had to go through to get the ban in place.
So the big question is, of course,
has it actually paid off - has it worked?
The reefs are being monitored by Plymouth University researchers.
Two years on from the ban, this reef outside the closed area
is still being fished and the seabed is bare.
There's little sign of any life.
Inside, where the dredging's stopped, it's different.
Look, wonderful sponges colonising the seabed,
a hungry crab is lured in by mackerel in the bait box
and there's a pink sea fan growing.
We have to say that's encouraging,
there are definitely signs of recovery there.
It's only through monitoring sites like this where fishing has been restricted
that we could then argue the case to create areas where there's absolutely no fishing at all.
What we are going to call, "no take zones."
Well, at the moment, there are only two "no take zones"
in all of the English waters
and I'm off to see how the oldest one, Lundy Island, is doing.
This granite outpost in the Bristol Channel
has been a marine nature reserve for 25 years.
Eight years ago, lobster potting and all other fishing,
was banned from the east coast of the island.
There's a carnival of life going on down there,
but let's not get too carried away.
Here we are on a misty morning but let's be clear from the start
we haven't come here to celebrate
a great British marine conservation success
because sadly the protected area is insignificantly small.
But it is tremendously valuable,
it has given us the opportunity to measure scientifically
the benefits of this "no take zone."
Monitoring over four years here showed a five-fold increase in lobster numbers.
but the scientist in charge says he saw little change in other species.
Part of the reason for the "no take zone" being set up
was a concern that the potting activity
was damaging other species of conservation importance
like pink sea fans and sponges and other soft corals
but we didn't find any evidence in the short period
that we were studying it that they were recovering.
But I have to say some of these effects of "no take zones"
can take 20 to 30 years to emerge.
We wouldn't expect some of these benefits to be instantly obvious.
That seems to make sense and, in fact, there's been no monitoring here for three years,
so our divers are going to see what they can find.
Cold damp, wet, that's the divers.
Warm tea, relatively warm clothes, comfortable on deck, that's me.
'We've got a lobster.'
See what you can get some shots of and I'll look forward to seeing it.
Meanwhile, we'll put the kettle on.
Despite my sarcasm, I'm itching to see what the divers have found down there.
Does this look like a rich, marine environment because it's a "no take zone"?
There's definitely more life in a concentrated area
than where I live out of Plymouth.
That was really good for me to see.
Look, guys, I know it was tough down there. It is March, not September.
It was a bit silty but we can see there is a richness of life.
Yeah, there's lots of life coming on all the rock.
That's a pink sea fan, which are very fragile and prone to damage.
Looking under the nooks and crannies is where you'll find your shellfish.
There's a little, juvenile, nosey lobster at this point.
OK, next up.
-This was a bigger fella.
A little bit more playful, this one. Hopefully he'll give us a turn.
He's probably about nine inches down the carapace.
It's really nice to see a good variety of sizes.
They're obviously growing and sticking in the environment.
It's coming out a treat. Look at that.
-A lovely blue colour in this one.
A nice orange antennae.
I know a lot of you at home are thinking,
"You know, what is this? You're showing us a lobster, this isn't sexy wildlife."
People come to Lundy to see puffins.
This is a fantastic animal, I have to say.
Lundy's seabeds are thriving, but getting a "no take zone" was an easy win,
it was already a marine nature reserve.
It won't be as easy where many more competing interests clash
and more jobs are at stake.
The only way you can resolve those debates is by doing these studies.
It would be helpful to have more, it would take out a lot of the heat.
A lot of it comes down to money, funding from Government.
But also having people in the Government agencies
that are scientifically minded, that they are aware that the decisions that designate these things
shouldn't be the end point of management, it should be the starting point
for science to evaluate the effects of the management.
The seas are undeniably rich
but if you add this to the UK's only other "no take zone"
they add up to less than seven square kilometres.
A mere drop in Britain's oceans.
Surely there has to be a middle ground between somewhere that's totally protected
and somewhere that's ravaged.
Hopefully it's going to be these marine conservations zones that we've been talking about.
There should be a whole ring of them appearing around the UK.
I'm off to a place that might be one of the first.
This is the beautiful Studland Bay in Dorset's Isle of Purbeck.
The water here is home to one of the country's most enigmatic
and delightful creatures, the spiny seahorse.
Given that they are such pin-up stars when it comes to marine creatures
you'd think looking after them was relatively easy.
But no. In fact, it's caused a right old controversy.
Surprisingly, for a fish, seahorses aren't very good swimmers.
They hang out in eel grass beds for something to hang on to
and it's here that they find their food.
Seahorses are protected by law, just like dormice or bats.
You harm one of these at your peril.
Yet here, seahorses are under constant threat.
It looks like the Caribbean,
just doesn't feel like it.
The seahorses knights in shiny black neoprene are Neil Garrick Maidment of the Seahorse Trust,
and campaigner Steve Trewhella.
What a strange couple of creatures I've discovered here.
Morning Neil, Steve.
Nice to see you, as ever.
-Not yet, but hopefully later on if we do another dive.
You say, "hopefully" but what number of animals are we talking about here?
On this site, probably a maximum of about 40 animals a year
which is a tiny population on such an amazing site.
-You mean 40 seahorses in total?
-Throughout the course of the year?
This site should actually have four times that amount of animals on it.
That's a very fragile population. It takes one little oil spill,
-one storm and it could wipe the whole lot out.
Is it habitat that's limiting the expansion of the species here?
Not at all, it's actually man problems again.
It's anchoring and mooring damage that's destroying the sea bed and the sea grass that the seahorses live in.
That's why the numbers are low here.
-That's not the case here?
-No, we're actually on sand here.
We have to go a little bit out. We'll get on a boat and toodle on out
-and show you what we're doing.
-Let's go and take a look.
Steve's going underwater to find evidence of the damage these heavy mooring chains are doing.
It's illegal to disturb the place of shelter of a seahorse.
So, the sea grass bed here is being disturbed
so it's actually disturbing the site of a protected species.
-What's it like?
-There's a big wear mark underneath the boat.
-Really damaged, yeah.
The chain goes around like the hands on a clock with the tide.
It'll slap the seabed every time it goes round with the tide.
It doesn't spare anything. It goes around in a big circle.
Why aren't the agencies that are responsible sorting it out?
It seems to have been going on for three, four, five years?
It's been going on every since the seahorses were protected on 6th April 2008.
Nobody has done a single thing to protect seahorses, in the wild, under water.
As if to prove the point, whilst we've been filming, a yacht has turned up and moored here
and this is within the sea grass area.
It's happening on a daily basis, even not in the peak of the season.
I suppose the skipper might argue he doesn't know the damage he's doing
and then we might say, "It's the conservationists' fault for not telling him".
Frankly, he shouldn't be able to moor here in the first place.
Many boat owners don't believe the moorings cause damage,
so a small voluntary, no-anchor zone is testing this.
Will a new conservation zone help? Steve's not optimistic.
We already have laws in place that aren't working.
Why should we believe the new ones will?
Many meetings later, will we have protection in place? It's unlikely.
If we can't get it right here, we're not going to get it right at all.
It is possible to get it right without a shadow of a doubt.
If only everyone was as passionate, then this problem would be solved.
This is a rare and wonderful creature
which could so easily be better protected.
But it's one small example of out of sight, out of mind.
Where I'm going next, there's a battle on a far bigger scale
at one of Europe's biggest harbours in Cornwall.
So, look, we are beginning to understand that many interests,
fishing, obviously, leisure as well, are coming into conflict with the aims of conservation
as it stands at the moment.
But occasionally individual development proposals can be difficult to reconcile
and there's one here in Falmouth.
A multi, multi-million-pound project to dredge and improve the port
for the alleged future prosperity of the entire town and region
and it's on hold, down to this.
Algae. I know what you're thinking.
This doesn't look it's best. It's dead.
But beneath me there's a living carpet of this algae,
called maerl. It's like a tropical coral reef
and the bay here is the largest UK outpost,
a nursery for a huge variety of animals and plants.
Maerl is also protected by European law
but even so, scallop fishing continued here
until the Marine Conservation Society stepped in to stop it.
This is a special area of conservation, so why wasn't it being protected?
That's one of the first questions. We've got the designation.
I'd have to say there's a weakness in the regulators,
the people who are officially tasked with managing,
potentially damaging activities
and damaging activities like scallop dredging that was occurring here until 2007/08.
We had to step in as a third party in an office in Ross-on-Wye
to manage an activity which was clearly damaging in Cornwall
because the local regulators didn't want to touch it.
That is outrageous.
The Marine Conservation Society is now lobbying for 30% of our coastal waters
to be closed to all fishing.
But they're nowhere near winning that argument.
We feel that not more than 0.5% of our waters will be no take.
0.5% of the UK's waters could become no take?
OK, to achieve that, then, I would argue we need far greater public support.
You need the public behind you
so you can go and say, this is what people want.
Yeah, and we need them to be frustrated and angry
about the current state of affairs.
We are destroying a renewable resource that we could have on our plates for eternity.
It's just bad management. We do need angry people out there.
Can you be frustrated and angry?
Hearing all of this I can do it really easily.
I was soothed, though, by the surprise arrival of Miles Hoskin,
our Lundy lobster expert, with a real treat.
So this is the stuff, Jean Luc, that we're talking about.
You can imagine how wonderful that is for critters to live in,
molluscs, snails, shrimps,
tiny crabs, all these are food for a multitude of species
and fantastic for recruitment and life.
Once neglected, now protected, I'm very pleased to see the little guy,
the thing at the bottom of the food chain has got the protection that it needs,
not only here, but in European terms and if we can look after little things like this
then our ambition for more glamorous species
at the top of the food chain might be realised as well.
Miles, what can I say, it's best delivery I've ever had.
It was phenomenal!
I'll be talking about it for years.
Thank you very much, indeed. Cheers!
And our glamour guys are, of course, dolphins.
Curious, intelligent, beautiful, dolphins delight us all.
They're a real T-shirt animal and without dolphins, we would be very much poorer.
And, sadly, today I am without dolphins.
In five hours at sea I've seen nothing but gulls.
The thing is we're looking for a few slippery needles in a giant, wet haystack.
The population of these animals in the Channel is so low.
And yet 100, 150 years ago,
this place would have had lots and lots of dolphins.
But not today.
While the new protected areas will stretch 200 miles out into international waters,
where the dolphins live, they won't be specifically protected,
nor will our seabirds, or the fish that we eat.
Instead, the aim is to create a coherent network
of nationally important habitats.
For this to work, to get populations of creatures like dolphins back to the levels that we might aspire to,
we need a healthy marine ecosystem, and to get that,
we need effective, well-thought-out, marine conservation.
This is the sharp end, tomorrow this'll be on your plate.
To some, this bounty is evidence of heedless exploitation.
To others, it's proof there's still plenty of fish in the sea.
Here they are look, Dave's scallops,
and there are ten dozen in every box and I've counted 49 boxes.
He'll be hoping for a good price, of course.
Conservationists and fishermen say they want the same thing,
sustainable fish stocks and a thriving business.
But as industry negotiator Nick Prust tells me,
the Lyme Bay ban created suspicion and this doesn't bode well
when it comes to the new marine conservation zones.
We're just seen to be
rapists and pillagers of the sea and that's not the case.
There are some 21 zones to my knowledge
from Poole to Milford Haven.
They're not required.
There's no reasoning, no scientific reasoning for those areas to be put in.
If there are put in and "no take zones" are designated within them,
do you think the fishermen will respect those?
I don't know.
I think we've got to work to try to get them stopped.
The minister who's balancing all the competing interests admits, inevitably, there will be losers.
He says that fishermen need to look to the future.
If they're constantly battered and beaten into a corner,
then what we're trying to do will lack credibility.
We've got to work with them.
Yes, we've got to enforce them. We've got the means of doing that.
They have to part of the solution.
Then they will work with conservationists and government
to make sure what we're trying to protect is protected.
That's important because then their children and grandchildren will be able to carry on fishing.
I want to create is a sustainable future for them
because we've got a sustainable ecosystem in the sea
where they operate.
So, at the end of my quest, are my hopes raised, or on the rocks?
It might surprise you but I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for those fishermen.
They've been at the rough end of a rusty stick for a long time
and when they accuse certain conservationists of being a bit arrogant, self righteous,
well, I can sympathise there, too, because I see that sadly in some aspects of conservation.
Come on, guys, this is not the time for finger wagging
when it comes to peoples' livelihoods.
You night expect my sympathy to run a bit thin
when fishermen clearly have no understanding of ecosystems
of the real marine environment
but I could still turn that back to us
and say that we haven't done our job to educate them,
and I'm not being patronising, as to how it actually works.
Where my sympathy runs thin, though, is with those leisure users
because livelihoods aren't at stake there.
That's about a G&T on a Sunday afternoon.
So, come on, let's sort it out for the seahorses.
Ultimately, am I optimistic or pessimistic?
Well, true, we've got our new MCZs just over the horizon
but will they be properly monitored, properly regulated?
I've got my doubts.
Beyond that, I have to be optimistic
because if we don't look after this environment,
we ourselves will be in big trouble.
For the moment, though, the best I can offer is this.
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