Promising future for underwater Eddystone
Eddystone - more than just a lighthouse
20km off the coast of South Devon and Cornwall lies the iconic Eddystone Lighthouse. Beneath the waves, too, there is a world of fantastic colours, rich biodiversity and spectacular reefs. The Eddystone reef is part of the Start Point to Plymouth Sound and Eddystone Special Area of Conservation, designated in 2010. Management measures were put in place in December 2013 to stop bottom towed fishing gears from using areas that are home to vulnerable species including deadmans fingers, sponges, ross corals and hydroids.
All good news - but just how do we find out what’s going on deeper than it’s safe for divers to go? Is the protection working?
We wanted to see how areas of the deep seabed are recovering since the scallop dredging and trawling stopped near the reef. By deploying ‘remote’ cameras and collecting photos, we are able to get the pictures analysed by experts at the University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus and learn more about what’s down there.Dr Jean-Luc Solandt,
Principal Specialist, MPAs
MCS received funding from The Pig Shed Trust in 2013 to record three years of change since trawling and dredging had been stopped at this iconic site down to those deep areas. We have received further funding from Princess Yachts in Plymouth to keep the surveillance going until the end of 2019.
The shallow rocks of the reef (where there are no scallops, and so no dredging goes on) are encrusted with millions of jewel anenomes and have extensively been surveyed by our Seasearch Divers. Above this ‘zone’ is an area covered by kelp seaweed that grows particularly well throughout the summer months. There are strong currents, and urchins constantly crop at the life on the rocks. Further down at 45 metres, Seasearch divers have recorded pink seafans, edible urchins, ‘sand hoovering’ sea cucumbers, sponges, hydroids, cup corals and starfish. These flatter areas of bedrock and boulders can be damaged by misplaced scallop dredging, so these types of areas have been included in the area protected from dredging and trawling.
But to monitor the really deep areas - around 50m, MCS has joined forces with the Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) to survey using remote camera equipment.
What’s down there?
Although it’s still relatively early days, the initial results are promising. Sponges, corals and bryozoans appear to be growing at greater densities in protected areas of flat reef, boulders and cobbles covered by thin sands than in parts that remain open to scallop dredging. These habitats around the base of the reef are protected by a 200 metre ring or ‘buffer area’, ensuring that any stray scallop gear remains far away from the reef. The UK government has given the IFCAs around England funding to purchase high resolution ‘sea spyder’ camera equipment to keep an eye on how things are changing in our newly protected MPAs. Cornwall IFCA purchased a bespoke vessel in 2014 for deploying camera and sonar equipment whilst the University brings its expertise of marine spatial ecology (what lives where and why).
The IFCA have seen the importance of this work and help by providing their officers, vessels and camera equipment. Analysis of the data is currently covered by The Pig Shed Trust and Princess Yachts, taking the research up to 2019. Without external funding, we can’t hire experts to publish the findings to makes the case for such protection measures. It’s vital that we keep this work going and replicate it at other sites that finally receive management measures.
1 - Eddystone lighthouse
The Eddystone lighthouse stands at the top of a submerged mountain chain of peaks reaching the surface from the deep (50-60m) seabed. The Marine Protected Area around these reefs was protected from scallop dredging and trawling in 2013.
2 - Image of the IFCA vessel deploying the camera
MCS is working with the local fisheries regulator (IFCA) of Cornwall to survey the deep seabed using remote camera equipment. We want to see how areas of the deep seabed (50m) are recovering since the scallop dredging and trawling has stopped near the reef. The waters are too deep for our Seasearch divers, so we need to deploy high resolution ‘remote’ cameras. Photographs of the seabed are analysed by experts at the University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus.
3- Looking up to the shallows from about 15m depth on the reef
The shallow reefs are encrusted with millions of jewel anemones and have extensively been surveyed by Seasearch. Above this ‘zone’ is an area covered by kelp that grow particularly well throughout the summer months. The currents and swell can be very strong in this area. Urchins constantly crop the life on the rocks. There’s no damaging scallop dredging or trawling in this area, because there are no scallops, and the fishing gear would get snagged.
4 - Deep reef
At the deepest safest diving depths (about 45m), divers record pink seafans, edible urchins, ‘sand hoovering’ sea cucumbers, sponges, hydroids, cup corals and starfish. These flatter areas of bedrock and boulders at the base of the pinnacles can be damaged by misplaced scallop dredging, so these types of areas have been included in the area protected from dredging and trawling.
5 - Near to the base of the reef
Sand, boulder and gravel areas around the base of the reef are protected by a 200m ring or ‘buffer area’, ensuring that any stray scallop gear remains far away from the reef. This area is showing some recovery of seabed life since the closure of the site to all forms of bottom towed fishing gear in 2013.
6 - Boat camera operating far away from the reef
Sand and gravel areas over 200m away from the base of the reef aren’t protected, and where there is scallop dredging, dead scallop shells litter the seabed. There appears to be less upright seabed life growing in this area compared to richer areas that are protected nearer to the reefs.
MCS is looking to continue monitoring our newly protected MPAs. We want to continue and expand this project to other areas, and using new techniques such as Baited Remote Underwater Video to see the fish that feed in such areas. It’s so important to see what MPAs can do, and this project brings a wonderful collaborative spirit to the region - a collective will to see what’s going on when we deliver well-managed MPAs. We need supporters and funders to see the importance of this work continued and developed into other areas. Can you help fund this and other projects? If you can, then please get in touch with us or make an online donation
In collaboration with:
Actions you can take
- Browse Marine Protected Areas
- Report your wildlife sightings
- Download the Eddystone Reef Analysis Report 2014-2015
Did you know?…
Over 500,000 records of undersea species and habitats have been collected by volunteer Seasearch divers
To the shelf limits, Scotland has 61% of UK waters, of which 23% are now in existing or new ‘marine protected areas’
The Eddystone area chart
See a large version of this chart