Since 2008 Dr Emma Sheehan, Professor Attrill, and a host of students and research assistants have monitored the return of life to the reef after years of bottom towed fishing. By ‘flying’ a towed high-definition camera above the seabed, they have been able to paint a picture that is informing management and monitoring strategies for future MPAs in the UK and other temperate regions.
One of the most important discoveries to emerge from Lyme Bay is the role that sandy areas play in providing key habitats for species. As contained in their paper 'Drawing Lines at the Sand', the sand and gravel beds within MPAs are often not covered by EU legislation – with protected status usually confined to the rocks and reefs that boast very visual populations of marine life.
“It is something of an ‘inconvenient discovery’ for many that these inter-reef areas are not only important to animals, such as crabs and lobsters, who bury themselves in it, but also provide habitat for sessile, habitat building, typically reef associated species, such as sponges and sea fans,” Emma says.
“When we first began taking video transects in 2008, these sessile reef-associated species simply weren’t there. But by 2011, the increased abundance of these species, suggested that these sandy areas were in fact sediment veneers on rock, indicating that the reefs extend much further than previously thought”.
- Dr Emma Sheehan, Senior Research Fellow (Marine Institute), Plymouth University
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