Secret life of the sea

(use small - low res) living seas - Cheryl Nicholson of Living Seas Irish Sea website
(use small - low res) living seas - Cheryl Nicholson of Living Seas Irish Sea website

It’s easier to access than outer space and just as mysterious – one of the last great and generally unexplored “wildernesses”. Just a wet one!

Welcome to the Irish Sea. It’s the stranger on the shore to most of us, even when we live with the sight, sound, scent and sheer experience of the sea daily.

But just what’s beneath those waves – and isn’t it time we started waiving the rules and safeguarding it from environmental threats?

Ongoing regeneration of sea defences, transforming them from predominantly functional to something far more splendid, is part of that sea change.

Installing public buildings, rather than merely piers and the occasional hotel, directly overlooking the sea is another step in the right direction.

Festival House, on the royal visit route by Prince Edward next Tuesday, unites wedding venue and tourist information under one roof, albeit a bizarre one. And the view of the sea is at the heart of all that’s offered there.

In Wyre, the award-winning seafront has gathered awards and also galvanised locals into acting to protect their patch of seafront – Rossall residents’ association blazing that beach trail but with writers and poets and artists reinforcing through words and pictures and art projects what the designers and architects and civil engineers have achieved.

And today a brand new website builds on all that and more. Living Seas Irish Sea (www.irishsea.org) delves into the depths and provides an insight into the rich and diverse wildlife.

It is the next best thing to putting out to sea in a boat or one of Fleetwood’s precious few trawlers or donning scuba gear and diving offshore.

The site is a hands-on interactive vision of just awaits out there, all the hidden wonders off our shore.

It also offers the chance for people to take part in activities which solve more of the mysteries of the sea.

Did you know that it covers 45,000km and is 300 metres down at its deepest point?

North West Wildlife Trust marine conservation officer Cheryl Nicholson explains: “Many people have an image of the Irish Sea as a dirty, lifeless sea but nothing could be further from the truth.

“Our sea is home to so many amazing species and habitats but sadly after centuries of neglect it is not in a good state. We must act now to protect the Irish Sea from the depths through to the coastal shallows.”

Some of the issues were highlighted by last year’s cockling klondyke, when the Lytham cockle beds opened and shut within days, the semi-industrial scale of the operation along with the numbers of amateurs involved highlighting the need for more stringent controls to protect man and safeguard marine and bird life.

The website is actively campaigning for the provision of Marine Conservation Zones in the Irish Sea. Cheryl points out: “Currently less than two per cent of the Irish Sea has any form of protection.

“Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are a new type of protected area and we need your support to make sure all 15 recommended MCZs are designated in the Irish Sea, providing a haven for wildlife to recover and thrive.

“If all recommended MCZs are introduced, this figure would go to 25 per cent making a dramatic and positive difference. Together we can do that.”

One of those proposed zones would cover 260 sq km from Blackpool to Southport and another offshore Fleetwood (Wyre Lune conservation).

Why the need? Look at the facts. At least 30 per cent of species of shark pass through the Irish Sea, including the enormous basking shark, the world’s second largest fish, which has been sighted off the Fylde coast.

About a dozen species of whale, dolphin and porpoise have been recorded in the Irish Sea – with several spotted locally.There are many diverse habitats including seagrass beds, rocky reefs, mud flats – home to sea urchins, Dublin Bay prawns and brittlestars – and honeycomb reefs made up of living worms.

Leatherback turtles visit the Irish Sea each summer in pursuit of swarms of jellyfish. Seals, which have been sighted locally too, are increasing in number. Birdlife, too.

Then there’s the mysterious Lune Deep, a 13-mile long, 85 metres deep underwater trench, likened to the Grand Canyon, just off Fleetwood, formed during the Ice Age 20,000 years ago. It plays a significant role in The Sea Swallow, the children’s book created by author Gareth Thompson, illustrator Hannah Megee and public artist Stephen Broadbent as part of Wyre Council’s Mythic Coast celebration.

Living Seas Irish Sea website unites coastal people of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man in protecting marine life. It also offers news and updates, events for children and adults, including sea and shore searches, walks, courses and diving expeditions over coming months.

jacqui.morley@blackpoolgazette.co.uk