Basking for trouble...

Basking shark feeding near Penzance, which can be found in the Irish sea
Basking shark feeding near Penzance, which can be found in the Irish sea
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BLACKPOOL’S sea water is not the cleanest. This much we know.

But did you know the Irish Sea, that vast brown expanse so often mocked by visitors or southerners, is brown for good reason?

Far from being dirty, the sea is brown due to the vast amount of food it carries for the inhabitants of the water. The food and silt in the water give it that seemingly horrible hue - until a winter sunset momentarily basks it in glorious sunlight, that is.

In fact we live next door to a giant nature reserve, filled with a variety of mammals, crustaceans and fish. Its sea bed is a carpet rich in wildlife. As such, say conservationists from The North West Wildlife Trust, it should be cherished by the residents of the Fylde coast.

The battle for the high seas is commencing on dry land this month as people are invited to sign a petition to the Government.

Conservationists from the Wildlife Trust met last week to discuss a campaign urging the Government to approve the introduction of 127 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in the UK’s coastal waters.

Alan Wright, from the Wildlife Trust, a self-confessed enthusiast about marine life, said: “We want people to help us support these areas. It’s the colour it is because it’s teeming full of food, plankton, and basking sharks (pictured) to eat it.

“Sadly, it’s been over-fished. MCZ would give some species the chance to get stronger.”

The zones, which would cover between 20 and 40 per cent of waters, are intended to protect and preserve the marine wildlife often unknown to us on land. Basking sharks, turtles, seals and porpoises are just some of the wildlife that can be seen off our shore.

A two-year study by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has found that coastal seas need to be protected to help marine life recover from decades of unsustainable use.

Dredgers and trawlers have damaged huge areas and needlessly killed thousands of fish.

Professor Callum Roberts, a professor of marine conservation, told the Trust: “In the 19th century the Irish Sea bed was crusted with oysters. Today it is not just different in the quantity of the wildlife, but also in the quality of the habitats.”

Prof Roberts described areas off the Isle of Man, which have never been dredged, as “carpeted with life”.

Under MCZ plans, areas deemed important to conserve the diversity of rare, threatened and representative habitats and species will be protected.

More areas like the Isle of Man are needed. Three of the 127 proposed MCZs are in the Wyre estuary, Ribble estuary and Fylde offshore.

It’s feared the £10m DEFRA study will have been wasted if the Government falters under pressure from fishing and other marine industries and all MCZs are not put in place. That pressure could mean less than 40 of the MCZ could be approved.

DEFRA has said that “unlike other marine protected areas, MCZs will also take social and economic factors into account when identifying potential sites, alongside the best available scientific evidence”.

It is important, say experts from the Trust, for fishing industries and conservationists to find common ground.

However, fears have been raised by fishermen whose livelihoods depend on being able to fish freely in the Irish Sea.

Steve Welsh, 65, a fishermen based in Fleetwood, said: “I think the effectiveness of the MCZ scheme, for wildlife and fishermen, depends on what restrictions are put in place.”

Mr Welsh, who has fished in the waters for 40 years, said the right questions needed to be posed to the right people to secure realistic conservation zones which both preserve 
wildlife while protecting fishermen’s livelihoods.

Mr Welsh says that while he supports the proposed conservation zones in the Wyre and Ribble estuaries, the proposed offshore zone will cause problems for fishermen.

He is afraid that stopping fishing could kill off certain species entirely, the lifecycles of which are aided by fishing.

He added: “I have a vested interest in protecting the seabed myself. I know every inch of that sea and how it changes through the year. It’s hard enough surviving at the moment, without restrictions in place.”

Residents can support the sustainability of the Fylde coast’s water and Irish Sea without putting pen to paper for the petition.

Why not try ordering mullet, herring or flounder for your supper tonight? Such a small change to your eating habits will mean less pressure on the cod and haddock populations which are so over-fished off our coast.

Mr Wright added: “Marine conservation can start at home. Eat more sensibly and make sure you don’t litter the beach, to protect this huge nature reserve we don’t know a lot about.”