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Marine milestone: Dolphin Head designated highly protected area

By Weald to Waves - 05 July 2023

We are thrilled to share that an area spanning 508kmĀ² off the Sussex coast is set to receive unprecedented protection as a Highly Protected Marine Area. According to a recent report from Defra, Dolphin Head, situated 55km south of Selsey Bill, is among the three UK areas selected to encourage the full recovery of marine ecosystems. This status offers the highest levels of protection in our British seas.

Dolphin Head boasts incredible diversity, attracting numerous seabirds, such as the common guillemot, lesser black-backed gull and northern gannet. The grey seal and harbour porpoise are also likely to use this area. Rocky reefs provide a home for a wide array of small marine creatures. Additionally, the area hosts regionally threatened fish species like undulate rays.

Despite its high biodiversity and importance for threatened species, Dolphin Head is currently in a "relatively degraded state" due to human impacts, particularly affecting animal-dominated rocky reefs and coarse/mixed sediment habitats.

This delicate ecosystem is susceptible to the effects of dredging and trawling, which can lead to a drastic decline in marine life populations. To protect the area's biodiversity and allow ecosystems to recover, Defra believes that establishing a Highly Protected Marina Area is crucial. This designation will prevent overfishing and provide a much-needed opportunity for species like the thornback ray to recover.

The protected status will safeguard the feeding and nursery grounds of vital commercial fish species and also support the recovery of ecologically important species. Cod, herring, plaice, and other species will benefit from this significant conservation effort.

This initiative is a major step forward in preserving the richness and resilience of our marine ecosystems. But there is more work to do. Currently, 40% of English seas have been afforded some form of protected status, but these designations are limited and do not automatically prevent the most damaging activity, such as commercial fishing, offshore development and cabling. Only 0.4% of English waters have the higher marine protection now afforded to Dolphin Head. Weald to Waves supports the call of our colleagues at the Wildlife Trust to push for greater protection for our marinescapes here in Sussex and beyond.

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