Seahorse haven enjoys big cash boost

Studland Bay spiny seahorse (Seahorse Trust)
Studland Bay spiny seahorse (Seahorse Trust)

Protectors of a marine ecological hotspot in Dorset have received a significant boost with the award of £186,000 to the Studland Bay Marine Partnership (SBMP), a group that aims to prevent boat anchors from damaging a fragile underwater environment.

Studland Bay is home to the county’s most extensive seagrass meadow, a rare habitat for important species such as the spiny seahorse and endangered undulate ray.

The award, from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO)’s Fisheries & Seafood Scheme, has come about as the result of a successful funding bid by Dorset Council. It will contribute to a £248,000 conservation project to see 57 additional eco-moorings installed in the bay in 2024, a public awareness campaign and continuation of the SBMP’s research and monitoring programme.

Forty-three eco-moorings had already been installed in the bay by July, as reported on Divernet. An alternative to traditional anchoring, this type of mooring consists of a helical screw anchor driven into the seabed and attached to the buoy via an elastic rode.

The rode stretches at higher tides and contracts at lower tides, avoiding scouring the seabed and disturbing the seagrass.

Eco-mooring buoy
Eco-mooring buoy (boatfolk)

“I’m delighted the partnership has received such a significant funding boost, allowing the vital work to install eco-moorings at Studland Bay to continue,” said Seahorse Trust executive director and diver Neil Garrick-Maidment.

“This project was designed to ensure that the seahorses living among the seagrass are protected, as the eco-moorings create much-needed breathing space allowing the habitat to regenerate. The seahorse is such a unique species that we’re lucky to have in UK waters and we must do all we can to protect them.”

Voluntary no-anchor zone

The MMO established a voluntary no-anchor zone in Studland Bay in 2021, which is when the partnership was set up to balance eco-protection with the needs of water and boat-users, made up of local conservation and boating groups, academics, community groups and local businesses.

The funds will continue a public engagement programme led by the Dorset Coast Forum throughout 2024 and beyond, says the SBMP.

 “The Fisheries & Seafood Scheme has been designed specifically to support these types of innovative projects,” said MMO deputy CEO Michelle Willis.

“In Studland Bay, the seagrass plays a vital role in the marine ecosystem, providing a safe nursery and breeding ground for a range of marine wildlife, including rare species of spiny seahorse, pipefish and rays, as well as those of significant commercial value such as sea bream, bass and flatfish.

“By supporting projects which will help to protect and recover Studland’s seagrass beds for the future, we’re delivering on our commitment to protect our precious marine environment, support economic growth and enable sustainable marine development.’’

Also on Divernet: £66k raised to protect Studland seagrassEco-moorings can protect Studland's seahorsesSpiny pay-off from seagrass projectPolice probe damage to star-dive Valentine tank

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