watched the stunning documentary series The
Blue Planet is awestruck by the beauty and diversity of life in the ocean.
But, I often felt that the spectacular colours, alien weirdness, and huge
creatures featured, were filmed in a sea far different from the one that crashes
against our cliffs and beaches. Boy, was I wrong.
Like a lot of divers, most of my time underwater has been spent abroad. I had a feeling that as well as being colder, our waters were gloomy and pretty barren. Then, last summer, I got the chance to take a proper, extended peek beneath our waves.
For four months I dived around the coast with explorer Paul Rose, marine
biologist Tooni Maahto and – crucially – some of the crack underwater cameramen
behind The Blue Planet, to film Britain’s Secret Seas.
What I saw made me realise that the Blue Planet starts here on our front door, just as near as the closest coastline. In a small, secluded bay near Penzance, I spent over an hour being circled by twelve 8-metre long sharks. For every fin that was visible on the surface, there were two or three cruising below.
They dwarfed the inflatable we’d come in, and no matter how many times you tell yourself that basking sharks are filter feeders, that silhouette screams Great White. Despite being the second-biggest fish in the sea, no-one knows much about the basking shark and so we couldn’t say for sure, but it looked very much like a courtship ritual that Paul, Tooni and I were witnessing.
Marine reserves magic
Walls of sunset cup corals and arrays of pink sea fans adorn Britain’s first
marine nature reserve, on Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, but it was up in
a secluded Scottish loch that I had one of my biggest surprises. No more than a
hundred metres from shore was a strange and alien reef built by Serpulid worms,
their casts leaving ethereal towers that reminded me of the life filmed at the
deep, hydrothermal vents in the mid-ocean. This is one of the only places in
the world that these creatures build such structures.
Given how busy British waters are, and how long they’ve been busy for with our nautical history, it seems a miracle that anything so delicate can survive. But it has. As have the playful pods of dolphins that seemed to join us wherever we were, not to mention the giant spider crabs, the minke whales, and the seahorses.
Save our Seas
This brings me to
the point of this post, and of the new TV series, in fact. The marine life in our
waters is amazing, but it’s merely a hint of what it could be (and once was).
To put it back on the path towards its past abundance and productivity, we need
a strong network of protected areas around our coast - Britain's own marine reserves.
This doesn’t mean putting all of our fishermen out of work. Far from it. It means ensuring the future of their industry by planning for the long-term. We need to take the time to invest in the future of our ocean, and over the next few months, the British public has a chance to help this happen.
Nationwide consultations on a new network of Marine Conservation Zones around our coast are drawing to a close in the next few months. Properly sited and enforced, just some fifty or so of these Conservation Zones can ensure the integrity of our marine ecosystems, linking and binding them together. But there are worrying signs that vested interests are eroding the network before it’s even been put in place.
The future of the marine environment shouldn’t be dictated solely by the few tens of thousands of people making money from them today. All of the sixty million people living in the UK will benefit from a revitalised ocean. But for them to care, Britain’s seas must be a secret no more.