Meet the weird and wonderful creatures of Dogger Bank
From puffins and seals to the bizarre ‘fried-egg’ nudibranch, this shallow patch of ocean is packed with amazing animals. And with new proposals to ban destructive fishing in the area, there’s new hope for the sea life of Dogger Bank.
Located about 100 km off the east coast of England, Dogger Bank is a large shallow area in the North Sea. It was once part of a landmass known as Doggerland, connecting Europe and the British Isles during the last ice age. Scientists think stone age humans would have once hunted wooly mammoths in this area.
Today, the long-submerged Dogger Bank is home to some very different residents. Unusually, Dogger Bank’s waters are rich in tiny floating plants called phytoplankton all year round, providing a perfect feeding ground for a variety of birds and sea creatures.
Dogger Bank is being trashed by industrial fishing
But the same things that make Dogger Bank a wildlife hotspot also make it a target for the fishing industry. Dogger Bank has long been known as a fishing area, but the rise of huge industrial fishing ships that can pull up hundreds of tonnes of fish a day has caused huge damage to the ecosystem.
The Short-snouted Seahorse is typically found on the bottoms of rocks, in seaweed or in the edge of seagrass beds in shallow muddy water. It can only be found in waters that are up to 77 metres deep. Hans Hillewaert (CC BY-SA 4.0)
It’s protected in theory, but not in practice
Dogger Bank is officially designated as a ‘Marine Protected Area’, but sadly that doesn’t mean much in practice. Industrial fishing is perfectly legal inside the so-called protected area, and the government’s own reports don’t have any information on whether it’s achieving its conservation goals.
Ocean campaigners call supposedly protected areas like this ‘paper parks’, because their protection only exists on paper.
Right now, most of the UK’s offshore Marine Protected Areas are ‘paper parks’. But that might be about to change.
The fried egg sea slug, more properly known as diaphorodoris luteocincta is a tiny nudibranch (it grows up to 11mm long) that loves the silty rock and shallow waters of Dogger Bank. Its colouring is unique among the sea slugs found around the British Isles. The scent receptors on its unicorn-like tentacles allow it to smell food. Bernard Picton (CC BY-SA 4.0)
After decades of campaigning, there’s new hope for Dogger Bank
Greenpeace and other organisations have been working to protect Dogger Bank for decades, but recently we’ve stepped things up. In 2020, Greenpeace activists placed dozens of large boulders on the sea floor around part of Dogger Bank, creating a 47 square mile ‘boulder barrier’ where industrial fishing ships can’t drag their nets along the seabed – a technique known as bottom trawling.
The thornback ray likes to bury itself in Dogger Bank’s seabed sediment during the day and comes out at dusk to hunt. The powerful jaws allow him to crush the shell of crustaceans with ease. Despite its ghostly appearance, the thornback is a serious beast. It can weigh up to 18 kg and live for 15 years.
At the same time, over 350,000 people joined the campaign for better ocean protection, putting pressure on MPs and ministers to stop destructive fishing in places like Dogger Bank.
A few months later, the government proposed a total ban on bottom trawling in the Dogger Bank Marine Protected Area, plus new restrictions in three similar areas around the country. If they follow through on this proposal it’d be great news for Dogger Bank, but will still leave 94% of the UK’s so-called protected areas offshore as a destructive fishing free-for-all.