Page last updated at 06:08 GMT, Tuesday, 20 April 2010 07:08 UK

Sea change at Skomer Island's underwater reserve

Underwater life in the Skomer Marine Nature Reserve
The Skomer Island Marine Nature Reserve is home to hundreds of different species of underwater wildlife. Image: Countryside Council for Wales

Where as many divers used to plunge in to the waters off Skomer Island armed with crab hooks, today they are far more likely to carry digital cameras.

Conservationists say they have seen a sea change in attitudes to preserving the wildlife since it was first made a marine nature reserve 20 years ago.

It is home to hundreds of species from seals and coral to fish and sea slugs.

Those charged with protecting the area say one day they hope to have more powers but real progress has been made.

Phil Newman was one of the first conservation officers to be appointed after it was officially made a reserve in 1990.

He remains one of a small team whose job it is to both protect the environment below the surface and study it.

"Part of the job is what would traditionally be called nature reserve wardens - keeping an eye out, talking to people who use the reserve and raising awareness," he said.

20 years at Skomer MNR
Underwater life in the Skomer Marine Nature Reserve
Species studies range from over 90 types of sponges to tiny, colourful sea slugs and graceful, slow-growing seafans
Staff have followed the fate of more than 3,700 seal pups
More than 145,000 people have visited the exhibition at Martin's Haven
Winds of over 110 mph and waves over 13 metres high have been measured
Scallops, which are protected from all forms of fishing in the MNR, have increased at least four fold and possibly more than eight fold
More than 40,000 divers have explored the MNR - either for pleasure or to contribute to the survey and monitoring work
Source: Countryside Council of Wales

"Most visitors to Skomer are pretty good and pretty much on board with what we are trying to do."

He said while the fact it was a reserve meant dredging and many types of fishing were outlawed, a lot of the rules were voluntary so they relied on the cooperation of divers, boaters, canoeists and fishermen.

"We ask politely rather than tell them," he added.

"Twenty years ago we would get a lot of divers with crab hooks - now most have digital underwater cameras.

"Changes in attitudes have happened."

He said the other part of his job involved monitoring and studying the many different species living within the reserve.

The aim is to both keep tabs on the health of the marine environment around Skomer and also the effects of issues such as climate change.

He believes that the last 20 years has seen an increase in awareness of the variety of sea life off Pembrokeshire.

"Because Skomer sticks out into the Irish Sea it is exposed to huge waves and all the weather the north east Atlantic can throw at it on one side but on the other side it is very sheltered.

"This together with the geology... and the tidal range... means there is a huge difference in habitats and different species.

"I think people generally are stating to realise Britain's waters are not grey and dull.

"I think we've done our little bit in bringing some of that colour to the surface."

Fish stocks

Last year it was announced Skomer would be the first marine site in Wales to be protected by new assembly government powers.

It will become a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) which may lead to greater powers to preserve its habitats and eventually replenish fish stocks.

Morgan Parry, chairman of the Countryside Council for Wales, said: "With climate change and other challenges facing the marine environment, it is more important than ever that Skomer continues to flourish as a place of learning and conservation."



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SEE ALSO
New protection for island coast
16 Sep 09 |  South West Wales
Campaign to protect Skomer coast
30 Aug 07 |  South West Wales

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