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Page last updated at 11:32 GMT, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 12:32 UK
Divers and kayakers help wildlife
Sue Hendey, BBC Dorset
By Sue Paz
BBC Dorset

Dorset Seasearch diver
Divers will help to record sightings of sponges and coral

Dorset Wildlife Trust is enlisting the support of divers and kayakers to help with marine wildlife conservation.

Two new groups, one for divers and one for kayakers, have been set up to promote marine conservation in the county.

Kayak users and divers will be asked to record sighting of the species living underwater in Dorset.

The Dorset coast is well known for its diverse marine life, and has just been named as one of the best in Europe.

Kimmerage Bay
Bottlenose dolphins have been spotted near Kimmeridge Bay

Emma Rance is the marine officer based at Fine Foundation Marine Centre at Purbeck Marine Wildlife Reserve in Kimmeridge.

She said: "Kimmeridge is a real hot spot for divers and kayak users.

"We know that lots of people who enjoy water sports in the area want to know more about the wildlife that they see, and to help with its conservation.

"We came up with the idea of online groups to share the latest sightings and wildlife information."

Some of the latest sightings this year have been oceanic sunfish, bottlenose dolphins, skate, smooth hounds and dot dog fish [both are small inshore sharks].

Emma explained though that many other interesting species tend to get overlooked.

Emma said: "Divers can see sponges, corals and nudibranchs [a type of sea slug].

"We're keen for kayak users to spot surface species like jelly fish, but also things they might find when they're in inaccessible bays, such as washed up shark's eggs cases.

"They're all clues as to what lies beneath the water."

Emma Rance, Marine Centre Warden
Emma believes "it's a very exciting time" for Dorset's coastline

Emma is also keen for divers and kayakers to discover non-native species [ones which come from other countries across the world] during this project.

Emma said: "We want to find species that tell us a lot about our climate.

"They might be species that we already have here, ones that are well established, but their populations and abundance might fluctuate according to sea water temperature rise."

So is climate change affecting Dorset's marine life?

Emma said: "We are seeing a lot of changes, but without long term monitoring in the marine environment it's difficult to comment.

"Certainly with the onset of south westerly winds, which we get a lot of throughout the summer, all sorts of things are turning up.

"We've had Columbus crabs - they're very tiny, about an inch across - they're turning up on goose barnacles, which are animals attached to floating objects, and they come from as far as the Sargasso Sea [a region in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean].

"That's a huge distance they're travelling, and at the mercy of the wind and the waves.

"It's a very exciting time."

Kayakers at Kimmerage Bay
Andy and Lynette enjoy exploring Dorset in their kayaks

Andy Beaven and Lynette Fishlock have recently started kayaking in and around Kimmeridge Bay.

Andy said: "We're fairly new to it, but we've started doing it on a regular basis.

"We haven't seen a lot yet to be honest, but we spoke to some divers yesterday who had seen two or three really good shoals of mackerel."

Lynette, a former diver with 15 years experience, said: "We did some snorkelling yesterday and were quite shocked to see practically nothing.

"There was some pretty kelp, but I only spotted a couple of fish and that's it!

"In the past I've seen dogfish, spider crabs and dory-type fish.

"I don't know any statistics, as to whether it's 'over take' with fish or divers, or pollution, but there's definitely been a change.

Andy added: "It might simply have been that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"We do love the Dorset coast though.

"Everywhere round here is just beautiful."

The region has recently been put forward by Natural England as a draft Special Area of Conservation because of the high quality of its reef habitats.

Membership of the marine wildlife conservation groups is free and includes marine wildlife identification guides, a free presentation about Underwater Dorset and discount on membership of Dorset Wildlife Trust.

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