Studland Bay rMCZ has breeding seahorses, but MMO declines to regulate yacht mooring

BBC News, 11th April 2016, reports: Fresh calls have been made for “environmentally friendly moorings” to be used off the Dorset coast in a bid to increase seahorse population.

The appeal by the Seahorse Trust comes after about 50 short-snouted seahorses were discovered recently off Bournemouth, which it described as “absolutely incredible”. In total, 20 were sighted off Dorset last year.

Trial moorings at Studland Bay were put on hold in 2013.

Neil Garrick-Maidment, director of the Seahorse Trust, said the recent find by a local fisherman had been particularly “fascinating” because many of the short-snouted seahorses were “sub-adults” or juveniles which suggested they had survived the winter and were about six months old.

In a bid to protect short-snouted and also spiny seahorses, which are found in the seagrass beds of Studland Bay, he said moorings which “stop dragging on the sea bed, stop destroying seagrass but still allow boats to tie out” needed to be used.

So-called environmentally or eco-friendly boat moorings often use bungee-type rope instead of chains, which Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) also said “scour” the seabed.

However, Mr Garrick-Maidment said the move was “controversial” as some boaters opposed the idea.

DWT had proposed trialling new moorings at Studland in 2013, but both the DWT and Seahorse Trust said plans were put on hold by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).

In 2008, about 40 seahorses were recorded on the seahorse study site at South Beach, Studland Bay, but none have been spotted there since 2013, Mr Garrick-Maidment said.

He added authorities needed to do more to protect both short snouted and spiny species which were protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in 2008.

The MMO said it worked “within the parameters of the legislation” but added Studland was not in a marine protected area and therefore it had no powers to develop by-laws to prohibit activities in this area.

“The routine anchoring of yachts in Studland Bay is not an unlawful activity,” it added.

Source: BBC News, 11th April 2016. For the full text, see

Marinet observes: Studland Bay is a recommended Marine Conservation Zone (rMCZ). It was one of 37 being considered by Defra in the “second tranche” of MCZMCZ Marine Conservation Zone designations in 2015, but Defra decided to omit it.

Its omission was much regretted by the Wildlife Trusts and similarly by the Marine Conservation Society and National Trust and the time of its omission.

Studland Bay has dense seagrass meadows which are the natural habitat of seahorses, and these seagrass meadows can be easily damaged by yachts when they drag their anchors.

Studland Bay is the only known breeding ground in the UK for the long-snouted seahorse which is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Studland Bay also supports pipefishes, wrasses, and juvenile sea bass, bream and flatfish. The native oyster lives there, as do hermit crabs and the masked crab.

The refusal of the MMO to protect the area by assisting in the regulation of yacht moorings is puzzling. In the case of the rMCZ at Goodwin Sands near Dover, Kent, Natural England has informed the Dover Harbour Company which wants to expand Dover Harbour and to dredge the Goodwin Sands for sand as a building material that it must evaluate the impact on Goodwin Sands as if it were already a designated MCZ.

Why therefore cannot the MMO act similarly in the case of Studland Bay, the only known breeding site for seahorses in the UK?

Studland Bay recommended MCZ is located in the map below.

Contains UKHO Law of the Sea data. Crown copyright and database right and contains Ordnance Survey Data Crown copyright and database 2012

Contains UKHO Law of the Sea data. Crown copyright and database right and contains Ordnance Survey Data Crown copyright and database 2012

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