Living Seas – Solent and South Wight

Living Seas by Paul Naylor

The marine environment of the Solent and South Wight has a great number of habitats and species in a relatively small area. The estuaries and harbours are dominated by mud flats that are exposed at low tide and make rich feeding grounds for fish species such as mullet and bass, and for waders and wildfowl.

The shallow, soft sediment areas in the Solent are home to some of the most extensive eelgrass meadows in the country. In deeper waters much of the seabed is made up of sands, gravels and boulders which attract life that needs to attach to something more substantial including anemones, sponges and corals.

Whilst the Hampshire coast is mainly characterised by soft sediments, the Isle of Wight has significant amounts of chalk and limestone, notably around Freshwater and the Needles on the west and Bembridge and Culver on the east. These rocky areas form reefs with a variety of seabed habitats including outcrops and gullies. These sites have diverse seaweed communities and can attract shoals of fish such as bib.

Our vision is that, 20 years from now the marine environment is well regulated to ensure that activities carried out in these areas do not have a negative environmental impact and that Marine Protected Areas will cover at least 25% of our seas to ensure ongoing effective protection of the full range of marine habitats and species that occur in our waters.

Where it is

Our Solent and South Wight Living sea area stretches from Hengistbury Head in the west to Selsey Bill in the east, and from the coast out to the edge of UK jurisdiction at the Median Line.

This large sea area is a complex mosaic of different habitat types, from the soft muddy harbours and estuaries to offshore reef systems, although sands and gravels dominate.

What we are doing

  • We run survey programmes both in the intertidal area on the shore (Shoresearch) and beneath waves (Seasearch). Both these programmes use volunteers to gather data about our local habitats and wildlife.
  • We carry out detailed and targeted habitat and species surveys, including some for key habitats such as eelgrass.
  • We use our knowledge and the data collected from surveys to advocate and lobby for improved marine protection. We want to see a network of both Marine Protected Areas and Marine Conservation Zones.
  • We aim to inspire and inform members of the public about the wonderful world beneath the waves. We do this through awareness events, especially during Marine Week.

What would we like to do in the future?

  • Continue advocacy and lobbying to make sure Marine Protected Areas are in the right place and have robust and effective management.
  • Work with partner organisations and managers to collect better habitat and wildlife data. This will be used to assist with the management of protected sites.
  • Help develop a sustainable fisheries projects in which we will work with local fishermen, distributors and the public.