Highs and lows for Northumberland marine life in 2023

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The Wildlife Trusts’ annual round-up of life in UK seas presents tales of hope and heartache through spectacular encounters, conservation successes and challenges for marine and coastal wildlife.

In this region, new legal protection offered hope for the sea with 2023 being a historic year for marine conservation as the first ever Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) were designated in English waters. Three areas were designated HPMAs including North-East of Farnes Deep in the North Sea which is now protected from all damaging activities.

Northumberland Wildlife Trust welcomes the designations but warns that these only cover 0.4% of English seas - and many more HPMAs are needed to protect marine wildlife and tackle climate change.

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2023 also saw the reintroduction of 10,000 native oyster to a reef off Tyneside, however, on the down side, the worldwide pandemic of avian flu continued to devastate UK seabirds including birds in this region and, whilst there are signs that some birds are showing immunity, vast numbers were lost.

Seal pup. Picture: Lara HoweSeal pup. Picture: Lara Howe
Seal pup. Picture: Lara Howe

Pollutionfromsewage, plastic and industry continues to challenge marine wildlife on shore and at sea. With this in mind, the wildlife charity has been actively promoting marine conservation through its National Marine Week events and Eco Influencer project in Amble which has seen members of the Amble Youth Project collecting litter to create a sculpture of a dolphin to display in the local area as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the negative impact waste pollution has on the marine environment.

Duncan Hutt, Northumberland Wildlife Trust Director of Conservation says: “2023 has been an historic year for marine conservation with the creation of the first Highly Protected Marine Areas in English waters. This is a huge milestone which was achieved thanks to years of campaigning by our sea-loving supporters. This new gold-standard of protection will stop all damaging activities such as trawling and enables marine wildlife to recover, benefiting fishers and carbon storing habitats. These special places cover less than half a percent of English seas - so it’s a tiny first step towards more designations.

“Regulation is vital for protecting the natural world and reversing wildlife declines. The end of commercial whaling has brought humpbacks and fin whales back to UK waters, and measures to protect bluefin tuna has led to a spike in sightings. This fantastic fish has returned from the brink of extinction and the risk of decimating the population for a second time remains high - so it is vital that commercial fishing quotas are set realistically and rigorously enforced. When we give nature space, wildlife can recover - it’s as simple as that. We must act faster to protect the UK target of 30% of seas by 2030.”