Lyme Bay Reef Recovery: Long-term Monitoring Research

Lyme Bay is home to temperate reefs that provide structurally complex habitats for a biodiverse range of species, such as the protected pink sea fan (Eunicella verrucosa), ross coral (Pentapora foliacea) and King Scallop (Pecten maximus), making the reefs nationally important for both conservation and fisheries.. Concerns were first raised in the early 1990s, about the impacts of bottom-towed fishing in the area, such as scallop dredging and trawling.

Four areas totaling 22 kmwere closed to bottom trawling under voluntary agreements in 2001, which had varying degrees of success. In 2008, the Lyme Bay Marine Protected Area (MPA) was designated under a Statutory Instrument (SI), protecting 206 kmof seabed from bottom-towed fishing. Since then, the University of Plymouth aMER group have monitored the recovery of species and habitats in the area, spanning several project iterations and creating the most comprehensive ecological dataset for MPA monitoring in the UK.

In the 14 years since its implementation, aMER have assessed the areas recovery using a variety of video equipment, including annual towed flying array (TUV), baited camera (BRUV) and soil grab samples to monitor benthic, pelagic and infauna species. Through these interdisciplinary annual surveys, the team have compiled the most in-depth datasets for temperate reef ecosystems in the UK.

The positive results of the monitoring programme have played an integral role in the continued implementation of the protection zone, widely considered as both a national marine biodiversity hotspot and an important blueprint for future UK and international marine protected area policy.

The annual Lyme Bay Long Term Monitoring Project was first funded by DEFRA and Natural England and has received significant European Martitime Fisheries Funding through projects such as RETURN and Recover-Reef. The impacts of extreme storm events in 2014 were monitored using funding from NERC, The Pig Shed Trust and the local fisheries through the South West Fish Producers Organisation. Natural England has continued to support the monitoring throughout and is now part of a collaborative long-term funding collaboration with DEFRA, BLUE and the University of Plymouth. The continued monitoring, provides essential evidence on MPA management effectiveness and the sustainability of the fishing practices that operate inside the MPA.

Select publications from aMER research in Lyme Bay

Davies BFR, Holmes LA, Bicknell A, Attrill MJ, Sheehan EV (2021) A Decade Implementing Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management Improves Diversity of Taxa and Traits Within a Marine Protected Area in the UK. Diversity and Distributions. 00, 1-16.

Davies BFR, Holmes LA, Rees A, Attrill MJ, Cartwright A & Sheehan EV (2021). Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management Works – how switching from mobile to static fishing gear improves populations of fished and non-fished species inside a Marine Protected Area. Journal of Applied Ecology

Sheehan EV, Holmes LA, Davies BFR, Cartwright A, Rees A, Attrill MJ (2021) Rewilding of Protected Areas Enhances Resilience of Marine Ecosystems to Extreme Climatic Events. Frontiers in Marine Science

Rees SE, Sheehan EV, Stewart BD, Clark R, Appleby T, Attrill MJ, Jones PJS, Johnson D, Bradshaw N, Pittman S, Oates J, Solandt J-L (2020) Emerging themes to support ambitious UK marine biodiversity conservation. Marine Policy 117: 103864

Davies BFR, Attrill MJ, Holmes LA, Rees A, Witt MJ, Sheehan EV (2020) Acoustic Complexity Index to assess benthic biodiversity of a partially protected area in the Southwest of the UK. Ecological Indicators 111: 106019doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2019.106019

Davies P, Sheehan EV (2019) Laser chasing behaviour of wild fishes exploited as a tool to compare space use between size, sex and species. Journal of Applied Ichthyology 35: 1225-1233. doi: 10.1111/jai.13982

Rodríguez-Rodríguez D, Rees S, Mannaerts G, Sciberras M, Piried C, Black G, Aulert C, Sheehan EV, Carrierb S, Attrill MJ (2015) Status of the marine protected area network across the English channel (La Manche): Cross-country similarities and differences in MPA designation, management and monitoring. Marine Policy 51: 536–546. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2014.09.021

Stevens TF, Sheehan, Gall SC, Fowell SC, Attrill MJ (2014) Monitoring benthic biodiversity restoration in Lyme Bay marine protected area: Design, sampling and analysis. Marine Policy 45: 310-317. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2013.09.006

Sheehan EV, TF Stevens, SC Gall, SL Cousens, MJ Attrill (2013) Recovery of a Temperate Reef Assemblage in a Marine Protected Area following the Exclusion of Towed Demersal Fishing. PloS ONE 8: e83883. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083883

Sheehan EV, SL Cousens, SJ Nancollas, C Stauss, J Royle, MJ Attrill (2013) Drawing lines at the sand: Evidence for functional vs. visual reef boundaries in temperate Marine Protected Areas. Marine pollution bulletin 76: 194-202. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2013.09.004

Rees SE, Sheehan EV, Jackson EL, Gall SC, Cousens SL, Solandt JL, Boyer M, Attrill MJ (2013) A legal and ecological perspective of ‘site integrity’ to inform policy development and management of Special Areas of Conservation in Europe. Marine pollution bulletin 72:14-21. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2013.03.036