Plymouth Sound National Marine Park Long-term Monitoring Research

Plymouth’s coastal waters are home to a diverse array of habitats and wildlife, which underpin the city’s reputation as “Britain’s Ocean City” and its strong connection to the sea. The presence of unique marine features such as estuaries, reefs and salt meadows, led Plymouth Sound and the surrounding estuaries to be designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in 2005. Later, in 2021, these waters were nationally celebrated and became the UK’s first National Marine Park, creating a powerful opportunity for ocean engagement, education and conservation.

Beyond the boundaries of the Plymouth Sound, the Eddystone lighthouse lies 20km from shore. The Eddystone reef comprises a mountain range of dramatic pinnacles rising up from 50 metres to within 15 metres of the surface. The peaks of this reef system were targeted by trawling fisheries, until 2014, when the Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (CIFCA), prohibited the use of bottom-towed gear within the Start Point to Plymouth Sound & Eddystone SAC.

Through the PlymFish project, aMER has partnered with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) to establish a baseline of information about biodiversity and habitat health against which the effects of spatial management can be measured. This seven-year project has employed non-invasive video methods (towed and baited cameras) to assess species richness and abundance across various benthic features, including kelp forests, rocky reefs and seagrass beds.

So far, we have detected a range of fascinating species such as, thornback rays (Raja clavata), cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) and catsharks (Scyliorhinus canicula) taking advantage of the rich seagrass beds around Drake’s Island and Cawsand. Meanwhile, monitoring in Jennycliff Bay, the site of England’s largest seagrass bed restoration project, is aiding our understanding of this vast rewilding scheme and its ecosystem impacts.

Long-term monitoring is crucial to disentangle natural and human-driven changes in marine communities. Therefore, this project will play a key role in improving our understanding of Plymouth Sound’s unique combination of reserves, whilst getting aquatinted with our marine residents.