Testing resilience in Marine Protected Areas using storm disturbance in Lyme Bay, SW England

Lead Research Organisation: University of Plymouth
Department Name: Marine Institute

Abstract

Resilience, namely how an ecosystem can absorb disturbance and how quickly it can recover, is a key component of ecosystem health. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are the major tool for marine conservation management to help provide such resilience. It is perceived that MPAs increase the resilience of ecosystems to natural and anthropogenic stressors, for example against the effects of climate change, by having a wider range of organisms within the MPA that can provide the necessary ecosystem functions. In such a system, if one species is lost others will be available to maintain that function. This ecosystem resilience has two aspects: capacity to tolerate disturbance (known as sensitivity or resistance) and ability to rebuild after a disturbance when necessary (recovery). Resistance can be viewed as the ability of an ecosystem to absorb disturbance before changing its structure, while recovery relates to the rate of return to a steady state following perturbation. Although much has been discussed about the resilience value of MPAs and their networks (primarily in the tropics), it is difficult to formally test due to the inherent role of MPAs to protect habitats from disturbance, and the need for extensive pre-disturbance baseline data.

A great opportunity has arisen to assess this claim of MPA resilience and test whether resilience increases with MPA age (and thus period of protection). During January and February 2014, a series of storms swept the North Atlantic, generating some of the highest waves ever recorded in Western Europe with exceptionally long wave periods. The south-west coasts of the UK were heavily impacted by these storms, including Lyme Bay, an area which includes the UK's first large MPA designated in 2008 to exclude towed fishing gear from a 206 km2 area in order to protect high-biodiversity reef systems (including species like Pink Sea Fans and Ross Coral that provide habitat for many different species such as young fishes and scallops). Prior to this designation, smaller voluntary closures existed and subsequently in 2012 the MPA was enlarged when it became a Special Area of Conservation. Since 2008 the seabed has been monitored to assess its recovery, providing a unique baseline data set. We therefore have a range of times since protection, plus areas still fished, from which we have a very good understanding of the seabed animals in order to explore how the major natural disturbance caused by the unparalleled storm activity has affected the seabed.

Using a towed underwater flying HD video camera along 200 m transects, we will survey 60 sites across four different levels of MPA protection, using locations that have been monitored over the previous 5 years to allow pre-storm comparison. We will analyse the videos for the whole transect to record the number of important functional group indicator organisms present and also a more detailed analysis of 30 frame grabs per transect; indicator species will also be measured to see any change in size over time. From this analysis we will be able to assess the functional diversity of all these sites after the storm damage and compare it with pre-storm surveys, thus assessing whether sites that have been protected longer, and with higher overall diversity, are more resilient to this major natural disturbance.

The results will be important for aiding our understanding of how such seabed communities are impacted by natural disturbance, how resilient these communities are and how much difference protection within a MPA makes to boosting this resilience. As this has consequences for marine conservation, management and fisheries policy, the results are of great value for organisations such as Natural England, local Fisheries Associations and conservation charities who are partners in this project.

Planned Impact

Lyme Bay is at the forefront of MPA work in the UK, being the first large designated protected area in our coastal seas and having both a wide range of interested stakeholders and with comprehensive background knowledge of the ecosystems available from previous research and monitoring programmes. Subsequently, a range of organisations will benefit greatly from the data that will enhance our understanding of the responses of the seabed to large-scale disturbance and how MPAs may moderate that impact. We have five project partners, all of whom will find the results valuable. Due to the boundary designation, two Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Associations have responsibility for managing activity within Lyme Bay and both are supporting the project (Southern and Devon & Severn IFCAs) as the results will benefit the development of their understanding of the region and thus inform their management policies. This in turn will impact at a national level through our partner Natural England and other partner members of the Defra family (MMO and Defra itself), all of whom are working within Lyme Bay to help guide the designation, monitoring and management of MPAs around the country. The results are also of great interest to our partner the Blue Marine Foundation which is running a unique and pioneering project within Lyme Bay to bring together local fishermen and conservation and enforcement agencies with the aim of providing a sustainable way forward for fishing activity within protected areas. Understanding the scale of impact of such natural disturbances will help put impact of fishing activity into context.
Knowledge gained should be of interest to wider beneficiaries, including our partner Devon Wildlife Trust and its Dorset equivalent, fishermen's organisations (on the relative scale of natural and anthropogenic impacts) and local recreational diving companies.

The Marine Institute has developed a network of connections within the region that will aid dissemination and communication of the results of this project. Attrill sits on the Lyme Bay Steering Group which manages the Lyme Bay Fisheries and Conservation Reserve (www.lymebayreserve.co.uk) and is chaired by the Blue Marine Foundation, so a primary route of local dissemination will be through this group, with the BMF using their publicity machine (e.g. through Charles Clover) to further utilise and spread results of the research within a range of media. Attrill also sits on the boards of the Devon and Plymouth Local Nature Partnerships, allowing further forums to disseminate the results to the wider regional public. Together with local Wildlife Trusts informing their members, these outlets will allow the research to reach 1000s of interested persons. Strategies and structures for such dissemination will be developed with partners during the project ready for utilising the results when available within the last month of the project.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description There has been much debate about the comparative impact of natural and human-induced forces on the seabed, for example towed gear fishermen state their impact is no worse than a severe storm. We have monitored the changes to the biodiversity of Lyme Bay since 2008 both in and out of a Marine Protected Area to assess recovery. In early 2014 there were a series of unprecedented storms that caused major coastal damage in SW England, so with this award we were able to assess for the first time the relative impact of such an event compared to previous fishing damage. The findings were dramatic with massive decreases in abundance and diversity due to the storm at depths of 20-30m. Following the storm, the state of the seabed was similar in terms of its biodiversity to the situation when fishing was permitted. This had not been documented before and we attribute this to scouring from displaced sand moving over the seabed. Impact on individual species varied: for example Ross Coral populations were severely depleted, whilst Pink Sea Fans seemed more resilient. The crucial stage now is to assess recovery and whether the protection afforded to sites within the MPA makes the community more resilient to such impacts.
Exploitation Route These are vital findings for environmental managers to appreciate the relative potential impacts of fishing and natural forces and how MPAs may help to mitigate these. Already the findings have been of interest to conservation and management bodies such as Devon Wildlife Trust, Natural England, IFCAs and the regional fishing industry
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description Impact is ongoing but wanted to report something here. As the results have not been formally published yet, we produced a confidential summary to key partners (see publications). The data are being incorporated by management organisations, such as the IFCAs and Natural England (and of interest to the fishing lobby) to assess management policy in the Lyme Bay MPA area and beyond, for example informing debate about feature based management and whether fishing should be allowed back into parts of the MPA.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Welsh Assembly - Cardiff - invited to give evidence, March 2017. As a result of our experience about monitoring reef ecosystems and the effects that storms may have, ES was invited to provide evidence to assess the validity of work undertaken by the University of Bangor, and how this changes management decisions on the access of scallop dredging in Cardigan Bay SAC.
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
 
Description Contribution to monitoring the recovery of reef fauna in Lyme Bay
Amount £80,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural England 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2014 
End 06/2016
 
Description Physical and biological dynamic coastal processes and their role in coastal recovery (BLUE-coast)
Amount £4,049,549 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/N015525/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2016 
End 01/2021
 
Description ReturN - Reserve Effects Tested and Understood to validate returN
Amount £219,000 (GBP)
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2017 
End 01/2020
 
Description 4th International Marine Protected Areas Congress, IMPAC4, Chile (Part of UK Government delegation to Chile) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presenting the Lyme Bay storm data in the context of MPA resilience, raising awareness about the effects of storms on the sea bed, advice for monitoring or scientific impact experiments and management recommendations. Invited visit for Dr Emma Sheehan as part of UK British Council delegation to share experiences on MPA monitoring and storm impacts with local stakeholder groups in Chile and present at main conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited to industry workshop to present results - Scallop Association, Brixham, UK 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Results of study on impact of storms on the seabed has wide connotations for the UK scallop fishing industry. Dr Emma Sheehan invited to this formal meeting of the industry to present results and discuss implication.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2016
 
Description Presentation at "SW Ecosystems" conference 2015 (PML, Plymouth) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This conference is held annually to promote the most important findings of the year to the marine academic, NGO, business and policy community of SW England. This presentation was one of the plenary talks, given by Dr Emma Sheehan, and was entitled "Storm impacts on the seabed in protected and fished areas". It engendered much discussion about the severity storm impact can have on sensitive and important seabed assemblages.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://coastal-futures.net/archives/589
 
Description Presentation at Blue Marine Foundation meeting for fishers, IFCA, NE, DEFRA 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Blue Marine Foundation have a Lyme Bay Reserve steering group comprising fishermen, fisheries managers, conservation bodies, policy makers, etc. The presentation was given to this group, which for that particular event also included national Defra persons.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.lymebayreserve.co.uk/news-and-events/news-2015.php
 
Description Presentation at IMCC -- St Johns, Newfoundland, August 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presenting the Lyme Bay storm data at International Marine Conservation Congress, Newfoundland, in the context of MPA resilience, raising awareness about the effects of storms on the sea bed, advice for monitoring or scientific impact experiments and management recommendations
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Talk at Benthic Ecology Meeting - Texas USA - March 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presenting the Lyme Bay storm data in the context of MPA resilience, raising awareness about the effects of storms on the sea bed, advice for monitoring or scientific impact experiments and management recommendations
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018