What Lies Beneath

WHAT LIES BENEATH

Discovering Looe’s marine heritage

Under the sea around Cornwall’s coast is a fascinating array of marine life, from huge basking sharks the size of double-decker buses to acres of sea grass which make a perfect home for tiny seahorses. Locals and visitors alike in the town of Looe on Cornwall’s south east coast are finding out more about their marine heritage thanks to a new project set up by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust called Discovering the Wonders of Looe’s Marine Heritage.

Abigail Crosby in the role of marine education officer for the Trust runs the project, which is all part of Caradon Council’s Voluntary Marine Conservation Area scheme. The council originally started the scheme back in 1995 but due to lack of funding it came to a halt two years later until Abby was selected to revive the project last October.

“The aim of the project is to set up a voluntary conservation team to monitor Looe’s marine life” says Abby who also helps the Trust recover and tag dead and injured sea animals washed up on local beaches. “My job is to educate tourists and locals alike on how to protect the natural environment of Looe’s marine habitats”

Recent reports have shown that the seas around the county are becoming more polluted: litter, chemicals and sewerage, lack of control and protection have all had a negative effect on marine life resulting in sexual mutation in fish, casualties from dumped nets and plastics and reduction in plant life. Abby points out that half of the country’s biodiversity is in the sea and yet only 0.001% of the seas around the UK are protected. “On land we have nature reserves and parks but the sea around Lundy Island is the only officially protected area in the country”.

The involvement of children plays a big role in the scheme, which receives the bulk of its funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, “One of my key tasks is to encourage schools to use the area for study. Already there has been a huge response. During the summer term I will take over 30 groups of children on discovery trips around the coast where they will have a chance to explore the shoreline collecting shells and studying rock pools”

Some trips involve a boat trip to Looe Island, which was bequeathed to the Trust a few years ago, where children can observe grey seals. Cornwall is home to one of the largest populations of grey seals anywhere in the world and Abby says the sea around Looe is particularly rich in marine wildlife making it a popular diving site.

“Just a few feet below the surface there are corals and anemones that carpet the sea bed, sea fans that can grow up to a metre wide and colourful fish. The Looe river estuary is home to kingfishers, wading birds and otters - all of which is a great resource for everyone from locals and tourists to fishermen who rely on the sea to earn a living; but we have to make sure we protect it”

At a local level, the project is helping to change attitudes. “Hundreds of thousand’s of people flock to the beaches around Looe every year, disturbing rock pools, killing marine life unnecessarily and leaving litter; my job is help them respect the beauty and diversity of the area. My motto is observe, don’t disturb”

The project officially ends in October this year, but there a chance it will be extended, even so Abby is making the most of her short tenure, “Being outside in all weathers and meeting people is the best part of my job. There is such a strong sense of community here in Looe, which is sometimes hard to find these days and I love working to promote an area that doesn’t really get the protection and recognition for its biodiversity that it really deserves”

Throughout the year there is a calendar of events planned to interest all age groups and backgrounds from evening lectures and shell hunts to wildlife rambles and boat cruises. Event details are available from the Tourist Information Centre in Looe.

www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk/events/local_groups.php