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Credit: Georgie Bull

Marine life along Dorset’s coast

Dorset’s underwater seascape is made up of many large areas of very rocky, hard seabed, with the sandy and soft sediment bays and harbours of Swanage, Studland, Poole and Christchurch in the east. The area is heavily designated due to its excellent examples of these habitat types. MPAs in this area include: Southbourne Rough MCZ, Poole Rocks MCZ, Studland Bay MCZ, Purbeck Coast MCZ, Studland to Portland SAC, South of Portland MCZ, Chesil Beach and Stennis Ledges MCZ, Chesil Beach and the Fleet SPA, Chesil and the Fleet SAC and Lyme Bay and Torbay SAC. In total, these sites cover 748 km2 of Dorset Coastal seas.

 Rocky reefs are very complex habitats, creating a three-dimensional canvas on which all kinds of life can thrive. Depending upon the depth and energy (strength of waves/water currents) the seabed is exposed to, different communities are able to grow and survive. In shallower, higher energy areas thick algal beds grow including kelp forests, red algae turfs and bryozoans (colonies of tiny creatures). Animals such as corals, sponges, anemones and pink sea fans, dominate in deeper waters and on reefs characterised by boulders. Many rare species thrive along Dorset’s coast including: the trumpet anemone ( Aiptasia mutabilis ), the ross coral ( Pentapora foliacea ), the cup coral ( Caryophyllia inornatea ), the sea fan anemone ( Amphianthus dohrnii ) and pink sea fans ( Eunicella verrucosa ).

Credit: Georgie Bull
Credit: Georgie Bull
Credit: Georgie Bull

Meanwhile in Studland Bay and in the Fleet lagoon large, dense seagrass beds provide shelter, food and protection for a wide range of fish and shellfish species. The fleet is also home to a wide variety of overwintering and breeding birds including the little tern and wigeon. Just south west, off of Swanage bay are extensive Maerl beds. The individual Maerl thalli (individual plant like structures) grow incredibly slowly (0.1cm per year) and due to their irregular shape create a seabed with lots of interstitial space for other fish and invertebrates to hide. To the south of the Isle of Portland, large beds of mussels have formed a biogenic (created by animals) habitat that provides many species such as brittle stars, urchins, dog whelks and spider crabs with a reliable food source.

Fishing along the Dorset Coast

Sustainable pot fisheries targeting edible crabs and European lobster have developed along Dorset’s coast based around the reef habitat. The soft sediments of Poole Harbour support the world’s first sustainable manila clam fishery. Whilst in Poole Bay, whelks are targeted using small pots and small trawls are used to fish for a variety of demersal (bottom living) fish species.

Throughout Dorset the protected marine habitats and those outside designated areas are instrumental in providing food and livelihoods to so many in the area. It is Southern IFCA’s duty to manage fishing activities within the MPAs in its District, and in order to ensure they remain healthy and diverse, trawling, dredging and hand gathering activities have been prohibited by Southern IFCA in many specific areas along the coast to protect particularly vulnerable habitats like the rocky reefs and the rare plants and animals which grow on them. Over the past years Southern IFCA has prohibited bottom towed fishing gears over 477.8 km2 of habitats around Dorset’s coastline.

Credit: Georgie Bull
Please click to expand the image
Credit: Georgie Bull

For further information regarding the fisheries and Marine Protected Areas surrounding the Dorset Coast, including Habitats Regulation’s Assessments please visit our Fisheries and Research website section and choose the fishing activity you are interested in. 

To find out what management measures apply to a particular fishing activity please visit our Management section and choose the fishing activity you are interested in.

For further information on the Marine Protected Areas found around the Doset Coast please visit the Natural England Designated Sites pages below. Note: other types of Protected areas are also designated including Sites of Special Scientific Interest and RAMSAR sites. These usually overlap with the sites listed below: 

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