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Credit: Georgie Bull

Marine life around the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight is surrounded by a very diverse and special marine ecosystem. All the waters around the Island are designated under a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) each of which protects a wide range of marine habitats and selected species. The following sites surround the Isle of Wight: South Wight SAC, Solent Maritime SAC, Solent and Southampton Water SPA, Solent and Isle of Wight Lagoons SAC, Solent and Dorset Coast SPA, Bembridge MCZ, Yarmouth to Cowes MCZ and The Needles MCZ. These MPAs cover an area of 331km2 around the Isle of Wight’s Coast.

In some ways the Island is of two halves, characterised in large by the exposure of its coastline to natural energy. The habitats on the north from Yarmouth to Bembridge Harbour are dominated by soft sediments, such as mud and sand, with a few very small rocky outcrops scattered close to the shore. Whereas, to the south of the Island beginning at The Needles and stretching all around to Bembridge ledges is a network of rocky reefs fringed by more coarse and mixed sediments.

The difference in the benthic (seabed) habitats found around the Island leads to diverse collections of marine life. Sediment (mud and sand) habitats are home to a range of invertebrates including; marine worms, bivalves (shellfish), gastropods (marine snails) and small crustaceans (small crabs, shrimps etc.). In the intertidal areas, these invertebrates support more familiar species such as wading birds, geese and ducks who rely on the invertebrates and algae (which also grows here) as a winter food source. In the infralittoral (shallow) and circalittoral (deeper) waters the sediments and their invertebrates support a wide variety of fish species including catsharks and flat fish such as plaice and flounder.

Credit: Guy Mitchell
Credit: Guy Mitchell
Credit: Guy Mitchell

Meanwhile, on the southern side of the Isle of Wight, dense beds of algae and kelps (seaweeds) can be found attached to the rocks or, in areas of higher energy, a colourful carpet of upright sessile (non-moving) fauna such as sponges, sea squirts, anemones, hydroids and bryozoans. These habitats provide cover and shelter for other reef species such as wrasse, crabs, lobsters, sharks, juvenile pollack, sprat and many, many more.

Fishing around the Isle of Wight

The diverse waters surrounding the Isle of Wight have supported livelihoods for local fishermen for decades. It is Southern IFCA’s duty to manage fishing activities within the MPAs in its District, and whilst some fishing activities have been prohibited around the Isle of Wight to ensure they do not damage its important marine habitats, many low impact fishing activities continue as they have done for centuries both inside and outside the relatively new Marine Protected Areas. Along the south coast of the Island the main fishing activities include using pots to trap crabs and lobsters, nets to catch demersal (bottom living) fish species such as sole, skate’s and rays, smooth hound, black bream and of course, rod and line for demersal (bottom living) and pelagic (living in the water column) fish.

On the other hand, in the Solent on the north side pots and traps are used to catch very different species; whelks and cuttlefish, whilst demersal fish such as sole, plaice, skates and rays are caught using trawls. To the north east of the Island there is a plentiful scallop dredging fishery, whilst historically there has also been a large oyster dredging fishery. Netting occurs quite close inshore for a mixed group of fish including sole, skates and rays, and many more. To the north east of the Island, longlining may be used to catch seabass. Both dredging activities and trawling are managed to ensure they do not interact with sensitive habitats found within the MPAs. Over the past years Southern IFCA has prohibited bottom towed fishing gears over a total of 288.3 km2 of habitats around the Isle of Wight.

Credit: Guy Mitchell
Please click to expand the image
Credit: Guy Mitchell

For further information regarding the fisheries and Marine Protected Areas surrounding the Isle of Wight, 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 ‘Regulations’ section and choose the fishing activity you are interested in.

For further information on the Marine Protected Areas found around the Isle of Wight 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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