The endangered spiny seahorse has recolonised its former stronghold in Dorset due to the coronavirus lockdown, marine conservationists say.
During one regular survey dive at Studland Bay, the Seahorse Trust found 16 seahorses including pregnant males and a juvenile that had been born this year.
This is the largest number found in a single dive on the site since the charity began monitoring there in 2008.
Prior to this, a seahorse had not been seen at the site for two years.
Neil Garrick-Maidment, who founded the Seahorse Trust, puts the increase down to the reduction in people, boat traffic and associated noise and anchors in the area due to lockdown measures.
“The ecology of the site has made a remarkable recovery,” he said.
“We have seen so many seahorses because the food chain has recovered, giving seahorses plenty of food to eat, and crucially, somewhere to hide.
“The seagrass has started to repair itself, and the spiny seahorses have taken advantage of this.”
Both of the UK’s native seahorse species – the spiny and the short snouted – were granted protected status in 2008 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Following years of campaigning, Studland Bay was finally designated as a Marine Conservation Zone last year in recognition of the importance of its seagrass habitat and seahorse population.
Garrick-Maidment said: “The question is how we go forward.
“We do not want boats and divers banned, but the seahorses and seagrass do need their legal protection enforced.
“The 16 seahorses discovered on a single dive are an amazing discovery, but we now need the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and Natural England to enforce the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Marine Conservation Zone and put in place measures such as environmentally friendly moorings.
“The seahorses need protection to stop them being disturbed again as Covid restrictions are lifted, and to stop them vanishing from this legally protected site.
“We have a unique opportunity to help nature and to restore the balance of our planet.
“We must grab this with both hands, for the seagrass, for the sea, for humanity and crucially for these incredible seahorses.”
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?