It’s well known that dolphins are very intelligent animals, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need our help in order to survive. One way we help look after marine species such dolphins is through protecting specific areas of the sea: Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). These are areas that are important for a specific feature found within them, such as a habitat, or a particular species. They are designated by the government, and each come with specific rules on what human activities are and aren’t permitted within them, depending on the primary feature they are there to protect.
One type of MPA is a known as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), such as the one found around New Quay. Cardigan Bay SAC was designated in 2003, primarily to protect the resident population of bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, but it also protects other species found in the area including grey seals (Helichoerus grypus), harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), river lampreys (Lampetra fluviatilis) and sea lampreys (Petromyzon marinus), as well as habitats including sandbanks, reefs and sea caves. Another SAC, in the northern part of Cardigan Bay, Pen Llyn a’r Sarnau, was put in place to primarily protect habitats including sandbanks, coastal lagoons and reefs, but dolphins can be found in the whole of Cardigan Bay, so also benefit from this second SAC. Between these two SACs, nearly 250,000 hectares of sea are protected, a massive benefit to all the species found in the areas.
In order to protect the species and habitats found in the Cardigan Bay SAC, there are various regulations in place prohibiting activities that could have detrimental effects, especially on the ecosystem as a whole. For example, there is very little net fishing in the area to reduce accidental bycatch of dolphins, porpoises and seals, with most fishing being crab & lobster pots. Scallop dredging does occur, but only in certain areas at certain times of year to prevent damage to reefs on the sea floor, and the species that live on with them. Additionally, previous plans to explore for oil and gas in the area have been denied due to the unknown impact this could have on the resident dolphins.
A major regulation in Cardigan Bay SAC is the Ceredigion Marine Code, which applies to all types of boats that go out on the water. This code is in place specifically to protect the dolphins, porpoises and seals that live in the area, as it is their home, and boat users are just visiting it. The Code also reduces the likelihood of any animals being negatively affected or injured by humans or boats. Anyone on any type of boat should not directly approach any animals they see, and keep 100m or more away from them. This allows the animals to continue what they were doing, such as feeding, meaning they are not disturbed so less likely to leave this area that is vital for them.
Regardless of whether you are on the water in Cardigan Bay SAC, or anywhere else, the main things to remember are to not chase after animals you see, reduce your speed to reduce disturbance, and don’t make drastic changes to your direction. Following these rules will still allow you to get a good look at the animals, and makes sure they are not excessively disturbed by every boat on the water.