This Saturday, May the 22nd, we are celebrating International Day for Biological Diversity here at the Sea Watch Foundation. Biodiversity is a broad term that is used to describe and measure the different types of animals and plants in an area. Top predators within a habitat, such as our resident bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay, New Quay, are excellent indicators for the health of an ecosystem. Through analysing their diets, behaviours, and population size we can gain an insight into the overall health and ecosystem stability of the waters in which they live.
Animals within a habitat are often perceived as isolated individuals. However, the reality is quite different. Every animal and plant within a habitat provides a specific ecosystem service and is linked together in an intricate web, much like a spider’s. For example, during summer at Cardigan Bay, weather patterns create the ideal environmental conditions for phytoplankton to reproduce. This, in turn, attracts fish and squid which subsequently attracts bottlenose dolphins to the area.
The Sea Watch Foundation monitors the dolphins within the area using photo-identification and acoustic recordings while also recording environmental factors, human activities, and the resulting behaviour of the dolphins. This allows us to gain an insight into their population structure and size, which allows us to assess their biodiversity. A species itself is deemed biodiverse if it has a wide range of variation among individuals which can adapt to changing environmental conditions and ensure a stable future population.
If the gene pool of an animal population is limited it will be more susceptible and less resilient to threats such as disease, pollution, and climate change which can ultimately result in extinction. This loss of species impacts humans greatly. We rely on ecosystem services which plants and animals provide such as water, oxygen, pollination, and food. A healthy ecosystem also ensures the regulation of floods, disease outbreak and soil erosion (UK National Ecosystem Assessment 2021).
One way in which we can protect marine biodiversity is by establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). One of MPAs main functions is to preserve or restore biodiversity within an ecologically important area (Evans & Uquiola Pascual, 2001). Parts of the Bay have been designated as Special Areas of Conservation under environmental laws, in recognition of Cardigan Bay’s conservation importance and community of over 200 semi-resident bottlenose dolphins.
Biodiversity is ultimately essential for the protection and conservation of all species. Loss of biodiversity within an area has a knock-on effect on all animals and plants which reside there, including humans. The Biodiversity Day 2021 slogan is “We’re part of the solution” and is fitting with the events which have occurred over the last year. We are slowly realising the extent of the link between human activities, ecosystem health and our health as a species. The Sea Watch Foundation is one of the many organisations working to preserve biodiversity, and are continually working to ensure a stable, healthy population of Cetaceans within UK waters.
Ciara Feature Blogger Sea Watch Foundation Research Intern
UK National Ecosystem Assessment, 2021. Available at: http://uknea.unep-wcmc.org/EcosystemAssessmentConcepts/EcosystemServices/tabid/103/Default.aspx
Evans, P.G. and Uquiola Pascual, E., 2001. An Introduction to Marine Protected Areas: what are they designed to do and what criteria should be used in their selection. Protected Areas for Cetaceans, pp.1-49.