Damage found to maerl beds near Jersey

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Divers for Seasearch, a conservation group, have discovered damage to sea maerl.

Sea maerl is a collective term for several species of red seaweed that provides host to a wide variety of marine life. It consists of hard calcified skeletons and grows as rounded nodules or short, branched shapes on the seabed. It’s photosynthetic and only grow at depths of 20 metres or less.

The Seasearch divers said the damage could have been caused by scallop dredgers or storms. Kevin McIlwee, a co-ordinator for Seasearch, who documents maerl beds, said he had witnessed damage caused by dredging. 

Environment officials said they were in negotiations with fisherman from Jersey and France over new restrictions on dredging.

"We’re interested in finding out to what extent this has affected the species and work out whethere there is a possibility these areas will recover," said Mr McIlwee.

Storms are another possible cause of the damage but it is believed in this case the culprit is dredging.

Further education of the fisherman, rather than stricter fishing controls are favoured by Seasearch.

Sea maerl acts as a nursery for fish and scallops, but its conservation is vital for future populations.

Scallop dredging is already restricted amongst much of Jersey.