Marine disturbance in Cornwall triples in six years

Marine disturbance in Cornwall triples in six years

Jet skis approaching bottlenose dolphins near Falmouth, Image by St Mawes Photography

Incidents of jet skis, motorboats and coastal walkers disturbing marine life have more than tripled in Cornwall since records were first collated in 2014. Cornwall Wildlife Trust are now urging members of the public to behave responsibly and admire wildlife from a distance when out on the water this bank holiday weekend, after receiving several shocking disturbance reports already this summer.

Research gathered from the Cornwall Marine and Coastal Code Group, a collective of organisations aiming to tackle the problem of marine disturbance and harassment locally, shows disturbance steeply increasing in July and August every year. This coincides with the peak visitor season in Cornwall, with more and more people wanting to enjoy Cornwall’s beautiful coastline.

Coastal walkers have also been identified as the top cause of disturbance to seals and sea birds, whilst privately-owned leisure boats are the biggest threat to whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as ‘cetaceans’) in Cornish waters.

Ruth Williams, Marine Conservation Manager at Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said: “It’s great to see so many people enjoying our coastline and seas, but with stay-cations and the numbers of people visiting Cornwall this year we have seen a massive increase in recreational activity on the water, including jet skis, SUPs and boat traffic.

"We urge people to respect our wildlife, to give them space to breed, feed and rest, and watch quietly from a distance.”

The impacts of disturbing wildlife can be devastating and we have seen some horrific incidences already this year.
Ruth Williams
Marine Conservation Manager at Cornwall Wildlife Trust

In July, three jet-skiers were recorded by Cornwall Wildlife Trust Seaquest Southwest surveyors scaring dolphins and their calves away from their feeding ground near Newquay.

Jet skier scaring common dolphins and calves near Newquay in July 2021, video by Seaquest Southwest volunteer Ian Boreham

Ian Boreham, one of the volunteers who witnessed the distressing event, said: “Some friends and I had been watching a pod of twenty common dolphins in the bay when we saw a jet skier head directly towards the dolphins and stop on top of them.

“I have seen lots of good practice from those out on the water but have seen others who treat the bay like a race track, driving in a fast and unpredictable manner at speed. It’s really concerning that human disturbance is changing the behaviour of dolphins and other marine life in the area.”

I have seen lots of good practice from those out on the water but have seen others who treat the bay like a race track, driving in a fast and unpredictable manner at speed.
Ian Boreham
Seaquest Southwest Volunteer

In the same month, one rider was also seen disturbing a grey seal off Looe Island - a site used regularly by eleven grey seals including heavily pregnant females.

Looe Island, Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s only marine nature reserve, has had unprecedented numbers of visitors and water users already in 2021. The island restricts numbers of people coming to visit as it acts as an important haven for wildlife. It’s home to many nesting birds, protected shore creatures and regularly visited by large marine mammals. These include a minke whale and a humpback whale which were both spotted in its surrounding waters in May and July earlier this year.

Whether intentional or not, the disturbance or harassment of whales or dolphins is an offence under UK law, with fines of up to £5,000. Cornwall Wildlife Trust would like to urge anyone who witnesses an incident of marine disturbance to report it immediately (with any photographs or videos of the incident) to its 24-hour hotline on 0345 201 2626.

Marine disturbance, along with bycatch and noise pollution, are the three biggest threats to the survival of Cornwall’s dolphins and porpoises. This year, Cornwall Wildlife Trust has launched a £30,000 fundraising appeal to tackle these serious issues, all of which are caused by human behaviours.

Please donate to Cornwall Wildlife Trust's Dolphin and Porpoise Appeal today to help them not only survive but thrive as a treasured part of Cornwall's seas. 


Cornwall’s dolphins and porpoises need your help

Our dolphins and porpoises face numerous threats, and unless we act now, they could be lost from our waters. A donation to our appeal could help us to stop their suffering and protect their presence in our Cornish seas. 

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