Concern as sight-seers disturb seal colonies

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Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust is a multi-award winning, evidence-based marine conservation charity. Photo Cornwall Seal Group

28th July 2021

By Juliet Lunam

Wildlife enthusiasts are calling for action to be taken to deter sight-seers from disturbing colonies of seals.

Residents have contacted officials from various organisations in a bid to have something done about the number of boats visiting the the West Cornwall seal site.

Geoff Smith, who lives in nearby Hayle, said there are commercial high-powered boats visiting and some are too close:

“Sometimes they are within a few feet of the colony and the trips are very frequent. “A local kayaker has observed one of the boats cruising into the seal colony on the headland.

Some of the boats turn their throttle down before reaching the vicinity of the island but some don’t. I've seen other boats make flamboyant turns in the water creating disturbance.

“How long will it be before the colony collapses? Surely organisations like the Coastguard, Trinity House and Cornwall Council have influence between them to come up with a policy leisure boats have to adhere to, or at least mark an area with buoys to keep a distance.”

Kayaker Rob Bainborough, said he and some friends kayaked around the lighthouse last week. He said: “We kept our distance and didn’t disturb the seals. But in the short amount of time we were there four RIBs went through the gap in the island. “

“Three of them went through very slowly but one of them did disturb at least four seals which were basking on some rocks. We also saw two lads in their early 20s get onto the island.”

The charity which looks after the lighthouse, Trinity House, said the island is private property and it prohibits trespass because of sensitive equipment.

A spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, this does not mean all of the public adhere to the clear signage placed on the island. And while Trinity House owns Godrevy Island and operates the lighthouse there, it does not have any powers over boat activity in the waters around the island, beyond its function of providing aids to navigation for the safety of the mariner. “

“We do not use local boats for our maintenance visits, which are planned to minimise disturbance to wildlife and habitats where feasible.”

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said there is a Small Commercial Vessel Code of Practice and agency officials are looking into operations, alongside Cornwall Council.

Sue Sayer from the Cornwall Seal Group is petitioning government to pass a law to better protect seals and believes people have a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to make UK coastlines safer for them.

She said: “We have more than a third of the world’s population of grey seals in the UK. They are our equivalent of an African elephant. If we want people to protect elephants so we can see them on safari, we need to do the same for grey seals on our patch.

“They are important for our coastal economies, our marine ecosystem and our health and well-being.”

Kat Smith and Jack Carter recently started Coast Boat Trips, from Penzance and Hayle. Kat said: “We have a 12-person RIB and our ethos is about sharing Cornwall with our guests. “

“We have guides who have studied marine biology and zoology and they’re all wildlife enthusiasts – they know what to look for and how to avoid disturbing the seals. “

“We hope to educate our guests on the environment and wildlife and so far most people say they’ve come away having learned something. There is an issue though with some other operators who seem to hound the seals.”

Helping Out

Sue Sayer from the Cornwall Seal Group wants people to take action now. She says there are three ways to help: Sign the national petition to make seal disturbance illegal petition.parliament.uk /petitions/584224.

Write to your MP and ask them to sign the Early Day Motion on seal protection. Sign up for the Marine Stakeholder Group zoom meeting on August 5 via www.eventbrite.com/e/people-protectingprecious-places-st-ivesbay-tickets-164020911963.

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