Porpoises, oysters and plankton at risk

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Marine life including porpoises, oysters, dolphins and plankton is under severe threat from pollution, over-fishing and coastal development, wildlife experts have warned.

Marine life including porpoises, oysters, dolphins and plankton is under severe threat from pollution, over-fishing and coastal development, wildlife experts have warned.

A wide-ranging study into the status of 16 marine "indicators", including mudflats, reefs and cod, has increased concerns about the Government's lack of success in properly controlling damage to the environment.

The report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) cites the harbour porpoise, Britain's smallest cetacean, as one of the most drastic examples of the crisis. A study in the Celtic Sea, next to Cornwall, Wales and southern Ireland, found that 6 per cent of porpoises were killed each year accidentally by fishing fleets.

Post-mortem studies of harbour porpoise and bottlenose dolphins from Liverpool Bay, Cardigan Bay and the Moray Firth have also found evidence of biological damage or poisoning by heavy metals such as lead or organic compounds such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).

The WWF "Marine Health Check" report warns that the marine environment is continuing to deteriorate, despite action against ocean dumping, radioactive discharges and commercial over-fishing in British waters and the north-east Atlantic.

The campaign group says the Government needs to address the emergency by introducing an Oceans Act with all-encompassing legislation to protect seas and coasts, and set up a much bigger network of marine national parks and conservation areas.

Chris Berry, the report's author, said: "Although some action has been taken, it is not sufficient to ensure the health of the UK's seas and, if anything, the situation in certain areas is becoming worse."

The report, published as part of the WWF's Ocean Recovery Campaign, focuses on 16 "flagship" species and habitats, which it believes illustrate the plight of other species and areas. The 16 species are also an integral part of the marine food chain. Their condition, WWF says, points to a wider problem in the marine environment. The survey has also disclosed fresh evidence of sudden fluctuations over the past five years in the behaviour of plankton, the ocean's most crucial foodstuff and an important source of oxygen.

After studying research by Dr Chris Reid, from the Alistair Hardy Foundation in Plymouth, the WWF believes that global warming and changes in deep ocean currents, partly influenced by damage to the Arctic ice shelf, are directly affecting plankton population levels.

Mr Berry said those changes could suddenly affect Britain's entire fishing industry. "If we're getting such significant and quick shifts then, potentially, it has repercussions for the whole harvesting of marine resources around the UK."

The document also says coastal and ocean bed habitats such as mudflats, reefs, saltmarsh and tidal sand and gravel beds are being depleted by construction, aggregates mining, industrial pollution and the oil industry.

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