I was lucky enough to join in the 20th Anniversary celebrations for the Skomer Marine Nature Reserve yesterday afternoon, down in Martin's Haven, Marloes in Pembrokshire.
Various wildlife bodies from all over Wales had gathered at the Countryside Council for Wales(CCW) offices nestled inside of Wooltack Point, to celebrate the successes of the marine reserve so far and to look at what lies ahead for one of the world's greatest nature reserves.
View of the island from the boat:
Skomer is best known for it's puffin population that arrives each spring but it also has an incredibly complex eco-system beneath the waves and CCW are keen to educate people more about what they can't see. Pop into the visitor centre and you'll be amazed by the displays and images on display there.
Phil Newman, Marine Nature Reserve officer - explains the 3D mapping exhibit:
The marine nature reserve - the only one in wales was established back in 1990 and has provided invaluable data to marine biologists, scientists and universities over the years.
The complex data collected almost daily from the waters around the island helps form the evidence needed to advise on policy for the Welsh Assembly Government and aids long term trends and advice.
Dr Robin Crump - Chairman of the Advisory Committee reflected on the last twenty years and noted that one of Skomer's biggest successes was that "it was still in as pristine a state now, as it was back in 1962" when he first dived there.
Dr Robin Crump making a speech:
A notable turning point came in 1985 when scallop dredging was filmed by a team of divers. The footage clearly showed the damage being done to the ocean floor and caused enough concern to enable the South Wales Sea Fisheries Committee to introduce a by-law to ban scallop dredging and commercial fishing here altogether.
The rest is history and the ocean bed now thrives with fish, scallops, lobster, sea squirts, starfish, crab, sponges, coral and even 50-100 year old sea fans.
You don't have to dive deep to see the real beauty of this place either. With excellent visibilty, most species can be seen between 5-10 metres down - easily accessible for snorkelists.
Naturalist, Iolo Williams also popped in to share his island insights and having visited the island 46 times, realised he'd been seeing it "with only one eye open" on previous filming visits.
The team and Iolo Williams (far right) displaying the winning photographs:
Diving here really opened his eyes to the amazing world of colour and life beneath the surface and he ranked this reserve right up there amongst the world's best.
With speeches over and a quick photography competition winner announced - (the winning shot was of a stunning cuckoo wrasse by Tom Moran), we boarded a boat and had a quick tour of the southern side of the island.
A camera shy puffin:
I first visited the island as a boy obsessed with wildlife and birds in particular, so it was lovely to see the island again and try to remember where I'd walked - tricky from a boat though!
The sea was a bit choppy and a chilly N wind kept us on our toes but with blue skies and a shiny golden orb above us - nobody was complaining. We even saw a plane flying over?!
Amazingly, horses used to be swum across to the island and judging by the eddies and rips we encountered, they must have been strong swimmers...
Seals entering the water:
As ever, all eyes were on the look out for those colourful clowns of the sea - the puffin, which were buzzing around furiously, as if their lives depended on their wings not touching water.
We saw countless puffin 'derrieres', as they careered away from the boat at speed.
Whenever I readied my camera, they'd disappear underwater - never to seen again. But I did eventually manage to get a few shots.
Another puffin flying away from my lens:
I also had a good chat with the new warden here - Chris Taylor who will spend the next 5 years living on the island, for up to 9 months at a time. They have a reprieve in winter time as supplies are hard to get shipped over.
One thing I never realised was just how many manx shearwaters visit the island - an estimated 165,000 pairs and I thought Bardsey Island had a lot!
And then of course there are the 6,000 puffins who arrive each year to lay a single egg and raise their chick before heading off to warmer climes for winter.
Rounding the corner we passed by 'the lantern' - a stunning natural sea cove, and popular spot for seals to give birth to their pups.
On our way back to Martin's Haven, we pulled into the picturesque bay where the passenger ferry normally lands and there in the adjacent cove - around 40 seals stared blankly in our direction.
Just as I raised my camera, a few lost their nerve and suddenly they all began charging down the shingle beach and into the water before realising that we were no threat.
Splashing over we watched the pups on the beach for a while and spotted a few guillemots on the steeper cliffs.
If you've never been then it's a must visit. Besides the puffin, guillemot, razorbill and seals - you'll also find at least four pairs of peregrine here as well as rare slow worm and the odd rabbit.
Later this year, Skomer Island will become one of Wales' first Marine Conservation Zones as part of the Marine and Coastal Access Act.
A network of marine protected areas within the UK will now be possible and could be in place as early as 2012.
It's not too late to nominate your own site for protection too, so visit the Marine Conservation Society website for details or vote for one of the 73 sites they're recommending.
I'll definitely be returning soon for a closer encounter with those elusive puffins.
CCW - Skomer Island Monitoring and diving off the marine reserve
- A BBC Local SW article Skomer Island walk on BBC Local South West Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales - Skomer Island