Studland Bay seahorse film in MPA conservation bid

Image caption,
Seahorses breed in the seagrass beds of Studland Bay

Dorset's seahorses are starring in a film about Studland Bay in a bid to see the bay named as a Marine Protected Area (MPA), says Dorset Wildlife Trust.

The film, Studland's Seahorses, shows the creatures in their breeding habitat in the seagrass meadows of Studland.

Next year will see the UK's first network of MPAs established.

The trust says it has nominated the bay because it is the only site in the UK where both spiny and short snouted seahorses are breeding.

The 3.9 sq km (1.5 sq mile) area is also home to endangered undulate rays.

Julie Hatcher, Marine Awareness Officer at Dorset Wildlife Trust, said: "Seahorses rely on the seagrass for camouflage.

"They're not particularly fast swimmers and keep themselves protected by wrapping their tails around the seagrass blades, and swaying in the grass with the tide."

During a marine survey in 2009, Ms Hatcher said there were around 40 sightings of spiny and short snouted seahorses.

She said: "There is no other place in the country where that many have been reported."

Spiny seahorses, which are around eight inches (20cm) long, prefer the seagrass breeding grounds of Studland Bay.

Ms Hatcher said: "The meadows are rich in terms of food.

"Seahorses feed on small creatures like mysid shrimps and in the seagrass they're plentiful."

'Hot spot'

Short snouted seahorses, which are around six inches (15.5cm) long, live in a wider variety of habitats and can also be found in Poole Harbour.

Ms Hatcher said: "Poole Harbour is a hot spot because of its eelgrass beds.

"Seahorses thrive along the Dorset coast because Poole Harbour and Studland Bay are so close together."

The area recommended for protection to Natural England and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) runs from Shell Bay to Old Harry Rocks.

The trust has launched the Fish Petition campaign to gain public support for MPAs in the UK.

A national consultation will be held in 2012 to decide which UK locations will be granted MPA status.

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