There has been an upsurge in the use of Personal Water Craft (PWC or ‘jet skis’) around Welsh waters, with incidents of wildlife disturbance being logged from Anglesey in north Wales down to RSPB Ramsey Island in Pembrokeshire.
These fast-moving vehicles have the potential to cause problems quickly; flushing seabirds from ledges, separating dolphin calves from mothers or causing grey seals to abandon pups. This can apply equally to RHIBs and small pleasure crafts. In addition, it is not only fast moving and noisy vessels that have the potential to cause issues; kayakers and paddle boarders can cause as much disturbance if trips aren’t carefully planned.
The seas around the Welsh coast are busier than ever this year, with many thousands of people choosing going on holiday within the UK, rather than going abroad. Late summer and early autumn are also busy times for marine wildlife in Wales. It is therefore vital water users are aware of the correct way to behave to ensure our marine mammals and other animals remain safe and people stay on the right side of the law.
The grey seal pupping season will soon get underway in Pembrokeshire with RSPB Ramsey Island accounting for around 600 pups born each year with a further 400 pups born within the Skomer Marine Conservation Zone. Many more are born around the remainder of the Pembrokeshire coast and avoiding both the pupping beaches themselves and the surrounding waters during this period is imperative. Disturbance can cause cows to abandon their pups, leaving them to starve.
Further out to sea, dolphins and porpoises will be feeding and migrating through Pembrokeshire waters often with young calves in tow. If people encounter these animals, it’s important to keep distance, avoiding coming between mother and calves and never chase animals.
Many of these animals and their breeding sites are protected by law. Disturbance, intentional or through ignorance, could result in a prosecution.
Sergeant Matthew Langley, Dyfed Powys Police Rural Crime Team, said:
“The Pembrokeshire Coast is an important area for nesting sea birds and marine mammals, and they have legal protection in UK legislation. They are sensitive to disturbance from sea going vessels such as jet skis, kayaks and speedboats. Working with our partners we will encourage everyone to enjoy our waters and to maintain a safe distance from the marine animals, seabirds and their nesting areas. We will however take legal action if necessary.”
Greg Morgan, RSPB Ramsey Island Site Manager, said:
“We would like as many people as possible to safely and respectfully enjoy the wildlife around our waters. Using local skippers from the many tourist operators in Pembrokeshire is the ideal way to do this as all skippers are trained and aware of marine disturbance issues. If you are out in your own vessel however please take time to make yourself fully aware of the Pembrokeshire Marine Code or, for a more Wales wide view, see the Wild Seas Wales website. A few minutes reading up will help ensure you remain wildlife aware, see more and avoid any risk of prosecution.”
Lisa Morgan, Head of Islands and Marine for Wildlife Trust South and West Wales, said:
“We encourage water users to familiarise themselves with the agreed access restrictions shown on the Marine code maps before heading out. The islands are particularly sensitive sites even when the seabirds have gone. We urge visitors to make use of the passenger boat service to Skomer where possible and to contact the Wildlife Trust in advance if arriving by private vessel. Island staff are more than happy to advise and can be contacted by email using [email protected] or Channel 74 on arrival in Skomer North Haven”.
Gary Nicholas, Leisure Services Manager for Pembrokeshire County Council, said:
“From a water safety perspective we’d like to re-iterate the need for users of watercraft do this in a safe and considerate manner ensuring that they control their speed within 100m of the mainland at all times. Both the noise and physical risk of inappropriate use of PWC can be detrimental to many (human, animal and environmental) and can easily be addressed by considering where and how users participate in this activity.
“Rather than landowners having to consider the management of waterway access as a future control measure we would prefer that individuals behaved in line with the Pembrokeshire marine code.”
If you are concerned about any wildlife disturbance event you witness, you can report it to Dyfed-Powys Police, either online, by emailing or by calling 101. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired, text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908. Alternatively, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously by calling 0800 555111.