Project aims to preserve the unique seas around the Isles of Scilly

The Isles of Scilly are renowned internationally for the unique quality and diversity of their marine environment.

Maintaining that for the future in a way that supports wildlife and the local economy is the aim of a new project from the University of Plymouth.

The SCILL-E project, funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, is being led by the University’s Marine Conservation Research Group in conjunction with the Isles of Scilly Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IoS IFCA).

It will combine the group’s expertise in the natural and social sciences to develop underpinning research to ensure the Isles of Scilly retain healthy seas.

This will in turn help to secure a wide range of ecosystem service benefits alongside sustainable and viable fishing and tourism industries.

The SCILL-E (Site Classification to Inform Sustainable Lives and Livelihoods for Fisheries and Ecosystems) project is being coordinated by Senior Research Fellows Dr Emma Sheehan and Dr Sian Rees.

They and their wider research group have extensive experience of combining ecological and economic assessments of coastal activities, having worked for more than a decade on the pioneering Lyme Bay Project.

The team also leads North Devon Marine Pioneer, a programme of work for Defra to test, at a local scale, how the marine environment can be effectively managed to deliver benefits to the environment, economy and people.

Through the SCILL-E project, the team will develop a series of decision support tools for the IFCA, characterising the marine environment and identifying how the fisheries and other parts of the economy are linked to the condition of these habitats.

It will also document the present and future threats to key habitats, predict the likelihood of change and demonstrate the potential scale of impact on ecology, economy and society.

It will ultimate generate a new approach to management of the Scillies’ seas, allowing decisions to be based on a wider understanding of benefits and impacts and improving co-ordination between authorities and organisations with roles and responsibilities in managing the marine environment.

Dr Rees said:

“The concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services help us understand how valuable our natural environment actually is. Through it, we can also see how much it provides to our lives and how important it is to ensure the underlying ecosystems continue to function and thrive. We are already developing new methods to meet these aims through the North Devon Marine Pioneer initiative, and this project represents an opportunity to further trial those approaches to benefit a sustainable and secure fishing industry.”
Dr Sheehan added:

“The Isles of Scilly are fraught with extreme challenges for underwater research as the area is exposed, deep and extremely rocky. Despite this, it is one of the most rewarding places to work due to the clear waters and breath-taking reefs that are more impressive than anywhere else I have worked.”

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The Marine Conservation Research Group investigates the consequences of human activity on marine biodiversity and its ecosystem services in order to provide scientific evidence and management advice for the benefit of marine ecosystems and society.