Opinions on a Looe Outer Harbour Proposal are being sought by Looe Harbour Commission. Given the role of Looe Marine Conservation Group to inform and educate, this statement has been prepared in response to questions raised from the community regarding environmental concerns.
The PR surrounding the proposal and community questionnaire released in February 2017 does not explore environmental impact. Our aim is to assist the residents of Looe in understanding the environmental position.
Environmental Impact of Outer Harbour Proposal
Looe is incredibly lucky to have a diverse marine ecosystem right on its doorstep; in 2013, the Looe-Whitsand Bay Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) was designated for this reason. The main concern is that a project of this nature has the potential to impact several of the feature species and habitats protected under the MCZ, and thus would hinder the achievement of the conservation objectives stated for the Looe-Whitsand Bay MCZ.
Importance of Looe’s Seagrass
Key concerns relate to impacts on specific habitats and habitat loss, particularly the sea grass beds that are just off the beach. Seagrass beds are important habitat as they act as nursery grounds for commercially important fish species, as well as harbouring other organisms such as seahorses, and the protected stalked jellyfish’ we find in our seas.
Not only is seagrass important for other marine species, it is also a key carbon sink in the marine environment. This means that seagrass takes carbon from the atmosphere, and stores it within the plant tissues. Seagrass therefore plays a crucial role in climate regulation, but it is one of the most threatened habitats in the world. The MCZ provides the necessary protection for this habitat and its associated species.
Protecting Looe’s marine eco-system
As many of you also know, the estuary in Looe is very important for fish stocks and sea bird populations.
Another key environmental consideration is the possible impact on the East and West Looe estuaries from the proposed tidal gates, increased marine noise (boat traffic), influence on coastal processes and increased sedimentation. All of these factors have the potential to adversely affect the marine ecosystem.
Looe Marine Conservation Zone
The designation of the Looe and Whitsand Bay Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) in 2013 represents major progress in the protection of the marine environment in our coastal waters for several key reasons. The UK is obliged to create a coherent network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) under international treaties and EU law.
The designated features of the Looe-Whitsand Bay MCZ, including the pink sea fans, sea fan anemones, stalked jelly fish and most importantly, the precious seagrass beds that are found throughout the zone, all contribute to the overall network of MCZs in UK waters. Surveys undertaken with Natural England as recently as January 2017 recorded high abundances of these species in Looe Bay. This suggests there is still much of the zone that could harbour a range of protected species which will benefit from the protection afforded by the MCZ.
Protecting the future
It is premature to adopt a formal stance at this stage of the proposal as this is not at formal consultation phase, and plans would need to be seen in detail and assessed against an environmental impact assessment. However, as it stands today, the Looe-Whitsand Bay MCZ is now included in UK environmental legislation for its protection, and this development goes entirely against that. The potential impacts of this proposed development are too great to be permitted within a designated MCZ. Not only is this unacceptable for the Looe-Whitsand Bay MCZ itself, but there is a concern that this would also set a precedent for future projects that this level of development and damage is allowable within MCZs.
As a result of the aforementioned points, the Looe Marine Conservation Group is currently against the Looe Outer Harbour Proposal. We believe the existing MCZ legislation should be allowed to protect our coastal waters from such development thereby affording protection to designated and undesignated features.
The importance of seagrass beds for fisheries, and the estuary for sea bird populations and fish stocks cannot be overlooked. Whilst parts of the proposal are very focused on protecting people, homes and businesses from the risk of flooding, the protection of the environment is also key to Looe, it’s economy, and its tourism industry.