Saturday, 5 June 2010

Oh dear...

Hi Cliff.

I spent most of the last 36 hours at the Sound, I noted the last posting from Alison noted only a few porpoise and a lot of boat activity. I would like to add a numbers perspective to that comment.
In a three hour watch that I did yesterday which included the change from flood to ebb I logged 28 crossings of the sound by boats of one form or another with a few others transiting, all seemed to be in a hurry, 24 of the crossings were by nature tours.
Thank goodness for the marine code? A recent update (agreed by PMCG, and so added to new maps), sought to protect porpoise when transiting the sound by adding a caution area either side of the bitches, unfortunately though, it has been impossible to see any change from the norm which is to get from one side to the other as quick as possible.
The marine code officer suggests naming names and providing filmed and photographic evidence.
The idea is supposed to be, they police themselves.

It was clear to me a couple of weeks ago that this new and reasonable addition to the code has not got through to those skippering the boats, I witnessed porpoise surfacing just North of the bitches, a boat then passed over the same area a few moments later, The skipper obviously not seeing, carried on, the clients missing a chance to see the porpoise, it was just about slack water at the time.

One boat owner/skipper points out he has no propeller so his boat cant hurt anything underwater which, I have to say, is just as well! Its possibly the loudest boat running in the sound so your attention is always drawn to it wherever it is. (Dosen't mean they cant damage animals by hitting them on the surface or seperate calves from mothers )
He crosses the sound heading straight for the cliffs of Ramsey Island, what a thrill as he throws the boat into a full 380 degree turn and comes to a dead stop, a few moments and then he is off again, at speed, into the cave by the Island quay and out the other side.
I did see a porpoise about 7.30 in the evening making its way up the sound at quite a speed, I wondered if it had caught the bug!
So very few porpoise in the sound, I wonder, like Alison, what is happening.
With all these nature boats looking at so much nature you think we could get a clearer picture? but non choose to report their sightings, something to do with commercial confidentiallity or something like that, or so I was once told.

Bring on the bad weather,
I can see why Malcolm has become frustrated by this situation and agree that some skippers seem more into joy riding than wildlife conservation (I repeat some Skippers) . Malcolm is not a bunny hugger he is a respected, qualified and highly experienced Marine Mammal Observer. He has aso worked in the wildlife tourism industry and is currently employed by Tidal Energy Limited studying the porpoises in the Ramsay Sound.
The Pembrokeshire Marine Code is a voluntary code. It is an agreement made and ratified by boat operators (some of whom I know and like) and conservationists. It seems crazy that the operators seem unable to stick within the spirit of their own code. The WiSe code seems to be equally ineffective. You have to wonder why the operators go to the trouble of making their skippers attend the WiSe sheme courses organised by the Marine Code Group. Maybe from what Malcom saw, they think its the Whizz scheme. Without some kind of effective monitoring it just looks like its another bit of greenwash.
I first attended a PMCG meeting with skippers at St Justinians in 2004, and many more since. The basic issue of boats speeding through the narrow enclosed waters of Ramsay Sound has still not been resolved. How long is it going to take for operators to see it is in their best interests to give their punters a chance to see the porpoises by taking things a bit more slowly... I feel particularly sorry for Tom Luddington PMCG coordinator who has worked so hard trying to make the code work, and has mostly succeeded in other parts of the county.
I have long argued the case for compulsory codes and operators licensed boats. It was argued that we should try a voluntary code first, but sadly as has been the case all over the world, it never seems to work.
I really think its time for decisive action by CCW with regards to protecting animals in a designated European Special Area of Conservation, especially when animals such as cetaceans are all supposed to be protected under British and European Law. We need properly licensed boats like everywhere else in the world where these voluntary schemes have failed. If the licensee fails to live up to the rules they loose their license. It takes away all temptation to break the rules and puts the conservation of the animals above the commercial perspective. In the long run the operators and the wildlife win.