NRW's work helping Wales' water wonders

Wales is a nation of contrasts from bustling urban towns and cities to the complete isolation of expansive beautiful countryside and with its 2,750km (1,700 miles) of coastline, it means nobody is ever too far away from our sea.

And what an amazing coastline we have with glorious views and an abundance of ways to enjoy it but even better, it is the perfect home for marine wildlife such as seals, dolphins, porpoises, sharks and jellyfish as well as a whole host of other creatures and plant life. 

The coasts around Wales also have the amazing ability to help with the fight against big challenges like climate change with the special ability some of its habitats, like seagrass meadows and saltmarshes, have of being able to capture and store excess carbon from our atmosphere. 

Our seas and coasts and all that live in them are precious, fragile environments that need our help to keep them healthy and thriving and that’s why Natural Resources Wales has been undertaking a whole raft of initiatives to make sure we help shore up our seashores!  

Here’s a look at just few of our ocean-dwelling neighbours and some of NRW’s initiatives to help protect our marine environment: 

  • Did you know Wales is considered a stronghold for one of the world’s rarest sharks? The angelshark is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Flatter than other sharks, it is perfectly adapted to live on the seabed, gliding over the sand with its wing-like fins, and able to bury itself in the sand. It is superbly camouflaged both in colour and patterning to blend in with the sandy seabed, so it can ambush its prey at lightning speed. NRW has launched a new project with the Zoological Society of London to collect current and historical sightings of angelsharks from people in Wales. Find out more here: Natural Resources Wales / Citizen scientists invited to ‘plunge’ into Welsh waters to help research rare aquatic species

  • Along the west Wales coast, dolphins can be spotted. Hunting in small groups called pods, they call to each other to coordinate their movements and feeding on locally abundant fish. In fact, they can eat around 5% of their body weight daily! But could you tell a harbour porpoise from a dolphin? Porpoise are smaller than dolphins, at 1.5 metres long, and their dorsal fin is more triangular. Unlike dolphins, porpoise are not acrobatic and do not jump out of the water.  Harbour porpoise can be regularly seen along the Welsh coast. Particular hotspots include Skomer and Ramsay islands, Strumble Head and north east Anglesey, where they are often found feeding in areas of strong tidal currents. Porpoise are an internationally protected species. In 2017 three marine Special Areas of Conservation were created around Wales to protect harbour porpoise. As part of NRW’s work to make sure we are focusing on the key challenges facing our marine and coastlines and how we can better manage them to build resilience, we, along with our partners have produced the Marine Area Statement. The Marine Area Statement covers the area of inshore water, extending 12 miles from the coast. It has three main themes including building resilience of marine ecosystems, coastal adaptation and nature-based solutions and marine panning. To find out more about the statement, click here: Natural Resources Wales / Marine Area Statement

  • In parts of Wales there is a reef that stretches nearly 5km along the shores which has been built by a worm! The Honeycomb reef worm lives in tubes and builds itself a home from sand or fragments of shell. The worm never leaves its home but, when the tide covers the reef, it crawls to the edge to filter plankton from the water. The biggest reefs in Wales are in Cardigan Bay. But if you see a reef, please take care not to walk on it – it is fragile and easily broken. NRW is working to find out what we all understand, know and feel about our seas and coasts with its ground-breaking Ocean Literacy survey. Read more about the work we have been doing: Natural Resources Wales / NRW releases ground-breaking survey highlighting the importance of sea and coast to people in Wales

  • Off the coast of Pembrokeshire, two uninhabited islands become the home to at least 8,000 pairs of puffins every summer. Skomer and Skokholm are a favourite haunt for puffins who spend most of their lives at sea and are incredible swimmers. They use their short wings to ‘fly’ underwater, diving down to 60 metres in search of fish returning to land in spring to breed. They nest in burrows, so the absence of land predators is essential to their survival. Hungry gulls are their main predators. Find out more about our monitoring work at Skomer: Natural Resources Wales / Monitoring Sea fans at Skomer marine conservation zone

  • Among some of the creatures which thrive in Wales’ rocky shores is the common limpet. With its cone shaped shell, it can be spotted in abundance seemingly stuck to rocks. And these little shellfish have an amazing way of protecting itself not just from the elements but also from potential predators. It finds a spot on a rock which it makes its home by perfectly matching its shell to the contours of the rock. After feeding it always goes back to the same spot and because it can mould precisely to the rock, it can clamp down with its muscular foot and make a tight seal against the battering waves and drying air. When the tide goes out, the limpet moves about to feed, scraping films of seaweed off rock surfaces with its ‘radula’ – a ribbon like tongue with rows of teeth. Then it goes home to survive another battering! As part of NRW’s work to manage our shorelines, we have produced four plans which we use to make sure we are thinking about the short, mid and long term. Read more about the plans here: Natural Resources Wales / Shoreline Management Plans

  • Blue Carbon is the phrase coined to describe the potential our oceans have for helping in the fight against climate change using nature-based solutions. The seagrass meadows which inhabit the seabed across Wales’ waters have an amazing ability to capture and store carbon. And among the plants in these seagrass meadows to help with carbon capture is the only flowering plant that grows and produces seeds entirely submerged by seawater. The Eelgrass plant can be found among the seagrass meadows in Wales’ shallow and sheltered waters. It forms as dense meadows and offers the perfect shelter for creatures like seahorses as well as being used as important nursery habitats for small fish, cuttlefish, shellfish and rays.  Read more about NRW’s work here: Natural Resources Wales / NRW study confirms Wales’ seas have massive potential for carbon offsetting to tackle the climate emergency

  • Wales has a thriving population of Grey Seals living in our seas and are in fact the UK’s largest predator with some weighing a whopping 230kg. They can eat up to 5kg of fish a day! Grey Seals are most at home out at sea and usually come ashore for the pupping and breeding season in the autumn and to rest up on secluded rocky outcrops or on beaches. Grey seal pupping season extends from mid-August to December, with a peak in September and October across the Welsh coastline. Find out more about how NRW is working together for our coasts and seas: Working together for our coasts and seas - priorities and progress - YouTube

  • Wales was once the hotbed of a prolific oyster fishing industry. Sadly, overfishing and changes to water quality amongst other challenges over the last two centuries has meant the native oyster, known for its ability to filter and clean water, had virtually died out. That was until 2021, when a NRW-led project to restore the native oyster in Milford Haven got under way. Read more about this here: Natural Resources Wales / A conservation project to restore native oysters in the Milford Haven estuary

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