Coastal & marine policy; critical habitats for cetacean and morphological responses to climatic flux

Dr Rhian Elizabeth Jenkins

Cetacean Management

Baseline distributional and behavioural data is rarely abundant for most species of cetacean and yet Local Authorities and conservation organisations often talk about ‘managing’ populations. However, you can’t manage something you can’t measure. Furthermore, coastal developments, obligated to consider environmental impacts, struggle to obtain recent and reliable ecological data for many marine and coastal species.  Much of the on-going work for harbour porpoise populations centres on establishing baseline constant-effort data and applying behavioural observations so that critical feeding and breeding environmental might be identified. Few have conducted ethological methods to studying porpoise behaviour but this quantifiable research has been undertaken for the past ten years. Identification of critical habitats and potential conflict areas can inform coastal management systems.

Coastal Processes

Recent coastal flooding events have highlighted the vulnerability of many coastal towns toseawater intrusion. Many shoreline management plans highlight the potential options for sea defences and /or coastal retreat but where there is significant economic infrastructure, Councils are under pressure to protect the most valuable and populated foreshores. With climatic influences affecting many areas it is essential to understand the influence of coastal structures and anticipated changes to our coastline. Research in both the physical processes (sediment movement and coastal erosion) and identifying vulnerability indices for key economic centres is ongoing.

Land Remediation

The focus in land reclamation has changed in recent years from recycling land for uses considered sustainable, such as industrial or recreational, towards providing solutions that are self-sustaining. Restoring a landscape through natural processes and where ultimately, it is capable of looking after itself, is undoubtedly beneficial from a local community perspective. Land degradation is commonplace along the South Wales Coalfield and while often referred to officially as ‘reclaimed’, most areas continue to actively degrade.  Current research is attempting to identify the most cost effective and efficient methods of reclaiming contaminated land using trees without any additional intervention. Different combinations of tree species and planting techniques are used to establish this conclusion and the project is estimated to continue for several years to come.

The School is involved in a joint research project with Oxford Brookes University examining remediation of anthropogenic processes. The focus here being land reclamation, which has changed in recent years from recycling land for uses considered sustainable. Our work involves restoring a landscape through natural processes and where ultimately, it is capable of looking after itself, beneficial from a local community perspective. As a consequence, I have recently examined a PhD based on phytoremediation at the site and there will be future collaboration on academic paper based on comparative studies.

Recent involvement with the LCRI group (Low Carbon Renewable Initiative) has led to further consultation involving an impact study. Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon requested harbour porpoise data to inform their Environmental Impact Assessment – evidencing the impact and value of such work from a commercial perspective.

Funders of research include:

  • Welsh Government;
  • Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon;
  • WEFO

Through the work in this research area the School has active research links and collaborations with researchers and practitioners in:

  • The US, through the Cradle for Nature collaboration (Varteg research)
  • British Columbia, University of Victoria (harbour porpoise work)

Jenkins, R.E., Brown, R.D. and Phillips, M.R. (2009). Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) conservation management: a dimensional approach, Marine Policy. 33(5):744-749

Increased coastal pressures demand better governance and this study adopted a dimensional analysis to produce a local management framework for harbour porpoise populations. Having established basic behavioural dynamics and identified critical habitats, a coastal zone use model was developed. This highlighted porpoise and coastal user interaction from a species perspective. An estimation of consequence probability was determined and revealed that continued coastal use, without mitigation, is likely to have significant local impacts on porpoise populations. Mitigation refers principally to industry, fisheries and recreation and suggestions include flexible zoning; speed and vessel restrictions; engineering solutions to noise intrusion and fisheries monitoring. A mixture of formal and informal regulations is recommended, together with educational projects and industry-funded research opportunities.

Thomas, T., Phillips, M.R., Williams, A.T. and Jenkins, R.E. (2014) Links between wave forcing, offshore islands and a macro-tidal headland-bound bay beach. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. 39:143-155

Profiles were analysed in conjunction with wave climate to assess offshore island influences on an embayed beach at Tenby, Wales. Time series analyses showed medium and short-term beach oscillation, with volume exchanges between zones lagging by up to six months. Dominant southerly and southwesterly waves caused sub and low tidal longshore drift from south towards north, while less frequent southeasterly waves generated counter drift. Modelled inshore breaking waves had less energy than offshore ones and the former behaved differently between the low and high tidal zones (spring tidal range of 7.5 m). Variations in wave direction from directly behind the islands resulted in reduced wave heights and statistical analyses agreed with wave model results. These were correlated to morphological change and it was concluded that offshore islands change wave dynamics and modify the morphology of embayed beaches in their lee.

Plamping, K., Haigh, M., Cullis, M. J., Jenkins, R. E., (2008) Evaluation of Cambial Electrical Resistance (CER) for the Appraisal of Tree Vitality on Reclaimed Coal Lands, International Journal of Mining, Reclamation and Environment:

Cambium electrical resistance (CER) is explored as a rapid-assessment method of measuring of forest vitality and disease damage. A five year study in a 10-year-old mixed plantation of Alder (Alnus glutinosa, L.) and Oak (Quercus petraea (Mattuschka) Liebl.) created for the reclamation of surface-coal mined land in South Wales found a negative correlation between CER and tree maturity and no correlation between CER and fertiliser treatment levels.