October 9, 2008

Forget Surfing the Web, and Go Virtual Diving

By Peter Harrison

Lundy Island is to feature in a new service provided by the website Google Earth.

Google Earth already provides extensive mapping, imagery, galleries and information on all parts of the world, but now web users will be given access to undersea landscapes, including the habitat of threatened species which live off the coast, as part of a new facility.

The new layer of Google Earth Outreach will feature video streams, photo galleries and stories from marine protected areas (MPAs) around the world.

The Government's conservation agency, Natural England, has contributed information about 43 marine sites around the coast of England that offer some protection to species such as the basking shark, as well as seahorses, corals and algae.

One of the places users can visit "virtually" is Lundy Island, off North Devon's coast. It is England's only statutory marine reserve and a no-take-zone - banning fishing and enabling wildlife in the 3.3sq km area to thrive.

Lundy Island has been a no-take-zone for several years and has proved a major success with an abundance of marine life seeking sanctuary in the area. Lobster potters have found that their catch is bigger and better than before in the surrounding area. The success of Lundy has been used to promote the Government's marine wildlife conservation bill which will see other conservation areas introduced.

Dr Helen Phillips, Natural England's chief executive, said she hoped the new MPA layer in Google Earth would bring the marine environment to life and raise awareness of the need to conserve it.

She said: "There needs to be a change in attitudes towards protecting our oceans. The diversity of marine wildlife around England's coastline is exceptional. We have everything from whales through to microscopic phytoplankton, but we need an enhanced marine protection system to help conserve our undersea environment."

The new site was launched at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) world conservation congress in Barcelona yesterday.

The IUCN's new global web portal, Protect Planet Ocean, was also launched to provide information on the urgent need to strengthen the protection provided for the marine environment.

The Marine Bill is set to be introduced in the next session of Parliament, which will include powers to create marine protection zones and prevent damaging activities such as dredging in those areas.

The bill has caused some controversy in areas such as Lyme Bay where scallop dredgers have been told they will no longer be able to operate to help conserve life on the seabed.

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.