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Manx Marine Mud – It’s important

Unesco Isle of Man

In our capacity as an island community, our reliance on the sea is profound, encompassing various aspects of our livelihoods. Nonetheless, it is often facile to overlook its significance.

The subject of marine muds may be unfamiliar to many, perhaps even obscure, yet their role in sustaining the vitality of our oceans, marine ecosystems, climate equilibrium, and fisheries is indisputable. While the public discourse on marine conservation frequently gravitates towards the protection of charismatic marine landscapes such as coral reefs and seagrass meadows, the significance and intrigue of marine muds demand equal attention.

Marine muds, ubiquitous in global aquatic environments spanning from coastal regions to the abyssal depths, constitute a crucial ecological substrate. In the marine environs surrounding the Isle of Man, these muds, replete with nutrient-rich sediments, harbor a diverse array of life forms, many of which find refuge beneath the veneer of sediment.

Notably, the Irish Sea hosts two extensive muddy regions: one lying eastward of the Isle of Man towards Morecambe Bay, and another to the west, known as the Western Irish Sea Mud-Belt (WISMB), extending approximately five miles off the coast of Peel and stretching almost to the Irish coastline. These muddy expanses serve as vital fishing grounds, with the WISMB emerging as the principal fishery for Dublin Bay Prawn—also referred to as scampi or langoustine—in European waters, boasting an estimated annual worth of £12 million.

This diminutive crustacean species, dwelling within burrows nestled within the mud, ventures forth solely during twilight hours to scour the seabed for sustenance, exhibiting a predilection for an eclectic diet encompassing various marine invertebrates. Presently, prawn harvesting predominantly employs bottom trawling techniques, wherein weighted nets are dragged across the seabed. While effective in ensnaring prawns, this method poses collateral risks to non-targeted species incapable of evading the trawl’s trajectory.

Recent revelations have highlighted the extensive trawling activity within the Western Irish Sea Mud-Belt, underscoring the imperative of safeguarding these delicate ecosystems. Within these mud-laden realms, an assortment of delicate organisms, such as sea pens—so named for their resemblance to antiquated writing implements—dwell upon the seabed, employing their sinuous appendages to ensnare passing prey, thereby sustaining the intricate balance of the ecosystem.

Furthermore, an array of marine fauna, including worms, shrimps, and mollusks, inhabit the sedimentary depths, undertaking vital roles in sediment mixing and nutrient recycling—a phenomenon known as bioturbation. Notably, the Western Irish Sea Mud-Belt serves as a pivotal nursery ground for the brown crab, with gravid females migrating to these mud patches to nurture their progeny.

The preservation of these muddy ecosystems assumes heightened significance in the context of climate change mitigation, given their role as natural carbon sinks. Indeed, the Western Irish Sea Mud-Belt likely represents the Isle of Man’s largest reservoir of “blue carbon” within its marine domain. As denizens of the ocean sequester carbon through their biological processes, the ensuing organic residues contribute to the seafloor’s carbon stockpile, fostering long-term carbon retention.

Recognizing the paramount importance of marine muds in ensuring the sustainability of fisheries, mitigating climate change impacts, and fostering oceanic health, both the UK and Isle of Man Governments are actively exploring strategies for their conservation. Further insights into these pivotal habitats are available through the Manx Blue Carbon Project, aimed at enhancing our comprehension of marine muds within Manx waters, accessible at www.netzero.com/bluecarbon.

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