There are 28 species of cetaceans recorded in UK waters, with many of them residing in coastal waters – particularly high in Scotland. Many people come from across the world every year to spot these animals from coastal sites and Scotland’s tourism industry relies on it.
Developments of coastal areas, whether they are expansions and developments of ports and harbours, flood alleviation schemes or construction of bridges will often involve some form of pile driving or drilling which can be harmful to these animals and therefore often requires a Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) on site as part of the planning conditions.
Cetaceans, whales, dolphins and porpoise, are listed as European protected species and are fully protected under the Conservation (Natural Habitats) regulations 1994 (as amended). It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure, capture, disturb or harass these animals. They are very sensitive to underwater noise, depending on their hearing for foraging, communication and navigation. Underwater noise can have several negative impacts on cetaceans including masking social communication, temporary or permanent hearing loss or impairment, displacement from preferred habitat and disruption of feeding. In severe cases it can affect breeding and nursing, causing strandings and can ultimately be fatal to marine mammals.
A marine mammal observer will be someone competent and experienced in identifying marine species. The MMO will be able to communicate directly with operators to not only ensure marine mammals are protected from disturbance during works but that both the client and contractor are working to the correct regulations and following best practice.
Being a marine mammal observer entails monitoring the works area for the presence of marine mammals prior to and during construction works. An exclusion zone of a 500m radius from the source of disturbance will be scanned around the work area for at least 30 minutes prior to the start of for example, piling works. If cetaceans are observed in the exclusion zone, works should be delayed until the animals leave the area. Should cetaceans enter the exclusion zone during works, works must cease until they have left the area. Where no cetaceans have been detected, works can start, employing a soft start of low activity before reaching full power to deter any animals in the vicinity of the works.
Having an MMO on site allows works to be carried out in sensitive areas and ensures marine mammals are not subjected to dangerous noise levels.
Local to our Inverness office, the Moray Firth is home to a resident population of Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and the largest bottlenose dolphins at that, measuring up to 4m in length compared to about 2m in warmer waters. This population in particular attracts many tourists to the area as they are easily visible from the coast. Members of this population have been seen entering the marina in Inverness and frequent the mouth of the River Ness feeding on salmon over the summer months. Along the coast, they can be seen as little as 5m from land and anywhere from the shores of Northumberland to the northern isles.
Should you require an MMO or any advice, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.