Underwater drone captures rarely seen Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds
- Credit: Eastern IFCA
An underwater drone has captured footage of the seabed and a rarely seen environment off the north Norfolk coast which is home to the famous Cromer crab.
The Cromer Shoal chalk beds, which are located between Weybourne and Happisburgh, is a unique marine environment that was designated a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) in 2016.
Since the MCZ was created, Natural England (NE) and the Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (Eastern IFCA) have been investigating the health of the chalk beds and the effect of potting - the method of using pots to fish for crabs and lobsters - on them.
In October 2020, NE issued advice to EIFCA that potting, and especially storing pots on the reef, damaged raised areas of the chalk. Since then, debate has raged between conservationists and fishermen, who depend on the reef for their livelihoods, as to what should happen to the future of the reef.
Now, as part of a programme of research that will help inform management decisions relating to the MCZ, Eastern IFCA has sent a remote-controlled vehicle (ROV) below the waves to monitor the health of the chalk bed.
Costing in the region of £10,000, the BLUEROV 2 can be manoeuvred along the seabed and is fitted with cameras that give marine scientists on the surface the ability to map the environment and record any changes over a period of time.
So far, the BLUEROV has completed around five days of survey activity, with plans for more to be carried out before the change in seasons affects underwater visibility.
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Julian Gregory, chief executive officer of the Eastern IFCA, said: "The BlueROV 2 is proving to be an invaluable tool that is enabling us to collect good quality footage of the seabed and interactions between fishing gear and the chalk, particularly rugged chalk, in the MCZ. Understanding this is a critical element of our adaptive risk management of fishing activity in the MCZ."
By continuing to carry out surveys with the ROV during different tides over the coming months, Eastern IFCA hopes to build an "up-to-date and robust base of evidence" to inform its management decisions.