MARINE life off the Dorset coast is beginning to bloom again after the area was closed to ‘destructive’ fishing, experts say.

Since July, 2008, dredging for shellfish and demersal trawling has been prohibited in a designated 60 square mile area of Lyme Bay through its Marine Protected Area (MPA) status.

A study of damaged reefs has revealed that closure to fishing gear in this area has improved the quality and abundance of marine life, with ross coral, king scallops and large sea-squirts showing definite recovery.

Full recovery of sensitive seabeds will take years but these indicators are a positive sign.

Research began after The Lyme Bay Designated Area (Fishing Restrictions) Order 2008 was imposed, closing it off to mobile fishing such as dredging and trawling.

Scientists used underwater video to gather information to check whether habitats were improving.

Compared to fished areas, evidence showed good progress towards the recovery of habitats and species within this Marine Protected Area (MPA) compared to previous studies.

Marine conservation officer for Dorset Wildlife Trust, Emma Rance said: “This study proves that MPAs work as an effective win-win for conservation and the fishing industry.

“The benefits go beyond marine wildlife with healthier and larger seabed communities that are more resilient and productive.

“The species that spill out beyond the boundary of the protected areas benefit the mobile fishing industry, which are prohibited from working inside the closed area.”

The documented recovery of scallops, which are economically valuable for Lyme Bay, proves that contrary to previous studies, they were affected by damaging fishing methods across Lyme Bay before the closure of the area. As long as protection continues, the scallop population should remain stable and become increasingly important as large scallops grow in number.

There were also some other surprise effects of protection, research showed. The nearby “non-reef” habitat with sediment covering the seabed showed the recovery of slow-growing and long-lived reef species of 'dead man's fingers' and ross coral which provide shelter and settlement for many species.

Emma Rance said: “This is a good example of why conservation managers must carefully consider protecting the area as a whole and not just draw boundaries around the reef alone.”