Marine Life of the Coast Path

The South West Coast Path takes you along the boundary between land and sea. This unique littoral corridor connects us intimately with the marine world and its creatures; an ever-changing environment impacted by the ebb and flow of tides and storms.

Photo: Dolphins at St Michaels Mount, Cornwall by Mark Marlow 

Walking along the Trail you have the chance to see grey seals, common dolphins, harbour porpoise and various species of shark. These apex predators are a great indicator of the health of our marine environments. Closer to the shore you can explore the myriad of rockpools teeming with amazing creatures and seaweeds. Over 70% of the National Trail runs through protected landscapes meaning that much of the South West’s coastline, shores, beaches and bays which form rich these rich habitats have been shielded from over-development.

Grey seals as ambassadors for UK marine life    

Photos: Grey seals spotted from the Trail in South Cornwall by Becky Millington and South Devon by Nick Shepherd

The popular and iconic grey seal delights Coast Path visitors from all over the world with its curious, playful nature. Despite being easily visible from the Trail they are listed as a globally rare species. An astonishing 38% of all grey seals live in and around UK waters, making the Cornish colonies very special.

The connection felt by locals and tourists alike who encounter grey seals along the South West Coast Path plays a vital role in raising levels of awareness, respect and compassion for our marine habitats and species more broadly.

If you are lucky enough to have a grey seal sighting yourself, please register it with the Cornwall Seal Group to help their monitoring work.

The Coast Path and our seascapes

Photo: Newquay & The Gannel Marine Conservation Zone, Cornwall by Nick Cockman

National Trails are part of a wider family of protected landscapes including National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The South West Coast Path has the additional benefit of connecting us to our protected seascapes including Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protected Areas, Marine Conservation Zones, RAMSAR sites and the UK’s first National Marine Park at Plymouth Sound – helping protect much of the marine environment around the South West. This is in stark contrast with the global picture where internationally less than 7.5% of our seas and oceans are covered by marine protected areas

The South West Coast Path corridor is often thought of a thin green ribbon running wrapping around the edge of the great South West peninsular. This corridor connects habitats, allowing wildlife to travel and building resilience in biodiversity from the threats posed by climate change and development. However, what is perhaps easy to overlook is the Coast Path corridor’s function as a connector across the fragile littoral zone. Land and sea are not binary and habitats don’t just stop at the water’s edge. The protecting ‘buffer’ which the corridor provides between terrestrial and marine is just as crucial for biodiversity as the connection between our protected landscapes.

Discover current wildlife and environmental Path projects: