The South West Wales coastline shelters about 35 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, (SSSIs), a National Park, one of the country’s three Marine Nature Reserves, two potential European Special Conservation Zones (SCZs) in addition to several other sites of special interest. Professional and recreational fishing and tourism are widely developed there.
Milford Haven and the surrounding coastline have been closely studied for the past 20 years particularly in an attempmt to evaluate the impact of developing the commercial port and local oil industry facilities on marine flora and fauna. As a result, scientists had an outstanding benchmark for measuring changes caused by the Sea Empress spill.
A number of research teams started studying the behaviour of spilled oil immediately after the spill (concentration effect of oil having been naturally or chemically dispersed in the water column) in addition to evaluating environmental damage caused by the spill.
It was quickly evident that there was a need to check whether sufficient information had been collected and whether duplication had occurred through lack of co-ordination. Such considerations lead the Welsh Office to set up the now well known Sea Empress Environmental Evaluation Committee (SEEEC) chaired by Professor Ron Edwards. The SEEEC was tasked with evaluating the impact of the spill and post-spill clean-up and ensuing rehabilitation operations on local environmental resources near the spill, such as fisheries, farming, amenities and wild life...
The SEEEC convened its first meeting during the first few days of April 1996. Three theme groups were set up: « Sea, land and coastline and the fate of pollutants » comprising public bodies, charity organisations, university institutions and technology companies in the area.
After careful examination, more than 80 study projects were shortlisted for environmental evaluation. At present, most of the projects are underway thanks to funding provided particularly by the Welsh Office, the Department of the Environment, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Progress reports will be forthcoming from most of these projects in spring or summer 1997. A smaller number of projects will last a little longer. SEEEC published a final report in 1998.