IT has been a year to forget. But though so much has been lost, 2020 was the year beachgoers and conservationists alike learnt more about the incredible marine life that exists right on our doorstep.

As Sussex locked down and more people took the time to rediscover nature, social media was flooded with videos and photographs of dolphins taken by lucky snappers.

Many of the sightings were reported to the Brighton Dolphin Project, an organisation that monitors and researches dolphins in our waters.

Between April and August this year, the project received twice as many bottlenose dolphin sightings as it did in the entirety of 2019.

But it is not just dolphins that have been spotted in our waters.

Seals, porpoises, jellyfish and even a sea horse have also been spotted off the coast.

Lloyd Gofton, a spokesman for Brighton Dolphin Project, said it was important to understand how the whole eco-system worked in order to preserve and protect it.

He said “Every person who is lucky enough to live in Sussex lives close to the sea and it’s that real possibility that it could be anyone who makes a sighting.

“You don’t have to go to California or Australia, we have that opportunity here.

“For those predators to be successful and healthy there has to be a marine eco-system beneath that.

“The whole thing has to be working, you don’t just get dolphins and nothing else, it doesn’t work that way.

“We are trying to understand the whole eco-system a bit better, in terms of kelp beds and all the other marine aspects that need to be looked into.

“It is a healthy environment from what we can tell, but it’s just collating the data so that we can prove that.”

The project is currently collating information to explain why there has been a sharp increase in sightings.

He said: “We are seeing the Channel’s average sea temperature going up and the belief is that the temperature equates to what it was in the Bay of Biscay about 30 years ago now.

“The Bay of Biscay obviously has a much bigger prevalence of dolphins for example than we do, but if you are seeing those temperatures rise, then we are seeing more marine mammals coming in.

“They are following their prey species that are also coming in for that reason.

“Common dolphins prefer it a little bit warmer than we usually have it, but bottlenose dolphins are not so impacted by that.”

Lloyd said that marine life may have always thrived on our coast, but because of a lack of existing research, it is difficult to make a comparison with previous years.

He said: “The reality is we don’t really know what was there before.

“No one has done extensive research on this and there is no government data saying how many dolphins were there before.

“We don’t really have that point of comparison but that’s what we want do to by getting actual data saying what is there.

“It is the first real research into marine mammals in the eastern English channels. It is a new era.

“The level of engagement that we get in terms of talking to people about dolphins is amazing. You see people’s eyes light up as soon as you talk about it.

“Part of that is disbelief that we have dolphins and the second is when we explain that we have three species that visit us and four if you include the harbour porpoises.

“That is four species of cetacean that we have here that you can see.

“Some people have sent us sightings from their lounges that they have seen whilst sitting on their sofas overlooking the sea.

“I think it really does give people an understanding that there is huge diversity of marine life just on our coast.”

The project hopes to increase its engagement next year by restarting its educational wildlife cruises.

The organisation has only been able to run a limited number of trips this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lloyd said: “Although we can’t guarantee dolphins, we can guarantee that educational experience.

“We talk people through the various species we have here and it really is about showing people, educating them and giving them an educational experience.

“The videos are great, the pictures are great and the stories are amazing but there’s nothing better than people actually getting out

on to the water and experiencing it.”

If you to make a sighting, contact