A BEACH protest has been held against South West Water’s plan for a desalination plant in St Austell Bay.

Campaigners marked World Ocean Day with a show of strength in opposition to the proposed plant at Par Docks.

More than 300 people gathered on Par Beach on Saturday with placards and banners. The Horners Street Band played traditional dances and marches, leading the protesters towards the sea as the tide came in and swimmers, paddleboarders and small boats took to the water.

One of the organisers from the Desalination Information Group (DIG), Jenny Tagney, said: “I was overwhelmed that so many people joined us to show just how much they care about this issue.

“The marine environment in St Austell Bay is so important and unique – and will be irreparably damaged if the desalination plant goes ahead. It’s crucial that we all do everything we can to stop this happening.”

South West Water’s plans include the installation of two pipelines into the bay, one to abstract the seawater for desalination and one to discharge the concentrated brine back into the sea. Campaigners say the pipes are likely to have a significant impact on the marine environment.

A DIG spokesperson said: “St Austell Bay is home to one of the UK’s largest seagrass beds and large tracts of maerl – a delicate coral-like algae that grows at the rate of just 0.5mm a year.

“These highly-effective carbon stores (they store more carbon than temperate forests) are home to over 120 different marine species, providing breeding grounds for fish, shellfish and the rare and protected short snouted and spiny seahorses.

“The bay has been designated as a Special Protected Area for endangered diving birds too, including black throated and great northern divers, providing safe feeding grounds for over-wintering.

“The installation of the proposed pipelines, disturbance of the sediment in the bay and the ongoing effects of concentrated brine will cause permanent damage to this sensitive environment – especially to the maerl beds, which have been deemed an ‘irreplaceable habitat’ by Natural England.

“South West Water has submitted a licence application to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to carry out initial test drilling in St Austell Bay, with a series of proposed drill sites heading straight through the seagrass and maerl beds. People at the event were urged to register their objection to the application.”

The campaigners say objections must be registered with the MMO by June 19.

South West Water decided on pursuing the desalination idea after the heatwaves and water restrictions in recent years.

The company says the plant will provide a long-term solution.