A CRUISE company has cancelled a party at sea event off the Dorset coast after being made aware of a protected seahorse population.

Dorset Cruises had previously announced its first social distancing-compliant event in the post-coronavirus world, called Soirée on the Sea Part 1.

For the event, the Poole-based company's vintage motor yacht Dorset Queen would have anchored in the middle of Studland Bay this Saturday. Guests were invited to bring their own boats to drop anchor in the bay, where they would be entertained by live DJ sets and take away drinks and food from the Dorset Queen.

However, the event has now been cancelled after Dorset Cruises was made aware of the population of protected seahorses that reside on the seabed of Studland Bay.

In a statement on social media, Jon Morgan of Dorset Cruises said: "We have only become aware this morning that Studland Bay is home to protected seahorses and of course we don’t want to cause any harm to our environment or local wild/marine life.

"We will of course move the event in light of the information we have gleaned.

"We were simply trying to create a fun event to give people something to look forward after the past few months of restrictions and to and kick start our summer after Covid-19 nearly put us out of business.

"Please forgive our our blind enthusiasm, which meant we didn’t think to check on marine life residing in the bay.

"Hopefully a positive to come out of this is that private boat owners who were likewise unaware, now are aware and that should help protect the Seahorses for many years to come.

"Education is key and hopefully a lot of us have learnt something about the wildlife in Studland Bay today.

"Watch this space whilst we rethink the plans for Soirée on the Sea."

Both of the UK’s native seahorse species – the Spiny and the Short Snouted - gained protected status in 2008 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act following data collection and campaigning by the Seahorse Trust.

After the submission of a proposal for its protection in 2009, and following years of campaigning by the Seahorse Trust and its supporters, Studland Bay was finally designated last year as a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) in recognition of the importance of its seagrass habitat and its seahorse population.