Swansea Bay

Swansea Bay as seen from Townhill

Swansea Bay (Welsh: Bae Abertawe) is an inlet of the Bristol Channel lying south of Swansea, Wales. Other places on the bay include Mumbles and Port Talbot. The River Neath and River Tawe flow into the bay.

Oyster fishing was once an important industry in Swansea Bay, employing 600 people at its height in the 1860s. However, overfishing, disease and pollution had all but wiped out the oyster population by 1920. In 2005 plans were announced to reintroduce the industry.

In recent years, tourism has provided a valuable boost to the local economy. Swansea Bay itself was extremely popular in Victorian times and in the early part of the 20th Century. However, despite having beautiful dunes and golden sands over a large section of the Bay all the way from the from the mouth of the River Neath to Blackpill with the exception of the Swansea Docks breakwater, it now rarely hosts more than a few hundred visitors on the best day, even in the height of summer and has seen little of the tourist boom. Ironically in the last ten years or so, with the reduction in pollution (see below) has come an increase in the amount of sand on the lower stretches of the Bay at low tide which were once almost pure mud flats.

In an attempt to popularise the Bay, in late February 2007, Swansea City Council announced plans for a major revamp of the entire Bay from The Slip all the way round to Mumbles Pier. These include new toilets at The Slip, further improvements to the St. Helens Ground, housing on part of the Recreation Ground, a new ‘Extreme Sports’ Centre at Sketty Lane, further improvements at the popular Blackpill Lido including a new cycle and pedestrian bridge linking the coast path to the Clyne Valley Cycle Path, a multi-story car park at Mumbles Quarry and mixed development at Oystermouth Square and improvements to the Pier.

Pollution
For the last two decades of the 20th Century, the bay was blighted by pollution, partly from the surrounding heavy industry and partly from sewerage outlets being sited at inappropriate locations including the main one that was located just seaward of Mumbles Lighthouse. A pumping station inside the cliff adjacent to Knab Rock brought all of Swansea’s effluent in a raw form to this point. Adding to the problem was the natural current flow of the waters in the Bay which often did not move the polluted waters further out to sea. Ironically, the outgoing tide did not carry the raw sewage down the adjacent Bristol Channel, but instead cause it to be sucked in around the circumference of the Bay and only then out down the Channel. If not fully discharged on that tide, the incoming tide would then push the same effluent up the Channel, and once again circulate around the Bay. Efforts were made by the local authority to reduce the pollution in the Bay but care had to be taken to ensure the pollution did not move to the popular beach resorts on the south Gower instead.

This original sewer outlet was finally made inactive in around 1996 following the construction of a brand new pipeline which ran all the way back around the Bay following the line of the old Mumbles Railway as far as Beach Street, along the sea-side of the Maritime Quarter and through Swansea Docks to a new £90 million sewerage treatment plant at Crymlyn Burrows near Port Tennant from which a new outlet was made, extending further out to sea. As a consequence of the huge improvement these works have made, it is hoped that Swansea Bay will achieve Blue Flag Beach status sometime in the latter half of the millennium decade.

As part of this bid, Swansea City Council’s 2007 announcement included plans to construct a new bay-side toilet facility adjacent to ‘The Slip’.

Power generation
Swansea Bay (along with the rest of the UK) has one of the highest tidal ranges in the world. This offers a potential for electricity generation using tidal lagoons. The bay is set to host the world’s first tidal lagoon by approximately 2009. It will be sited about a mile offshore and will be about 5 square kilometers in size.

In addition to tidal power, construction of an offshore windfarm in the Bay has been approved, but construction has now been deferred owing to the costs involved. The windfarm was to have been sited at Scarweather Sands, about three miles off the coast and visible from Porthcawl.

Fog on Swansea Bay. Photograph © Mellow Ivy