Abstract In recent years, concerns have been raised about the health and status of a range of marine species in UK waters, including the bottlenose dolphin ( Tursiops truncatus) and basking shark ( Cetorhinus maximus). Disturbance and harassment from increasing inshore leisure traffic and a fascinated public have been identified as potential threats to these large marine species. This concern is coupled with a legislative framework that is perceived to be less effective in protecting key species than it could be, and difficult to enforce. This study examined the extent of anthropogenic disturbance to a range of marine wildlife in inshore waters around the South West peninsula and investigated people's knowledge of existing legislation and its perceived suitability. The results revealed a low level of reported incidents and a lack of awareness of marine protection legislation amongst all sectors. Confusion over the reporting process, roles and responsibilities was also identified. This study therefore recommends widespread promotion of the provisions of existing legislation, coupled with a more integrated approach between organisations involved in the management of the marine environment. It also highlights the availability of a range of management options including education and codes of practice.