The Final Tide

Once again, we have reached November, and the end of the survey season. This time, however, November also brings about the end of our Scotland’s Seas blog as it becomes part of an exciting, new look Scotland’s Nature blog.

Throughout the year, we have given you an insight into the varied and interesting survey work that we carry out, and also tried to give a sense of what this work contributes to. For example, our posting on the 28th July – “A big day for marine conservation” – was about the fantastic announcement that 30 Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were to be designated around Scotland. The protection of these sites will help to ensure the long-term protection of some of Scotland’s most iconic and valuable marine habitats and species.

Our most popular post of 2013, and indeed all time, was the “Loch Sween survey April 2013” blog from May. Lisa gave us a brief introduction to twiglets and hedgehogs…sounds bizarre, but they are actually types of maerl – a hard pink seaweed!

a 'hedgehog' maerl bed, covered in brittle stars

A ‘hedgehog’ maerl bed, covered in brittle stars

Narrowly missing out on the title of “Most popular post 2014” was one of our guest blogs from SNH ornithologist Simon Foster. “Tystie, tystie, very ,very tystie” gave us a glimpse into the work required to survey one of Scotland’s classiest seabirds, the black guillemot.

Tysite. Copyright Mark Lewis/JNCC

Tystie.
Copyright Mark Lewis/JNCC

We have not only focussed on marine plants and animals, but the geomorphology of Scotland’s underwater landscape. In our most popular posting of 2014, Dr Alistair Rennie took us into the fascinating world of “Ice streams & Multibeams”, and the amazing natural forces at play which have helped to form our incredible marine environment.

A flame shell on mixed sediments (C) Graham Saunders/SNH

A flame shell on mixed sediments (C) Graham Saunders/SNH

During our 2 year journey through Scotland’s Seas, our posts have been viewed nearly 6000 times, and across the globe. Our blog was popular in countries such as the UK, USA, Germany, France and the Netherlands, but more amazing than this, we had hits in Ghana, Mongolia, Myanmar and Peru. In 2014, we experienced a staggering 72% increase in views, and hope that we can continue this with the merging of our blogs to reach a wider audience.

But don’t panic, we are not quite out to sea yet. You can see all of our posts here until January 2015. In the meantime, be sure to sign up to the Scotland’s Nature blog to continue hearing about the rest of our exciting work. So, thank you for reading this blog and we’ll be back, in our new guise, in the new year!

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Posted in Uncategorized

Sunshine and sharks in the South Arran MPA

_BDJ3940One of the best things about going out on surveys is that you are always in for a surprise. Really noticing amazing little things you never appreciated before, or getting to see amazing big things for the first time. And seeing how everyone around gets just as excited. This is what keeps my enthusiasm for marine conservation alive. Continue reading

Posted in Marine survey | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Brushing up on boat skills

The SNH boat Aphrodite is a very useful piece of our survey equipment. It allows us to head off, under our own steam, to undertake surveys in the more inshore waters of Scotland’s coast. We keep the boat on a trailer in Inverness and it can therefore be easily hooked up to a towing vehicle and driven to various survey sites around Scotland. It is also, however, a large and expensive piece of equipment that requires specialist training to use.

Marvellous manoeuvring

Marvellous manoeuvring

It is important that members of the survey team know how to use the boat, so that when a survey comes up, we have a fully certified crew. So last week, with that in mind, three members of the team travelled down to Findhorn Marina, with Aphrodite, to get trained up on boat driving and use.

Not a bad day’s weather for training in

Not a bad day’s weather for training in

The two day course involved a mixture of practical and theory work. This included slow speed maneuvering such as coming alongside, docking, mooring and anchoring, as well as driving at higher speed, navigation and emergency man overboard situations. We also learnt about passage planning, charts, the ‘rules of the road’ and about safety equipment.

Concentrating hard

Concentrating hard

The Findhorn weather mostly lived up to our expectations; some sun and calm seas for the majority of the two days. Overall, it was a great opportunity to get practise on our own vessel while gaining an important qualification that will help us with our survey work.

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A soggy weathered cetacean survey

Karen Hall, one of our marine ecologists, took part in some whale and dolphin (collectively known as cetaceans) surveys and tells us here of her results. She also offers  advice for anyone doing some cetacean-spotting so read on to learn more. . .

‘Across the UK, volunteers are encouraged to take part in organised cetacean surveys or submit any ad hoc sightings they have during National Whale and Dolphin Watch week 2014.  The data collected during the event will help in developing a snapshot of the distribution of dolphins, whales and porpoises around the UK.

Rissos dolphin ©Laurie Campbell/SNH

Rissos dolphin ©Laurie Campbell/SNH

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Posted in Cetaceans

Surveying around Scotland

DSC_2712cropAt this rate I’m going to start looking into the correlation between planned surveys and unusually bad storms. The tail end of hurricane Bertha swept across the Minch just as we had loaded all our kit onto Marine Science Scotland’s survey ship Alba na Mara.  Just like our colleagues out on the survey in Arisaig, we were in for a struggle against the weather. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

Coast to coast: Our survey sampling methods

Karen Frake, a marine data analyst, is now back on dry land after working on Marine Scotland Science’s survey vessel, Alba na Mara. Here, Karen describes the various scientific methods the survey team used to gain a better understanding of our marine environments.

Alba na Mara

Alba na Mara

During the summer I was lucky enough to be able to join a survey boat for two weeks, to survey the seabed and take samples of sandeels in the north of Scotland. The route took us up the West coast from Ullapool, to Shetland and then back down the East coast to Fraserburgh. The aim was to gain a better understanding of the distribution of protected animals and habitats within Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which would then assist in producing management plans for these areas.

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Secrets in the sand

Last week Graham Epstein told us of the site condition monitoring work he was involved in in the Sound of Arisaig. This week Eoina Rodgers, a marine ecologist in the SNH marine team, tackles the intertidal element of the survey work.

Like Graham, I was involved in some survey work on the West coast of Scotland, with a team of scientists from Heriot-Watt University. The survey work was split into three phases: the diving phase, the drop down video filming segment and the intertidal element. I was signed up for the intertidal element which meant that I would be surveying the mud and sandflats of Kentra Bay.

I had thought that this meant I would be staying dry but the Scottish weather had other plans. With the remnants of hurricane Bertha buffeting the shores, keeping empty sample buckets together proved an impossible task and more than once I found myself dashing across beaches in their pursuit, as they tumbled away!

Ready to get stuck in to work

Ready to get stuck in to work

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Posted in Intertidal

Pink maerl and peering pollock

Graham Epstein, a marine biologist in our marine survey team, has been diving in the Sound of Arisaig. Here he reveals what he spotted in the underwater environments and the work involved in surveying them.

We run an annual monitoring programme to assess the health of various marine designations. As part of this year’s programme we contracted staff from Heriot-Watt University to carry out a detailed survey of the Sound of Arisaig SAC (Special Area of Conservation – a site protected under European legislation).

Glenuig Bay

Glenuig Bay

Two members of the SNH dive team assisted on the diving portion of the survey. The aim was to monitor the state of the maerl beds at a selection of locations around the protected site. Maerl is a general term used to describe species of coralline algae which are able to form large beds or reefs. Living maerl is  a vivid purple-pink colour which often forms spiky underwater carpets on the seabed. Maerl beds are a particularly diverse habitat with a wide variety of algal and animal species living under, between, on and around the maerl.

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Posted in Diving, SAC

Great sharks: the search continues …

Over the last three summers we’ve been working closely with the University of Exeter (UoE) on an exciting basking shark tagging project. Through this work we hope to gain an insight into their mysterious behaviours. Dr Suzanne Henderson from our marine team provides this latest update.

Matt and Phil from UoE set off on Thursday to track down the “shark soup” that had been spotted out at Hawes Bank, 15 miles to the north-west of Coll. Unfortunately the SNH team could not be with them, so we had to watch from the side lines. Colin Speedie (Wave-Action) had been feeding valuable and accurate information to the project team about the sharks’ whereabouts. Colin was in the area conducting his third year of boat based shark surveys from a yacht with volunteers. Without his advice we may not have got all the tags out this year – so many thanks to Colin for his never-ending enthusiasm and help!

The sharks were in groups out along Hawes Bank – a shallow area around the Cairns of Coll. This meant long days of boat travel, with wild camping at the Cairns of Coll for the tagging team. Matt and Phil were able to get the tags attached after two trips of two days. A lot of breaching was spotted – sharks propelling themselves clear of the water – a totally amazing sight if you are lucky enough to see it. Colin Speedie’s fast action with his camera captured this great photo a few years ago.

Breaching basking shark - Colin Speedie

Breaching basking shark – Colin Speedie

The tags are performing well: you can follow the sharks and see where they are transmitting from on the wildlife tracking website. Every time the sharks come to the surface, they transmit a signal which is picked up by satellite. Very cool stuff! You never know when and where they are going to pop up next. You can also sign up for email alerts about the project or an individual sharks.

As with previous years, we are inviting you to suggest names for the 10 sharks that we have tagged this year. Just email us at baskingsharks@snh.gov.uk, tweet us on @SNH_Tweets, or post your suggestions on our Facebook page. Visit our website for more information about the Basking Shark Tagging Project.

Posted in Basking sharks, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Rummaging in rockpools

Although we have all been busy lately with tasks relating to the Marine Protected Areas project, Karen Hall, one of our marine ecologists, managed to squeeze in some work on the shores of Shetland. Here, she tells us about some of her interesting finds.

‘There’s nothing I like better than plunging my hands into the icy waters of the North Sea’. OK,  it’s not quite freezing but the water temperature in Shetland during May is allegedly 9°C (which is warmer than the air temperature!) but with a brisk northerly wind to dry them off, you can practically see your hands turning blue.

Rocky shore 1

Rock-pooling in chilly conditions

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Posted in Marine survey, Uncategorized