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Marine Life & Conservation

App Set To Match The Oceans’ Plankton

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A study is calling on the world’s sailors to help map the oceans’ phytoplankton, microscopic plants that form the bedrock of marine food chains.

Researchers have developed an app for people to submit readings from Secchi disks – a method used since 1865.

The team hopes the data will help them understand what is happening beneath the waves.

They have been “astonished” by the response so far but are hoping for more readings from the southern hemisphere.

“The reason the project came about was because, in 2010, some Canadian scientists wrote a paper that suggested that the phytoplankton in the world’s oceans had declined by 40% since the 1950s,” explained project leader Richard Kirby, a research fellow at Plymouth University’s Marine Institute.

“If true, this is a dramatic decline. As phytoplankton starts the food chain, they dictate the productivity at every level above,” he observed.

“Ultimately, phytoplankton determines the amount of fish in the sea and the number of polar bears on the ice.”

Marine biologists have been using the Secchi disk method to measure the abundance of phytoplankton for 150 years.

The white disk measures 30cm (1ft) in diameter and is lowered into the water on the end of a tape measure. When it is no longer visible from the surface, the reading – known as the Secchi depth – is recorded.

“It is a very robust method and not prone to error and it is a good measure of phytoplankton abundance,” said Dr Kirby.

“Away from estuaries and more than a kilometre from the coast, the main influence on water clarity is phytoplankton.”

He explained how he had the idea of setting up a citizen science project: “It occurred to me sat at my desk that while there are a lot of scientists, there are not that many that are marine scientists, and fewer still that go to sea.

“And the ones that do go to sea do not go out very far. If they do go out far, they rarely go back to the same place.

“I thought that there are an awful lot of sailors out there; day sailors, cruising sailors. Many of these sailors will sail the same waters and take the same route time and time again.”

Dr Kirby, and colleagues Drs Nicholas Outram and Nigel Barlow from the University’s School of Computing and Mathematics, developed the Secchi Disk App that would store a reading while at sea before uploading it to a database once the smartphone was back within range of a mobile phone network.

“We can now collect Secchi depth measurements from all over the world’s oceans and add that to the data from the 1860s to make a continuous – with a slight dip – record to see what is happening to the phytoplankton in the oceans,” he said.

The database, managed by Dr Sam Lavender, is accessible, free-of-charge, from the project’s website.

The reason for collecting measurements via the Secchi method, Dr Kirby explained, was because the Canadian team’s findings proved to be quite controversial among scientists.

“Some said that they did not see any similar decline, while others said they saw an increase rather than a decline,” he said.

The study was criticised because it combined Secchi disk measurements with data gathered using modern technology that became available to scientists in the late 20th Century.

Despite the criticism, the authors have defended their findings, saying the dramatic decline was a result of sea surface temperature.

“They said that the warming had increased stratification so fewer nutrients were reaching the oceans’ surface, and so there was less phytoplankton growth,” Dr Kirby said.

He added that in the waters around UK shores, observations showed that phytoplankton were appearing at different times of the year.

He said that changes in the seas’ seasons had potential consequences for life beneath the waves.

“This is changing the coupling in the marine ecosystem. Evolutionarily, everything is synchronised – just as it is on land.

“When the timings start altering, even by just a fraction, then things no longer work through the food chain.”

To help raise awareness of the vital role phytoplankton plays in marine and terrestrial food chains, Dr Kirby has written and produced a short film called Ocean Drifters, which has been sent to every secondary school in England.

Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, the film also explains how plankton is responsible for the familiar smell of “sea air”, and how the tiny organisms are involved in the formation of clouds.

 

Source: www.bbc.co.uk/news

 

Photo: Richard Kirby

Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Paul Cox, CEO of the Shark Trust about the Big Shark Pledge (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Paul Cox, CEO of the Shark Trust UK about the Big Shark Pledge.

The Big Shark Pledge aims to build one of the biggest campaigning communities in the history of shark conservation. To put pressure on governments and fisheries. And make the positive changes required to safeguard awesome sharks and rays.

Find out more at: www.bigsharkpledge.org and www.sharktrust.org.


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Marine Conservation Society to take legal action over ocean sewage spills

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The Marine Conservation Society is announcing joining as co-claimant in a legal case against the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to protect English seas from sewage dumping.  

The legal case seeks to compel the Government to rewrite its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan 2022, impose tighter deadlines on water companies and redevelop the Plan to effectively apply to coastal waters which are, currently, almost entirely excluded.  

Sandy Luk, Marine Conservation Society CEOUntreated sewage is being pumped into our seas for hundreds of thousands of hours each year; putting people, planet and wildlife at risk. 

We’ve tried tirelessly to influence the UK Government on what needs to be done, but their Plan to address this deluge of pollution entering our seas is still unacceptable. We owe it to our members, supporters and coastal communities to act, which is why we’ve joined as co-claimants on this case. We’re out of options. Our seas deserve better.”  

Launched and funded by the Good Law Project, the Marine Conservation Society will stand as co-claimants on the case with Richard Haward’s Oysters, and surfer and activist, Hugo Tagholm. 

Before reaching this point, the charity responded to a government consultation in March 2022 and met with DEFRA to express concern. In August 2022, the charity wrote an open letter to DEFRA outlining the ways in which the proposed Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan fails to protect the environment and public health from dumping raw sewage into the sea. However, the Plan hasn’t been amended and still fails to adequately address water companies’ excessive reliance on storm overflows and the harm their heavy use causes to our ocean. 

The plan virtually excludes most coastal waters (except for bathing waters) either directly or indirectly, with some types of Marine Protected Areas and shellfish waters totally excluded. 600 storm overflows are not covered at all by the Plan and will continue to – completely legally – be able to dump uncontrolled amounts of sewage directly into English seas and beaches. What’s more, the Plan lacks all urgency – with long-term targets set for 2050, and the earliest, most urgent targets not to be met until 2035.  

Meanwhile, Marine Conservation Society analysis finds that raw sewage is pouring into the ocean at an alarming rate. In total, there are at least 1,651 storm overflows within 1km of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in England. These overflows spilt untreated sewage 41,068 times in 2021. Of these, almost half the overflows spilt more than 10 times in 2021, with an average of 48 spills for each of those overflows. Overall, in 2021, sewage poured into Marine Protected Areas for a total of 263,654 hours. 

According to DEFRA’s own latest assessments, only 19% of estuaries and and 45% of coastal waters are at ‘good ecological status’, with none meeting ‘good chemical status’, and three quarters (75%) of shellfish waters failing to meet water quality standards. 

Rachel Wyatt, Policy & Advocacy Manager for Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation SocietyUntreated sewage contains a cocktail of bacteria, viruses, harmful chemicals, and microplastics. It’s nearly impossible to remove microplastics and ‘forever chemicals’ once in the environment. Due to their persistence, with every discharge, these pollutants will continue to increase, meaning eventually they will pass – or may have already passed – a threshold of harm.”  

In addition, it’s not just invisible toxins that are causing problems. In September this year at the charity’s annual Great British Beach Clean, sewage related pollution, such as wet wipes and sanitary products, were found on 73% of the beaches surveyed across England.  

A new DEFRA report, Ocean Literacy in England and Wales, shows that 85% of people say marine protection is personally important to them. Yet this is being ignored. 

Emma Dearnaley, Legal Director at the Good Law Project, said: “The Marine Conservation Society is at the forefront of tackling the ocean emergency and standing up for coastal communities impacted by climate change and pollution. We are delighted to have them on board as a co-claimant. 

“Good Law Project will work closely with the claimants, including the Marine Conservation Society, to put forward the case for more ambitious and urgent measures to reduce sewage discharges by water companies. These sewage spills are threatening human health, biodiverse marine life and the fishing industry. We believe that taking legal action now is vital to help safeguard our coastal waters for generations to come”. 

If the case is won, the Marine Conservation Society hopes to see the UK Government amend its Plan so that it meets the DEFRA Secretary of State’s legal obligations to protect the ocean and its inhabitants from raw sewage spills.   

For more visit the Marine Conservation Society website.

Header image credit: Natasha Ewins

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