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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

Big Seaweed Search Returns!

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From 23rd – 31st July 2022, the Marine Conservation Society and the Natural History Museum will be asking people across the UK to head to the coast and spot seaweed as part of community science project, Big Seaweed Search Week.

Seaweed is one of the world’s great unsung heroes, playing a crucial role in marine ecosystems and helping to mitigate the effects of climate change. The UK, with over 650 species of seaweed, is home to a diverse range of species.

The Big Seaweed Search Week asks beachgoers to search for, and record, 14 of the most common seaweed species. This vital information helps the Marine Conservation Society and the Natural History Museum to map the distribution of specific species and collect long-term data that enables them to determine, as a result of seaweeds found, the impact of environmental changes in the ocean.

Amy Pilsbury, Citizen Science Lead at the Marine Conservation Society, said:“It’s easy for anyone to get involved in Big Seaweed Search Week – you don’t need to be a seaweed expert or live near the sea, just one visit to the coast will do. Studying seaweeds can tell us a lot about wider ocean and environmental conditions and the information supports real scientific research.

“Seaweed is a real ocean superstar, helping to buffer the effects of climate change, absorbing and storing carbon and protecting our coasts from waves and storm damage. The more data we gather with our Big Seaweed Searchers, the more knowledge and influence we have to protect our ocean, and seaweeds, for the future.”

As well as providing vital habitats for other species, seaweeds play a major part in marine food chains and are a rich source of nutrients for animals such as crabs and sea urchins.

Seaweed plays a critical role in combating the climate crisis. These fast-growing algae produce oxygen – more than land plants – with phytoplankton (like seaweed) providing at least half of the oxygen we breathe.  Seaweed absorbs carbon more effectively than trees, storing an estimated 175 million tonnes each year – equal to 10% of the world’s car emissions.

However, populations of kelp – large brown seaweeds that are a vital ‘blue carbon’ store – are reported to be declining around the world, limiting ocean ecosystems’ abilities to absorb carbon and combat the climate crisis.

The Big Seaweed Search gathers information on species, such as kelp, which have the potential to be affected by rising sea temperatures, the arrival of non-native species and ocean acidification – environmental changes affecting the ocean and the health of marine ecosystems.

A young lumpsucker: Alex Mustard

Data gathered by volunteers helps build a picture of what our shores are like, how they’re changing and informs scientists and decision-makers how best to protect them.

Juliet Brodie, Merit Researcher at the National History Museum, said:“It’s inspiring to see how the Big Seaweed Search is developing.  We’re using the data submitted for our scientific research to build distribution maps which means we can track seaweed species as they respond to environmental changes over time. We’ve also been able to use over 1,000 submitted records in our work on a Red Data List of British seaweeds – which evaluates indigenous species and how endangered they are.”

It’s easy to get involved in Big Seaweed Search Week, and anyone can take part. Training videos and downloadable resources are available, including a guide which helps beachgoers to identify the seaweed species they’re likely to spot and explains what they need to do.

The survey can be carried out as an individual or in groups, and be completed on a mobile, tablet or computer.

To get involved simply:

  1. Register to take part and download your guide and recording form at bigseaweedsearch.org
  2. Choose your 5 metres[AB1]  of coastline to survey
  3. Fill in your survey form
  4. Take LOTS of clear, close-up photographs for your survey to be accepted
  5. Submit your survey through bigseaweedsearch.org

You can visit the Marine Conservation Society for all the information you’ll need to get started.

Header Image: Paul Naylor

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Marine Life & Conservation

The BiG Scuba Podcast… with Andy Forster of Dive Project Cornwall

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Gemma and Ian chat to Andy Forster.  Andy is the Project Director at Dive Project Cornwall.  He tells us about his own passion for diving as well as how Dive Project Cornwall is going to educate and inspire many youngsters over the coming year.

Have a listen here:

Find out more at www.diveprojectcornwall.co.uk


Find more podcast episodes and information at the new www.thebigscuba.com  website and on most social platforms @thebigscuba 

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Booking deadline: Subject to availability – book and stay before end of June 2022

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk.

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