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Marine Life & Conservation

Egg-laying site of critically endangered skate discovered by Scottish divers

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Over a hundred eggs belonging to the critically endangered flapper skate – previously known as the common skate – have been discovered on the rocky seabed off the north west coast of Scotland.  This is the biggest and most important egg-laying site discovered to date, but it is vulnerable to trawling and dredging.

Capable of reaching over 2.5 metres (8.2ft) in length, the flapper skate is one of the largest skate species in the world.  Once common in British waters, including areas like the North Sea’s Dogger Bank, it is now extinct in most of its former range.  The west coast of Scotland is one of the last places it can be found, and the skate is one of 81 Priority Marine Features the Scottish Government is committed to protecting.  However, despite being made aware of the site in 2019, no action has been taken by Marine Scotland to protect the charismatic species.

The discovery comes almost a year after divers recorded egg-cases at the same site in November 2019 and reported the findings to Marine Scotland.  Since 2009, it has been illegal for fishermen to commercially target flapper skates, but the giant, slow-growing species is still at risk of capture and has been devastated by hundreds of years of bottom-trawling.

Flapper skate egg-cages can be over 25cm long and take almost 18 months to hatch, making them vulnerable to incidental capture or damage by fishing gears.  The details of their life cycle are unclear because they are now so rare.

Volunteer divers, with the help of local fishermen, found the eggs known as mermaid’s purses nestled between small rocks.  Over one hundred eggs of different sizes and ages were found, indicating that the site is home to a resident population of skate.

Chris Rickard, Underwater photographer and Conservationist said: “Having observed well over 100 purses at this site, I believe the area is being used by multiple females over many years.  Unfortunately, both the purses themselves and the newly hatched young are so large that they can be caught in bottom towed gear and destroyed – a single pass with a dredge could obliterate the site.”

Divers, local fishermen and experts are now calling on the Scottish Government to take immediate action by designating a marine protected area and bring in an emergency conservation order to close it to bottom towed fishing gears.

Ailsa McLellan, Coalition Coordinator at Our Seas, said: “The Scottish Government continues to fail to step up to its duties and deliver the protection that is needed.  Less than 5 per cent of our inshore waters are permanently protected from bottom towed fishing gear and even these Marine ‘Protected’ Areas are still fished illegally.  We are living through a biodiversity crisis and we need to act quickly to protect what is left.”

The Scottish Government is duty bound to protect and recover the seas.  It designated the Loch Sunart to Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area to look after this species in 2014 but still has an obligation to protect an additional site.  There are also obligations under the Scottish Government’s own national marine plan to ensure that priority species, such as this, are not harmed, and that nursery grounds are looked after.

Bally Philip from the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation said: “As a local fisherman and representative of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, this has been a great opportunity to showcase what can be achieved when fishing communities and conservationists work together.  We have already written to our MSP and Environment Minister to inform them that the creel fishermen fully support restorations on some fishing in this area to ensure this critically endangered species is afforded the protection it requires.”

These calls for action join the voices of communities around Scotland’s coast calling on the Scottish Government to protect its seas.  Marine protected areas currently cover around 30 per cent of Scotland’s territorial waters, yet about 95 per cent of Scotland’s inshore waters remain unprotected from trawling and dredging, two of the most damaging methods of fishing.

Charles Clover, Executive Director of Blue Marine Foundation, said: “The level of protection that a critically endangered animal such as the common or flapper skate currently receives in UK waters is utterly inadequate to the needs of the species.  There are too few protected areas – particularly in Scotland – and other designated areas in UK waters, such as the Dogger Bank, receive far too little protection.  We need to change the way our seas are managed or give up completely trying to conserve endangered species.”

For more information about the Blue Marine Foundation visit their website by clicking here.

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

Marine Life & Conservation

Huge thresher shark is the latest of six murals to be painted around the Solent this summer

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The murals celebrate the Solent’s extraordinary marine life – marking National Marine Week.

Secrets of the Solent have commissioned street artist ATM to paint a series of marine-themed artworks at various locations around the Solent this summer. The latest mural to be finished shows a thresher shark on the Langstone Harbour Office. Langstone Harbour is an important area for wildlife as well as a bustling seaside destination for sailing and water sports.

Artist ATM, who is painting all six murals, is well-known for his iconic wildlife street art. This, his second artwork of the series, took three days to paint freehand, from a scaffolding platform. The thresher shark was chosen out of six marine species to be the subject of the artwork by the local community, who were asked to vote via an online form or in person on the Hayling Ferry.

Secrets of the Solent hope the mural will become a landmark in Langstone Harbour and inspire visitors to learn more about this enigmatic oceanic shark. The project, which is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, works to celebrate and raise awareness of Solent’s diverse marine environment.

Aiming to highlight the exotic and unusual creatures found close to our coasts, artist ATM says: “I really enjoyed painting the thresher shark because it’s such an amazing looking animal, with a tail as long as its body. I hope when people see the murals, they will become more aware of what lives under the waves and the importance of protecting the vital habitats within the Solent.”

Dr Tim Ferrero, Senior Marine Biologist at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust says: “The thresher shark is a wonderful animal that visits our waters every summer. It comes to an area to the east of the Isle of Wight, and this appears to be where the sharks breed and have their young. Not many people know that we have thresher sharks in our region, and so having our mural here on the side of the Langstone Harbour Office building is a fantastic way of raising awareness of this mysterious ocean wanderer. I really hope that people will come away with the knowledge that the Solent, our harbours and our seas are incredibly important for wildlife.”

Rachel Bryan, Project Manager for Secrets of the Solent at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust comments: “We are really excited to have street artist ATM painting a thresher shark on the side of the Langstone Harbour Office building. We chose this building because of its prominent location right on the entrance to Langstone Harbour so that anyone who’s visiting, whether that’s walkers, cyclists or people coming in and out of the harbour on their jet-skis or sailing boats, will all be able to see our thresher shark. People on the Portsmouth side of the harbour will also be able to see the mural from across the water.”

The thresher shark is a mysterious predator which spends most of its time in oceanic waters. It uses its huge whip-like tail as an incredibly effective tool for hunting its prey. Herding small fish into tight shoals, the shark will lash at them with its tail, stunning several in one hit and making them easier to catch.

Secrets of the Solent hope to work with the species this summer to discover more about its behaviour.

Dr Tim Ferrero explains: “Nobody really knows where thresher sharks go in the ocean. Later this summer we are hoping that we are going to be able to attach a satellite tag to a thresher shark and monitor its progress for an entire year. This will provide really important information that will help us learn so much more about the shark’s annual life cycle.”

The new thresher shark mural is a fantastic start to National Marine Week (24th July – 8th August), which celebrates the unique marine wildlife and habitats we have here in the UK. Over the two weeks, Wildlife Trusts around the country will be running a series of exciting events to celebrate the marine environment. We really hope people will be inspired by our murals and want to learn more about each chosen species.

Events in the Solent include the launch of a new Solent marine film on the 29th July, installation of a new Seabin on the 4th August to reduce marine litter, and citizen science surveys throughout summer.

For more information click here.

Header image: Bret Charman

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Marine Life & Conservation

Manatee Madness

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During a visit to Florida, Mona and John from The Scuba Place swam with manatees and learned some very interesting facts.

John and I made a trip to the USA this Spring and had the opportunity to check out all that Florida has to offer travelling divers. We had seen manatees in various Florida marinas over the years but had never had the opportunity to swim with them so our first stop after visiting family was to Crystal River, just a little over an hour north of Tampa International Airport. Crystal River is one of the few places you can legally swim with manatees in their natural habitat. We booked a 3 hour swim with Fun 2 Dive with a 10:00 am departure. Fun 2 Dive asked us to arrive 15 minutes early to check in and participate in a short educational briefing. We arrived with our camera gear in tow and the staff asked to view a video from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service titled “Crystal River Refuge’s ‘Manatee Manners’ for Photographers and Videographers”.

Between November and April every year this area is home to the largest aggregation of manatees in a natural environment. We were there mid-May but were confident we would have an amazing experience! And did we ever! Our guide for the day Dani, is a self-proclaimed manatee nerd! She has had a passion for manatees since the age of 13 and loves what she does! Our group of 10 loaded up on the Fun 2 Dive bus and took the short 5-minute trip to the marina. We boarded the pontoon and motored out into the nearby inlet. There were a few other boats in the area and as one boat was moving off, they let us know that there were three manatees in the area. Armed with our pool noodles, snorkel gear and cameras, we carefully entered the water and were lucky enough to find a mother and baby!

We spent the next few hours with our faces in the water amazed by the encounter. These beautiful yet endangered animals are gentle giants found in inlets, marinas, and coastal shallows. Often bearing numerous scars from boat propellors, these sea-cows are super cute in an ugly way but so much fun to be in the water with! Don’t be fooled by their size and slowness – when they want to move, they can put on a real burst of speed! And while we could have spent all day with them, watching the baby nurse and then munch on some sea grass in just a few inches of water, our time came to an end, and we loaded back up on the boat.

We have to thank Dani for her enthusiasm and endless knowledge of manatees!

Here are 10 facts Chloe researched for us that we had to share:

  1. Manatees can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes!

Although manatees live in the water, they need to breathe air to survive. Common sense, right? Well, you’ll be surprised to know that manatees don’t use their mouth to breathe. By breathing through their nostrils, they can achieve a higher rate of exchange of air, exchanging about 90% of the air in their lungs, whereas humans only exchange about 10%. This enables a manatee to hold its breath for longer.

  1. The oldest manatee in the world died at age 69.

The average lifespan of a manatee is 40 years old. However, Snooty exceeded this! Snooty the manatee from Florida was born in captivity and raised in Bishop Museum of Science and Nature’s Parker Aquarium. Due to hand rearing, Snooty was never released to the wild. Snooty sadly died two days after his 69th birthday, which was actually down to human error. It is thought that Snooty could’ve reached 100 years old!

  1. Sea cow? More like Sea Elephant!

It is suggested that manatees have evolved from four-legged land mammals over millions of years.

The last ancestor they share with elephants lived about 60 million years ago.

  1. Man vs Food finds potential new host

An incredibly impressive fact is that a manatee eats around a tenth of its body weight in food each day! Let’s all appreciate that they can weigh up to 450kg and their diet is predominately made up of seagrass, which weighs hardly anything!! Hence why manatees are munching all day, they’ve a job to do! That’ll give any Man vs Food challenge a run for its money. Their diet is a good indicator of an ecosystem’s health. A full up manatee suggests its immediate environment is flourishing.

Each species of manatee is a member of the Sirenius family, which shares a common ancestor with the elephant, aardvark and small gopher-like hyrax.

  1. There’s no looking back for a Manatee. Seriously, they can’t turn their heads.

As manatees don’t possess the same neck vertebra as humans, they can’t rotate their heads like we can. This means if they want to look back or to the sides, they must move their whole body. What an effort!

  1. Manatees have SIX senses

Manatees have tiny hairs distributed sparsely all over their body that are known as vibrissae. Studies have suggested that these tactile body hairs can be just as sensitive as whiskers and can help analyse surroundings underwater and detect vibrations in the water. Having this sixth sense is great help to manatees, as they are not known to have 20:20 vision, particularly at night.

  1. Who are you calling fat?

Although they may look fat and blubbery, manatees don’t have a thick layer of fat for insulation; that’s why they prefer warmer waters! So, if it’s not fat, what is it? Well, the reason for their size is due to their stomach and intestines taking up a lot of space.

  1. Dentist? No thanks!

Manatees’ teeth often get worn down through their relentless chewing and munching but this doesn’t cause concern. Manatees grow and lose teeth throughout their entire lives, just like elephants. Older teeth fall out at the front whilst new teeth grow through at the back of their mouths.

  1. Causes of death

This is not such a fun fact. Whilst manatees do not have any natural predators in the wild, humans have had a large part of putting this species at risk of extinction. According to the United States Fishing and Wildlife Services, around 99 manatee deaths each year are related to human activities, especially boat injuries. Manatees are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 to help lower this number.

  1. Pregnancy Glow

Once female manatees reach the age of 5, they are ready to mate. It’s almost twice as long for males, taking a further 4 years to be ready. Take your time guys! Once pregnant, the gestation period for a manatee can be between 11 and 12 months. Manatees typically only have on calf per pregnancy, although rare, twins have been born too. Once born, a calf can weigh up to a whopping 32kg and will stay with its mother for around 2 years. One last bizarre fact we found out whilst on our trip, is that the mothers’ teats are found on the joint of the flippers. Check out the image below…

Would you like to swim with manatees? Dive the Florida coasts? Spend the day with Mickey Mouse? The Scuba Place can arrange a custom trip for you! Let us put together a Fly-Drive-Dive holiday that ticks all the boxes!

Keep your eyes on this space as we headed over to the East coast of Florida to dive Key Largo, West Palm Beach and Jupiter and we’ve got stories to share!!! Come Dive with Us!


Find out more about the worldwide dive itineraries that The Scuba Place offers at www.thescubaplace.co.uk.

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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