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Marine Life & Conservation

Summer of Surprises!

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summer

The summer season is now coming to an end here at Wembury Marine Centre, but what a year it’s been! This season we have opened our doors to almost 25,000 visitors, worked with 2500 school and college students and engaged with 2000 members of the public through our marine outreach programme.

Our regular Rockpool Safaris are a firm favourite for families and this season we have found some amazingly weird and wonderful species. Here is my top five for 2016:

St Piran’s hermit crab, Clibanarius erythropus

Back in August, one of our long term volunteers John Hepburn found what he thought to be a ‘normal’ Common hermit crab on one of our public rockpool safaris. Upon closer inspection he realised it looked a bit different, but being colour blind he couldn’t really tell. He took a few close up pictures and when we had a look on the computer back in the Centre, we realised this was no normal hermit crab! It turned out to be the St Piran’s Hermit Crab, Clibanarius erythropus, which hadn’t been recorded in Devon for more than 30 years! St Piran’s hermit crabs are different to the Common hermit crab, Pagurus bernhardus, in that they have distinctly red legs and claws and red eye stalks with black and white eyes. It is thought that the hermit crabs (along with the dog whelk shells they often live in) were heavily affected by the Torrey Canyon oil spill back in the late 60s, which wiped out much of their population. Our find made the national news and we have since found quite a few more individuals. Let’s hope they have made a comeback and are here to stay!

Giant goby, Gobius cobitis

In the UK, the giant goby is usually only found along the coast of south-west England between Wembury and the Isles of Scilly, and in the Channel Islands. This large goby, reaching a maximum length of 27cm, is quite a rare find in Britain because here they are on the northern edge of their natural range, although climate change may see them move further north in the future. These large intertidal fish are usually found in sheltered rockpools higher up on the shore. Given their rarity and the fact that they are vulnerable to human disturbance and trampling, giant gobies are now a protected species and you must have a licence to handle them! They can be easily confused with other goby species, so as soon as we’d taken a picture of this one in our tub and realised it might be a Giant goby, we put it straight back where we found it, as we do with all our creatures on our rockpool safaris!

summer

Giant goby. Credit: Devon Wildlife Trust

Common lobster, Homarus gammarus

Again it was volunteer John who found the first Common lobster ever to be spotted on a Wembury rockpool safari! Trying out his new weighted camera, he left it in our favourite large rockpool for the duration of our safari and when he got home and looked over the footage, he found the young lobster excavating a burrow! Common lobsters are very rare to find in rockpools, usually preferring the relative safety of deeper waters. They can grow to a maximum size of 75cm but the one we found was probably about 25cm max. Common lobsters have been over exploited commercially in British waters and their numbers greatly reduced. Our Mr lobster (we don’t actually know if he’s male or female!) has been seen poking his claws out numerous times throughout the season and was still there today on our penultimate rockpool safari of the year, so let’s hope he’s found himself a safe haven! PS: interesting fact about lobsters – they don’t ever slow down, weaken or lose fertility with age as they have a special enzyme which repairs DNA sequences. So theoretically, they could live forever if it wasn’t for fishing, disease or being preyed upon!

summer

Common Lobster. Credit: John Hepburn

Stalked jellyfish, Lucernariopsis campanulata

These tiny upside-down jellyfish are extremely hard to spot and so often completely missed when rockpooling. Stalked jellyfish usually attach themselves to the ends of fronds of seaweed or seagrass and float around in the water catching bits of plankton. The one we found had attached itself to a beautiful piece of sea lettuce. This species in particular can grow up to 5cm tall but is usually found much smaller and its colour varies from a uniform red to green to brown.  It has eight arms with about 45 tentacles on each arm and is an absolute delight to find when you’re least expecting it!

Bloody henry starfish, Henricia oculata

It wouldn’t be right to talk about rockpooling at Wembury without including at least one species of starfish! The small Cushion stars are very common here; almost every rock you turn over on the mid shore will have one stuck to its underneath, but they never fail to evoke the wow factor, from little ones right up to grandparents. The much larger Spiny starfish are fairly common here too and one of my absolute favourite finds on a rockpool safari. But one species we weren’t expecting to find was the Bloody henry starfish! Arguably one of the most striking and beautiful of all of the UK’s starfish, it gets its name from its deep red, pink or purple colouring. Usually preferring deeper water, this species would be much more likely to be spotted by a diver rather than a young rock pooler, but our ‘extreme rockpool safari’ on a brilliant low spring tide back in April saw us rambling further out on to the rocky reef than we’d usually go, and our efforts were repaid with a young girl and her family discovering this treasure!

All in all it was a wonderful summer of surprises for us here at Wembury Marine Centre.  If you’d like to see more of the weird and wonderful marine life we’ve found this year then head to our Facebook page: www.faceboom.com/wemburymarine.

Coral Smith lives in South Devon in the UK and works as Marine Education Officer for Devon Wildlife Trust. Based at Wembury Marine Centre near Plymouth, Coral’s work involves promoting marine conservation through schools education, public outreach and community involvement.

Marine Life & Conservation

Marine Conservation Society & Natural History Museum launch first Big Seaweed Search Week

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There are over 650 species of seaweed found around the UK. From dabberlocks to bladder wrack and sugar kelp, each seaweed plays a vital role in supporting the health of our seas, and the planet.

From 26th July – 1st August 2021, the Marine Conservation Society and Natural History Museum will be asking people across the UK to get involved and spot seaweed at the seaside as part of Big Seaweed Search Week.

The Big Seaweed Search equips beachgoers with the knowledge to identify 14 of the most common types of seaweed found at the UK seaside. This vital information is then shared with the Natural History Museum and Marine Conservation Society, who use the data to inform research on how the presence of different seaweed has changed over time due to environmental factors such as climate change.

Kate Whitton_Marine Conservation Society

Professor Juliet Brodie, Merit Researcher at the Natural History Museum and Big Seaweed Search: “By taking part in Big Seaweed Search Week you’ll be helping to contribute to our ongoing scientific research into seaweeds.

“As climate change affects our seas, we’re seeing temperature increases, sea level rise and the impact of ocean acidification. These changes can affect the distribution of different seaweed species around the UK coastline. For example, dabberlocks, a large brown seaweed, is declining in abundance around our coasts, and the number of non-native species in the seaweed flora is increasing year on year. By mapping where different seaweed species are, we can create a baseline from which to determine the impact of environmental changes on our seas.”

Some of the most common and best known seaweeds are brown seaweeds: bladder wrack, with distinctive air-filled bladders and spiral wrack, which often has a spiral twist. Also easily identified is sugar kelp, which has a tough, elongated strap-shaped frond that has a crinkled, dimpled or ruffled surface. Kelps are cold water species, and form kelp forests in many parts of the world’s seas.

Not only are seaweeds a great source of nutrients and energy for animals such as crabs and sea urchins, but they also create critical habitats for other species, acting as nurseries for young fish and places where other sea creatures can take cover from predators.

Alex Mustard – Young lumpsucker

Seaweeds such as kelp are also vital ‘blue carbon’ stores, absorbing carbon from the water and atmosphere just like forests on land. The storage of blue carbon can be in the plants themselves, like seaweed and seagrass; in the seafloor sediment where plants are rooted; or even in the animals which live in the water, including seabirds, fish and larger mammals. Unfortunately, 38% of kelp populations are reported to be declining around the world, limiting ocean ecosystems’ abilities to absorb carbon and fight the climate crisis.

Justine Millard, Head of Volunteer and Community Engagement at the Marine Conservation Society:“We’re hoping lots of people will join Big Seaweed Search Week this year as they head to the coast. We want people across the UK to learn about the wonders of seaweed, spread the word, and help us collect vital information which will support our ongoing research.”

The Natural History Museum and Marine Conservation Society have developed a helpful guide, highlighting key features of the different seaweeds likely to be spotted by the seaside.

To get involved, just complete the simple survey on a mobile, tablet or computer which can be carried out as an individual or in groups.

Register to take part and download the guide and recording form at www.bigseaweedsearch.org

  • Choose your 5 m of coastline to survey
  • Fill in your survey form
  • Take LOTS of clear, close-up photographs for your survey to be accepted
  • Submit your survey through bigseaweedsearch.org
  • Don’t forget to upload your photographs when you submit your survey

You can visit the Big Seaweed Search website for all the information you’ll need to get started.

Header Image: Spiny starfish up on kelp by Paul Naylor

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Marine Life & Conservation

Queen of the Mantas now on WaterBear

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Watch the WaterBear Original Film Now!

Dr. Andrea Marshall a.k.a. “Queen of the Mantas” has dedicated her life to studying manta rays, one of the most intelligent, and at 7 meters, one of the largest creatures in the ocean.

As co-founder of The Marine Megafauna Foundation, she leads the research on this globally threatened species. Whether scuba diving through tropical waters to observe their behavior or flying through the air to gather data from above, her groundbreaking discoveries have changed our understanding of this mysterious ocean creature. But upon discovery of a grave threat to her beloved manta rays, she must fight against the odds to ensure the survival of this magnificent species.

WaterBear is the first interactive streaming platform dedicated to the future of our planet. Whatever you feel passionately about in the world of climate action, biodiversity, sustainability, community, and more, WaterBear provides access to award-winning and inspirational content that empowers members to dive deeper, learn more, and take action. It’s completely free and available in 40 countries around the globe.

Click here to watch the WaterBear original film on the real-life story of MMF’s co-founder and global manta ray expert, Dr. Andrea Marshall.

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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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