Jane Maddocks explains how BSAC divers can help chart environmental change in their local waters.
Last month, I talked briefly about how a small branch project is giving Deeside branch the impetus to do something productive so that diving becomes ‘travel to fun’ rather than an end in itself. We are all aware of how climate change is having an impact on the marine environment. As divers we can ‘travel to fun’ and help to record and quantify some of those changes, as projects and branch activities give an extra smile factor to our diving.
I was lucky enough to talk to marine biologist Keith Hiscock about how divers can be involved in charting change. Keith has been recording observations of marine life for over 50 years and was head of the Marine Nature Conservation Review of Great Britain. He was also instrumental in establishing the Marine Life Information Network at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth.
He believes that observations made by divers who document what they see, and support observations with images, will be important in the future. Keith says:
Very few divers like filling in forms, but lots of divers will post the exciting events of the day on social media. Those of us involved in recording and interpreting events greatly value systematic and careful observations submitted to the many recording schemes out there. We also harvest information, including images, from what divers (and many others) post.
As examples of how change can be charted, he talks about the frequent sightings of octopus in 2019 and 2020, how variable blennies first recorded in Plymouth in 2007 by recreational divers are now spreading along the coast and increased numbers of spiny lobsters. As divers, we are also becoming aware that the May plankton bloom seems to be getting a little earlier these days.
So, if we are up to the challenge of monitoring and reporting what we see, how can we do it? One way is to get involved with Seasearch. Charlotte Bolton works for the Marine Conservation Society as the National Seasearch Coordinator. I asked Charlotte for an introduction that I could share with you.
What is Seasearch?
Seasearch is a project for recreational divers and snorkellers who want to do their bit for the marine environment by collecting information about marine habitats, plants and animals that only they see under the water. We need Seasearch information from sites all around Britain and Ireland, including the Channel Islands and Isle of Man, so wherever you dive or snorkel, you can take part.
You can carry out Seasearch surveys on your own, with your club, your buddy or on organised Seasearch dive weekends and longer expeditions. You can monitor your local dive site on a regular basis, tracking seasonal changes, or explore previously unrecorded places.
Seasearch records, from recreational divers, have already made a big difference to how much we know about British and Irish marine life. We have collected over 30 years of data, all submitted by volunteers. From spiny lobsters to seagrass, we have plotted new records and led to new measures for protecting the most important sites in different areas. Seasearch volunteers have also spotted new or previously unrecorded species in Britain and Ireland. But there is much more to learn... which is where you come in.
You don’t have to be an expert to start off with because we’ll teach you what you need to know to become a Seasearch recorder on one of our training courses. You just need to be interested in the marine environment and want to learn more.
This column article was originally published in SCUBA magazine, Issue #115 June 2021. For more membership benefits, visit bsac.com/benefits.
Images in this online version may have been substituted from the original images in SCUBA magazine due to usage rights.