Often when I say to people I do underwater biodiversity/habitat surveys, they have an image of glorious tropical seas, great visibility, and general ohhing and ahhing at the beautiful marine critters. The reality is somewhat different (especially when you’re not in tropical waters!).
A small team of intrepid divers are currently undertaking maerl surveys at an offshore reef, just off the coast of Jersey (Channel Islands). Maerl is a hard red seaweed, that forms little blobs. It’s a super important habitat for our smaller ocean brethren, and super slow growing too. On this particular survey, my job was to conduct a general habitat and species survey of the site, and keep hold of the SMB – basically and inflatable sausage attached to the end of the line you can see me holding that sits on the surface of the sea so we can be spotted. You can see that the visibility wasn’t that great, but what you can’t see is the current that was trying to take me one direction, whilst the wind was pulling the SMB the other. This is why I’m kneeling on the seabed so I could make some notes on the board I am holding, whilst also making sure I don’t let go of the SMB!
Image: Taken by Kevin McIlwee/Jersey Seasearch
One of the problems with monitoring the spread of invasive critters in the ocean is just finding them. But there are many human eyes peering into the blue these days…eyes that can help science.
If you’re a scuba diver or a snorkeler in the UK then you could get involved in a spot of citizen science. Your mission should you choose to accept it? Report any sightings for non-native species of fish, invertebrates and plants to ‘the authorities’.
Thanks to a clever app developed by the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC), the University of Bristol, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency , and the Environment Agency, that task is not so difficult. This is how it works..
The app provides information on around 19 easily identifiable invasive plants, fish, and invertebrates. All you have to do is log any sightings of those species on the app and hey presto the data is sent out to the respective organisations. You don’t even have to remember all the species off by heart – BSAC have provided a handy ID sheet that you can laminate and take underwater with you.
The app is currently only available for iPhones and iPads, but BSAC promise an android version is on its way in the near future.
Image: A couple of people enjoying snorkeling at Big Pine Key in Florida, USA. Credit Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)