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Dronetastic – Mapping Scotland’s seagrass habitats

Fri, 2021-09-17 15:50

The Scottish Government through the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum has supported the purchase of a drone for Project Seagrass. The equipment will be used to map Scotland’s seagrass habitats and support community mapping and habitat restoration projects.

Project Seagrass - copyright JDScuba Jake DaviesScotland has the highest abundance of seagrass habitats in the UK, due to the favourable/good water quality and suitable environmental conditions. In the UK there are two recognised species of seagrass: eelgrass (Zostera marina) and dwarf eelgrass (Zostera noltii), both of which grow in shallow coastal areas on sheltered sandy or muddy seabeds. Eelgrass is found in shallow, fully marine conditions on muddy to relatively coarse sediment. Dwarf eelgrass occurs higher on the shore to the high-tide mark, on mud, sand and muddy sands and will inhabit areas that entirely dry-out at low tide.

Seagrass is a special habitat – it helps support a rich biodiversity and provides many benefits such as shelter for a variety of marine creatures, nursery areas for fish we like to eat (such as cod) and a food source for some bird species. They are also important for climate change adaptation, including protecting coastal areas from the impacts of storms, helping prevent shoreline erosion and regulating coastal water quality. These habitats are classed as Blue Carbon habitats because seagrasses take up and store carbon and have the potential to contribute to climate change mitigation. Much is still unknown about how much carbon Scottish seagrass takes up and stores, and it is an active area of research, including within the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum.

Project Seagrass - Loch Craignish

Aerial map (orthomosaic) made from outputs of survey drone. Dark green area shows outline of seagrass meadow.

Since they are so special, seagrass habitats are classed as a Priority Marine Feature (PMF), a UK Biodiversity Action Plan habitat and an OSPAR threatened and declining habitat. In Scotland, 26 known seagrass locations are protected by a variety of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Seagrasses grow best in clean undisturbed water. When things happen that change this, such as pollution from the land, trampling and dredging, they can become damaged, causing the seagrass meadow to become degraded or the seagrass to disappear completely.

This means it’s really important that we know where all of Scotland’s seagrass areas are, and understand if they are doing well. If they could benefit from interventions such as protection or habitat restoration, then government and the local communities lucky enough to live near seagrass meadows can help, but we need to better understand these amazing habitats and how to look after them.

Project Seagrass

Project Seagrass is an international environmental charity devoted to the conservation of seagrass ecosystems through education, research and action.  Through their hub in Scotland, they are using the drone funded through the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum to identify new seagrass areas. Recently, they discovered a new meadow in the Bay of Tuqouy on Orkney. They are also supporting community-led restoration projects. The Scottish charity Seawilding run an innovative project in Argyll at Loch Craignish to recreate the sea lochs’ natural oyster beds and expand its small surviving seagrass meadows.  Learning from this project could support other projects around the UK.

Look out for more opportunities to learn about Scotland’s seagrass through Marine Scotland’s and NatureScot’s COP 26 programme, which will be released soon.

Further information: Pictures:
  • Main feature image:  Project Seagrass – diver with hessian bag – copyright Lewis M Jeffries
  • Picture one: Project Seagrass – copyright JDScuba Jake Davies
  • Picture two: Project Seagrass – Loch Craignish – copyright Project Seagrass

The post Dronetastic – Mapping Scotland’s seagrass habitats appeared first on Marine Scotland.

Resources to reduce river temperatures and protect Atlantic Salmon

Thu, 2021-09-16 15:01

Freshwater fisheries and associated expenditure such as salmon angling, accommodation and tourism are worth almost £80 million a year to the Scottish economy. However, the number of adult salmon returning to Scotland is in decline, and 2018 was the lowest recorded rod catch since records began in 1952. It is therefore important that salmon habitats are protected and improved where possible.

River temperature is a critical control on Atlantic salmon populations which are adapted to live in relatively cool water. Salmon tend to prosper when temperatures are in the teens and struggle much above 20°C. Where river temperatures exceed 23°C this can cause thermal stress and behavioural change. At 33°C salmon can no longer survive, even for a few minutes.

During the summer of 2018, it is estimated that around 70% of rivers in Scotland experienced temperatures over 23°C. UK climate change projections provided by the Met Office indicate that summers like these could occur every other year by 2050, increasing concerns over the future of salmon in Scotland.

What can be done to reduce maximum summer river temperatures?

Maximum summer river temperatures can be reduced by increasing the amount of water in the river channel, or reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the water surface.

River levels can be managed through the release of water from dams and reservoirs, or through regulation and moderation of abstractions, a process of water removal from rivers including for drinking water and agricultural use. The amount of sunlight reaching the river surface can be reduced by riparian planting; shading the river channel with trees located on river banks.

There are considerable opportunities to increase woodland on river banks in Scotland as it is one of the most sparsely forested countries in Europe. Scotland has around 108,000 km of rivers, of which only 35% are protected by any substantial tree cover.

An example of ongoing successful riparian planting includes the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board and River Dee Trust, who have planted over 200,000 native trees along the river banks of the upper Dee and its tributaries since 2013. The new programme focusses on restoring the Dee catchment and protect salmon and freshwater pearl mussel populations with an aim to plant a million trees by 2035.

Although there are also considerable financial costs and logistical challenges of increasing woodlands next to rivers when compared with traditional woodland creation the benefits are substantial in terms of conservation, sustainability, leisure and tourism. Therefore it is important that resources are prioritised to areas where they can deliver the greatest short term benefits in terms of adapting to climate change.

How can the Scotland River Temperature Monitoring Network help us prioritise tree planting?

The Scotland River Temperature Monitoring Network (SRTMN) was established in 2013 as a collaboration between Marine Scotland, Fisheries Trusts, District Salmon Fishery Boards and the University of Birmingham. It is a strategic network of more than 220 river temperature dataloggers that allows Marine Scotland to understand how and why river temperatures vary across Scotland, and whether temperatures are changing over time.

Data from the network has been used to develop statistical river temperature models that can be used to predict temperatures across all of the salmon rivers in Scotland. These models can be used to produce maps that identify where rivers are hottest and most sensitive to climate change.

 

 

In 2021, scientists working on SRTMN developed a new process based model to understand and predict where riparian tree planting has the greatest effect on summer maximum river temperatures. This model simulated interactions between solar radiation, river order (as a proxy for water volume and residence time), channel width, channel orientation, aspect and tree height to investigate the effects of tree planting on river temperature. The outputs of the models were then used to make predictions and map the effectiveness of tree planting for reducing summer river temperatures.

 

 

Taken together, the outputs of SRTMN statistical and process based models can be used to produce maps to prioritise tree planting where rivers are hottest, most sensitive to climate change and where trees can have a substantial effect in reducing maximum summer river temperatures.

Where can I access these new resources to prioritise tree planting?

New maps (spatial) are available to help managers prioritise the location of bank side tree planting. These mapping tools can be accessed through the National Marine Plan Interactive (NMPi) website, or brought into a local Geographical Information System (GIS) using Web Based Mapping (WMS) services, where it can be layered over other maps showing other priorities (e.g. sources of diffuse pollution) or constraints (e.g. landowner approval) on tree planting.

 

 

Further Information

  • SRTMN ShinyApp that allows you to explore and map summary temperature data
  • Paper describing the use of spatial statistical river temperature models to understand where rivers are hottest and most sensitive to climate change
  • New paper on the use of process based models to identify where riparian tree planting can be most effective in reducing maximum summer river temperatures.
  • New spatial layers (maps) which provide woodland prioritisation scores depending on where rivers are (1) hottest (2) most sensitive to climate change and (3) can be effectively cooled by riparian woodland. These three individual criteria are combined with an equal weight to provide a single riparian woodland prioritisation score that looks to maximise the benefits of riparian tree planting for protecting Scotland’s rivers from the adverse effects of climate change

The post Resources to reduce river temperatures and protect Atlantic Salmon appeared first on Marine Scotland.

An investigation in Scottish coastal waters –  Ocean Acidification Week 2021

Wed, 2021-09-15 14:08

Most of us are familiar with the concepts of climate change and the greenhouse effect.

The increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases as a consequence of human activities, such as fossil fuel combustion and deforestation, has caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels. Unfortunately this warming and the associated changes in the climate system are predicted to continue unless we globally respond strongly to the climate emergency.

The ocean has absorbed the vast majority of the additional trapped solar energy, and has also taken up nearly a third of the CO2 added to the atmosphere by human activity since the 1980s. Without the CO2 uptake by the ocean, it is estimated that the atmospheric CO2 would be significantly higher and climate change would be greater.

However, by absorbing increased amounts of CO2  from the atmosphere, the chemistry of the ocean changes and the seawater is becoming more acidic. This process is known as Ocean Acidification (OA).

Ocean Acidification

 Schematic of potential impacts of OA on marine organisms

Figure 1: Schematic of potential impacts of OA on marine organisms

OA impact on a wide range of marine life including plankton, shellfish, fish larvae, seaweed and seagrasses is a real concern for biodiversity reasons and also because of  the potential to affect many of our commercially exploited species.

Among the marine organisms predicted to be affected by OA are microscopic plants and animals with outer skeletons made of calcium carbonate (termed ‘calcifying plankton’), since increased acidity may create more corrosive conditions that would dissolve their shells and make it harder to build them.

Examples of calcifying plankton include:
  • coccolithophores – single-celled microalgae covered by chalky plates,
  • juvenile stages of small marine snails, such as pteropods (known as “sea butterflies”) and
  • larval stages of shellfish species such as mussels, oysters and scallops.

Scientists in Marine Scotland, a directorate of the Scottish Government, have investigated the shells of these species and have found, for the first time, evidence of shell damage (dissolution) on juvenile stages of marine snails and shellfish larvae off Stonehaven (Aberdeenshire), one of our Scottish Coastal Observatory (SCObs) sites.

The study also suggests that the some shellfish larvae, such as mussels, present at Stonehaven are particularly vulnerable to changes in the chemistry of the seawater at this site and that OA more widely has potential consequences for Scottish shellfish, aquaculture and fisheries industries.This research is being presented by Marine Scotland Science colleagues during Ocean Acidification Week 2021, hosted by the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON). This is a virtual multi-day forum to highlight different aspects of OA research and initiatives from around the world.

The event will take place, virtually, from 13-17 Sept 2021 and includes plenary talks as well as a number of sessions from each GOA-ON hub to showcase high level regional / local activities. This year Marine Scotland Science has been invited to participate in the session hosted by the Northeast Atlantic Hub (Registration & Info Page here).

Ocean Acidification - the other CO2 problem

Further information

 

 

The post An investigation in Scottish coastal waters –  Ocean Acidification Week 2021 appeared first on Marine Scotland.

Working group sets out improvements for langoustine sector

Wed, 2021-09-15 12:06

Recommendations for delivering a profitable, sustainable and fair supply chain for the langoustine (Nephrops) industry have been set out in a new report published by a Scottish Government-formed working group.

The Scottish Nephrops Working Group report highlighted the value of the export market to the sector, which was £100 million in 2019. It showed Brexit has resulted in export changes to the EU including additional cost and complexity with certification, and increased time for shipments to reach the EU.

scottish nephrops industry reportThe group has set out seven strategies and accompanying recommendations to position quality Scottish langoustine as the number one choice globally.

This includes proposals to help recover and develop new markets; to improve efficiency, environmental sustainability and product quality; to encourage investment and innovation; and to increase the information available across the supply chain.

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Islands, Mairi Gougeon said:

“The economic significance of our langoustine industry is immense, with Nephrops being one of the most valuable stocks landed in Scotland.

“As producers of the finest and largest quality of this seafood globally, it’s vital that Scotland’s Nephrops industry is supported in its recovery from the challenges brought by coronavirus (COVID-19) and Brexit.

“I would like to thank everyone who gave their time, knowledge and expertise, which has resulted in this detailed, ambitious proposal.

“We will now consider the recommendations and how we might develop and implement those which align with our wider priorities for the sector in the short and long-term.”

Chair of the Scottish Nephrops Working Group, Uel Morton said:

“This Group commissioned independent research to more fully understand the recent economic challenges facing the sector as well as the best ways to position our world-class produce.

“There is a strong desire from the catching and processing sectors to build a better and more sustainable future for their industry, which supports Scotland’s climate change ambitions. The recommendation of a new Programme Board and workstreams provides a mechanism for hands-on industry experts to get involved, taking forward the work that now needs to be done.

It’s important to acknowledge the invaluable input from Seafood Scotland in getting us to this point. It will continue to have a key role in terms of access to funding and providing coordination across the industry. Looking to the future, the role of Government is also vital, enabling the sector and our coastal communities to deliver a more prosperous future.”

Background

The Scottish Nephrops Working Group was established in Autumn 2020 to help the sector respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The working group was independently chaired by Uel Morton and included Seafood Scotland (facilitator), three catching organisations and three processors: West of Scotland Fish Producers Organisation, Western Isles Fishermen’s Association, Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation Ltd, DR Collin, Camalltaidh Ltd and Whitby Seafoods. The Scottish Government also had input.

The landings value of Scottish Nephrops is approximately £91 million (2019) – the second highest value seafood product in Scotland.  More information on the sector can be found within the report.

 

The post Working group sets out improvements for langoustine sector appeared first on Marine Scotland.

New study into significance of Scottish saltmarsh

Tue, 2021-09-14 14:35

A new report has highlighted the significance of saltmarsh in Scotland for trapping and storing carbon, and helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The report was funded by the Scottish Government as part of its £650,000 commitment to the Blue Carbon Research Programme which recognises the importance of the marine environment for naturally storing carbon. This publication from the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum scientists, based at the School of Geography and Sustainable Development, University of St Andrews and the Scottish Association for Marine Science, Scottish Marine Institute, Oban, is the first national assessment of the carbon stocks found in Scotland’s saltmarsh soil.

A saltmarsh is an area of coastal grassland which is regularly flooded by seawater.

Saltmarsh story

Saltmarsh story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The study, which used nationwide saltmarsh vegetation mapping and extensive saltmarsh soil property data to estimate the carbon stock of surface soils within Scotland’s saltmarsh, found:

  • Scottish saltmarsh soils hold about 370,000 tonnes of carbon
  • The average density of carbon is about 6 kg for every square metre of saltmarsh.
  • There is more carbon per square metre than in most land-based soils.
  • Upper marsh, which is most inland in a saltmarsh, holds the greatest carbon density
  • Scotland’s 10 largest saltmarshes hold more than 50% of the total Scottish saltmarsh soil carbon
  • Scotland’s large estuarine saltmarshes hold the greatest quantity (more than 40%) of saltmarsh carbon within their soils
  • The saltmarshes of Dumfries and Galloway hold the largest quantity of carbon of any of Scotland’s local authorities (41% of total Scottish surficial saltmarsh soil OC stock).

Scotland's saltmarsh surficial social (10cm) organic carbon blocks. Bubbles indicating the areas where saltmarsh can be found

The results from these findings will help to protect and manage Scotland’s saltmarshes. It will also contribute to the Scottish Government’s work to tackle biodiversity loss, and highlight the benefits of natural habitats to climate, people and biodiversity.

This latest publication is part of a programme of work being undertaken by the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum, to grow the evidence base for blue carbon research, focusing on the carbon storage potential and the impact of human activities on blue carbon habitats in Scotland.

Further information

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Surveying the Sponge Belt

Thu, 2021-09-02 14:52

Scientists from Marine Scotland and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) have been undertaking the annual Marine Protected Area (MPA) monitoring trip in Scottish offshore waters aboard the Marine Research Vessel (MRV) Scotia.

This year, the teams have been surveying the seabed at the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt MPA, which lies on the Scottish side of the Faroe-Shetland Channel, a large rift basin that separates the Scottish and Faroese continental shelves (Figure 1 below).

Figure 1 Map showing the location of the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt MPA and 1121S sampling stations

Figure 1: Map showing the location of the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt MPA and survey sampling stations.

This is an area which has ideal conditions for the boreal ‘ostur’ type of deep-sea sponge aggregations to thrive. This giant sponge is nicknamed ‘cheesy-bottoms’ by some fishermen due to their appearance. The site which covers an area of 5,278 km2 and a depth range of 300 metre to 1000 metre is also home to sand and gravel sediments which support polychaete (marine) worms and a slow-growing type of clam called an ocean quahog.

It was designated as a MPA by Scottish Ministers in July 2014 for the purposes of nature conservation.

Remarkable sponges

Sponges are one of the most primitive forms of multicellular animal life on the planet, with their fossil record stretching back some 600 million years. They are notable in the fact that their cells don’t differentiate into tissues or organs. Their basic structure is comprised of a mass of cells and fibres that is permeated by a complex and intricate network of canals that open as holes, or pores, that are often visible on their surface. This system of canals and pores give the sponges their scientific name, the Porifera, or pore-bearer.

Most sponges rely on maintaining a constant flow of water through their bodies to supply them with food and oxygen and remove waste and release reproductive cells. Remarkably, sponges can filter between 1,000 – 20,000 litres of seawater per kilogram of their mass per day, removing up to 95% of bacteria and particles from the water. They also provide a three-dimensional structure on the seafloor that is used by other marine animals such as: crustaceans (crabs, lobster, prawns etc), nematode (roundworms), marine worms, brittle stars and bivalve molluscs (scallops, mussels etc).

Our scientists have been using Marine Scotland designed and built drop frame and chariot camera systems to record still images and high-definition video of the seabed within the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt MPA. This will help to establish a baseline condition against which any change at the site can be assessed over time.

 USBL transponder profile showing the in-water position of the drop frame camera system and the position where two still images were taken

Figure 2: Left panel: Map showing the location of the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt MPA and survey sampling stations, with drop frame camera station T20_D500 highlighted. Right panel: USBL transponder profile showing the in-water position of the drop frame camera system and the position where two still images were taken.

In order to get high accuracy positions of where on the seabed the photos and videos were taken they used an ultra-short baseline (USBL) system with a transponder fixed to the drop frame (Figure 2 above).  A suite of instrumentation was attached to the drop frame to give information on environmental parameters such as: depth, temperature and salinity.

Examples of what the seabed looked like can be seen below, in the main picture and in this video clip. After just over one week of the survey our scientists have collected more than 10,000 still images and 45 hours of HD video footage.

Photo-A-image-showing-sponges-brittle-stars-crustaceans

On board, the officers and crew of MRV Scotia have been expertly navigating the boat to allow data collection, deploying and retrieving the in-water equipment, making sure all the winches and auxiliary equipment is functioning, and keeping everyone well fed and ensuring morale is kept high.

Further Information

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Collaboration is key for science

Fri, 2021-08-27 11:13

Nephrops norvegicus, commonly known as langoustine or Dublin bay prawn, is the second most valuable seafood species landed in Scotland, and was worth over £80 million in 2019.

Reliable data to help manage the fisheries sustainably and establish what levels of nephrops are in the sea, is collected by Marine Scotland in two surveys every year. A sledge equipped with lights and cameras is towed across the muddy sea bed and the burrows where nephrops live are counted to establish numbers of the species.Nephrops at burrow opening - Crown copyright

Along the way, the survey records other information including the abundance of other species, burrows caused by species other than nephrops and any traces of human activity (such as litter, trawl marks, etc). This information can be made available to other interested organisations.

Recently, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) approached colleagues for video footage of the Central Fladen Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the North Sea.

The footage and data were first analysed to see if they could be used to accurately characterise the seafloor habitats that the sledge passes over, and to identify and map faunal distribution around this closely managed and important area.

This showed that in this instance, the video footage could be used more widely than the nephrops survey for which it was designed, allowing robust analysis to be carried out on habitat type and wider species distribution.

This project is an example of the value of consistent data collected over an extended time. It also illustrates that, with good collaboration, there can be opportunities to collect more data from our surveys, or derive more information from the data we collect, adding further value to the work that we already do.

An important part of the work of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) is to publish standardised guidance on data collection and measurements in the sea. Earlier this year, an ICES Expert Group, involving our colleagues, published essential guidance in their Technique in Marine Environmental Sciences (TIMES) series on conducting successful nephrops underwater television (UWTV) surveys.

The ICES TIMES document covers every aspect required to conduct these coordinated international surveys including survey design, recommended equipment, and requirements for reporting the data to the ICES Expert Group.  Data collecting templates to use at sea to record live data (ships position, time, date, visual clarity, etc.) are supported by the original blueprints for the sledge, designed and built by Marine Scotland.

 

A sledge equipped with lights and cameras is towed across the muddy sea bed and the burrows where nephrops live are counted to establish numbers of the species

By publishing this key document, institutes throughout ICES will have all the information they need to establish and conduct nephrops UWTV surveys that are comparable with established international surveys and that the training, data collection, quality control and reporting procedures are standardised.

Further Information

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Does marine litter concern correlate with changing habits?

Tue, 2021-07-27 08:59

The attitudes and behaviours of Scottish residents on the marine environment and the litter in our seas were published in last year’s Marine Social Attitudes Survey.

So as Plastic Free July continues our colleagues from the Marine Analytical Unit share some insights with us about whether concerns about plastics in Scotland’s sea relate to a willingness to change habits.

Concern about plastics in the sea

When asked about the main types of litter in the sea, 67% of Scottish residents reported plastic bottles, while 60% said plastic bags and 49% micro plastics. This suggests that plastics dominate the perceptions of marine litter in Scotland’s sea and coastal areas.

Respondents were asked to select up to four marine environmental issues that they were most concerned about. 83% of residents responded that one of the issues they were most concerned about was litter/plastics in the sea.

Taking Action

When asked how worried they felt about plastics in the ocean, 66% of residents responded ‘very worried’. They were then asked what they have done in the past 12 months, and what they plan on doing in the next 12 months, to help reduce marine litter.

plastic found on beach during beach clean. Crown CopyrightReducing the use of single use plastic bags was an action that had been taken by a majority of residents (70%). Of those who stated that they were ‘very worried’ about plastics in the ocean, 79% had reduced their use in the past 12 months. This suggests that those with great concern for the health of the sea are indeed willing to change their habits to improve the situation.

There could be other factors influencing the use of single use plastics, however. For example, it is possible that the large number of people using fewer single use plastic bags is a result of the charge put on these carrier bags in recent years rather than a concern for the sea encouraging a change in their habits.

The carrier bag charge was first introduced in Scotland in October 2014 and by 2015 the number of single use carrier bags issued annually fell by 80%. The Marine Conservation Society noted in 2016 that the number of plastic carrier bags being found on Scotland’s beaches dropped by 40% two years in a row with a further drop of 42% recorded between 2018 and 2019.

The relationship between being very worried about plastics in the ocean and taking action continued when looking at those recycling more. 77% of residents who cited being ‘very worried’ about plastics in the ocean had recycled more in the past 12 months.

Lack of willingness vs lack of physical ability

Some actions taken to reduce plastics in the sea are more physically demanding than others and whilst they might be ‘very concerned’, people’s willingness or ability to take action can vary depending on how onerous it might be. Therefore, not taking part in more strenuous activities such as beach cleaning may not be down to a lack of willingness but to a lack of physical ability.Litter picking at Aberdeen beach. Crown copyright

Whilst concern about plastics in the Scotland’s sea may influence people’s willingness to change their habits, there are a number of other factors that affect this such as how much effort changing these habits will require and whether they feel that it is actually their responsibility to reduce plastics in Scotland’s seas.

This analysis suggested there is a positive relationship between people concerned about plastics in the sea and taking actions to reduce marine plastics from entering the marine environment.

Further information

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Vessels supported through resilience fund

Thu, 2021-07-22 14:20

More than 850 fishing vessels impacted by Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Brexit have received resilience funding from the Scottish Government this year.

The Seafood Producers Resilience Fund was launched in February to help eligible shellfish catchers and producers who faced issues exporting to the EU and lost access to domestic food markets as a result of the pandemic.

All applications have now been assessed with payments made to more than 800 vessels across the country and details published on the Scottish Government website. It follows the Sea Fisheries Intervention Fund which was set up in 2020 as an immediate response to the pandemic.

Kenneth Lamond, the owner and skipper of the Dunan Star which is an under 12 metre trawler specialising in prawn fishing around Skye, Small Isles and the Minches was one of the recipients of the funding. He said:

“I’m hugely grateful for the Scottish Government’s speedy response to our dire situation, firstly in March 2020 when there was the COVID-19 ‘market collapse’ and then in February in when the chaos caused by Brexit export restrictions hit us like a brick.

“The speed with which the grant package got to boats saved many jobs and livelihoods up here – we couldn’t have got to sea without this aid and I would have had to let my crew go.

“The timely assistance is directly responsible for three families’ continued livelihoods and our tiny fishing community around Elgol (Skye) would have been really struggling without this aid.”

David Fraser, whose boat Girl Errin fishes for prawns from Oban said:

“During a very difficult year this grant has been a real help. Even when it still wasn’t possible to go to sea the grant helped ensure essential safety and maintenance could take place.

“While I wasn’t able to fish some of the grant helped ensure my boat was caulked (made watertight) and anti-fouled at Crinan boatyard which is essential work and keeps boats safe at sea. This grant didn’t just support the fishing boat and those on it, it also supported another essential local business. Normally these costs would be met from the earnings of a fishing boat, but obviously reduced earnings could have led to reduced safety without this support.

“It has meant I’ve been able to supply local restaurants as they open because essential maintenance was done in advance.”

James Robertson, skipper of the Small Isles under 9 metre boat which creel fishes for prawns, crab and lobster around south-west Skye and the Small Isles added:

“The Seafood Producers Resilience Fund has provided terrific support at a time where we were stuffed with no income and no markets. I was faced with releasing crew and abandoning the boat and my livelihood. The grants have been an absolute lifeline.”

Background 

Information on recipients of the Seafood Producers Resilience Fund is on the Scottish Government website: Seafood Producers Resilience Fund: beneficiaries – gov.scot (www.gov.scot)

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Shellfish businesses benefit from resilience fund

Thu, 2021-07-22 14:20

Seafood resilience funding has helped cover some of the costs of maintaining small shellfish businesses impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and EU Exit.

We caught up with some businesses who have benefitted from this support.

Lismore Shellfish on the Island of Lismore is a family run business which would regularly sell loads containing around 6,500 oysters onto a larger business for further distribution.

With hospitality closures and seafood businesses losing access to their usual markets due to the pandemic, Lismore Shellfish saw its sales drop.

Alan McFadyen who runs Lismore Shellfish with his brother in law Geoff Hawkes explained:

“The last year has been really challenging. When the lockdown came in, our sales completely disappeared and then when we did eventually open up in July there was very little demand so we had to just focus our efforts locally. We sold small amounts of oysters through local deliveries, managed to get a few loads away at the end of the year, and then that was us again until the end of March.

“This year so far we’ve only managed to get one load away. It’s been really tough across the supply chain because markets just dried up. We’ve all had to adapt to change and we’ve seen our main customer now focusing on more local and UK deliveries.”

Lismore Shellfish applied for funding through last year’s Aquaculture Hardship Fund and the Seafood Producers Resilience Fund which closed in April, to cover some of the costs of maintaining its oysters which it grows using the bag and trestle method.

Oyster Farm

Alan added:

“The funding has been very important as it’s helped us buy more seed to continue to grow our stock. We have to buy oyster seed and grow it for two to three years, so if you miss a rotation it has a real impact on our sales.”

Uig Seafare Limited has been operating in West Loch Roag on the Isle of Lewis since 2004, initially selling to wholesale buyers on the mainland and harvesting, grading and packing the mussels into 5kg bags.

At the end of 2018 the business started selling market size mussels to another company who took on the harvesting, grading and packing for the business. The next market ready mussels were due to be harvested by the bigger company in autumn 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic affected plans.

Uig Seafare Limited is another of the 26 small aquaculture businesses to benefit from funding through the Seafood Producers Resilience Fund.

Company owner Julie Smith said: “All of our mussels are meant for the domestic retail market, but since no-one was going out to eat, the company due to harvest our stock no longer had enough orders to be able to buy our mussels.

“While we’ve still had mussels growing, the worry has been that they will become fouled with barnacles, and then even though the mussel meat will be good, it could be very hard to sell as the market demands clean shells.

“The weight of the steadily growing mussels has also meant we have to spend a few thousand pounds on 100 extra buoys to hold up the increasing weight and to stop the lines from sinking.

“We haven`t had any income from the mussels since February 2019, so the funding has been a huge help with maintenance costs both for the mussel lines and the boat and equipment.”

Background

More information on recipients of the Seafood Producers Resilience Fund is on the Scottish Government website: Seafood Producers Resilience Fund: beneficiaries – gov.scot (www.gov.scot)

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Understanding the migration routes of Atlantic salmon

Mon, 2021-07-19 08:43

The distribution and migration routes of Atlantic salmon from different countries has been explored in a new study aimed at understanding the species’ decline.

The paper extensively studied the distributions of salmon in the North Atlantic in the first year after migrating to the high sea, bringing together data from 385 marine cruises, 10,202 individual trawls, and 9,269 captured ‘post-smolt’ fish, spanning three decades and ~4.75 million km2 of ocean.

Conservation of wild salmon is a priority for the Scottish Government and with Atlantic salmon numbers declining dramatically during recent decades, largely due to increased deaths at sea, it was necessary to look at the oceanic migration routes taken by salmon from different countries through this study.

Genetic methods were used to determine from which countries and regions a subset of the fish examined had originated.  Together with the capture location, this analysis helped to establish the migration routes and feeding areas of different regional groups of salmon. Scottish fish were the largest component of the ‘Britain and Ireland’ southern stock group.

The study identified a key foraging habitat for southern European post-smolts located in international waters immediately west of the Vøring Plateau escarpment in the Norwegian sea. The work has important implications for understanding factors influencing migration and foraging aggregations. Furthermore, it informs analyses of potential impacts on salmon from climate change and by-catch from high seas fisheries.

John Gilbey from Marine Scotland, the Scottish Government directorate responsible for the integrated management of Scotland’s seas, was the lead author.

He said: “This study brings together 30 years of observations of post smolt salmon at sea, achieved through collaborations with colleagues from across the eastern north Atlantic area.

“This collaboration and the use of genetic identification techniques has helped to establish the regional origins of fish and stock specific variations in ocean migration and feeding areas. “In a changing environment, where salmon face diverse and increasing pressures, such insights on the marine phase of salmon are of vital importance for understanding the pressures these fish face, and inform conservation efforts.”

Background

The early marine distribution of Atlantic salmon in the North-east Atlantic: A genetically informed stock-specific synthesis.

Together with Scottish scientists from Marine Scotland, The University of the Highlands and Islands, and The Atlantic Salmon Trust, the team of international researchers was comprised of scientists from across the UK and international scientists from Norway, Ireland, France, Spain, Faroes, Denmark, Finland, and Russia. Many of the post-smolts were collected and screened as part of the EU Seventh Framework Programme funded SALSEA-Merge Project (Project No. 212529), co-sponsored by the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Total Foundation. Data integration, analysis and manuscript production was undertaken as part of the SEASALAR Project funded by the Research Council of Norway (Project No. 280308).

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Critically endangered flapper skate study

Wed, 2021-07-14 12:52

This week is Shark Week and today we’re celebrating Shark Awareness Day. Did you know that there are over 30 species of sharks, skates and rays recorded in Scottish waters?

Sharks are part of the elasmobranch family, which also includes skates and rays. They differ from other fish in the sea by having a skeletal structure made out of cartilage as opposed to bone.

The flapper skate is the largest and most endangered skate species in the North East Atlantic but very little is known about its lifecycle and, to add to the confusion, until recently the blue skate and flapper skate were considered a single species.

Its large size makes it vulnerable to fishing gear throughout most of its life-cycle. As a result of its rapid decline and near eradication from areas where it was previously found in large numbers, the conservation status of the flapper skate was changed to ‘Critically Endangered’, meaning it was seen as a species very likely to become extinct in the near future.

On 10 March 2021 Scottish Ministers designated an urgent Marine Protected Area (MPA) for flapper skate in the Inner Sound of Skye, following the discovery of the first flapper skate nursery area in Scotland. This is the second MPA to protect flapper skate in Scotland. The Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area was designated in 2014 to protect populations found there but to assess the impact of the management measures put in place to protect this iconic species requires knowledge and baseline information of age, growth and maturation.

Tagging and photo-identification study

A study led by our science colleagues to explore non-invasive ways to obtain valuable data about the critically endangered flapper skate concluded recently and the findings have now been published.

Using data from a long-term conventional tagging programme already in place in the area and using photo-identification to match unique spot patterns for nearly three years, the team were able to model growth for 626 flapper skate individuals and provide the much needed age and growth estimates.

These new results indicate that flapper skate growth and maturation are much slower than previously assumed with, on average, females reaching a maximum size of 221 cm and maturing at 21 years of age, while males reached a maximum size of 201 cm and matured earlier at 14 years of age.

Therefore, the study confirms the importance of protecting long-lived and slow growing flapper skate so that sufficient numbers of fish mature and reproduce, to combat the decline observed in the last decades.

Further Information:

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Colleagues contribute to Harmful Algal Bloom report

Thu, 2021-07-08 15:14

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) present a problem for marine ecosystems, associated industries and societies across the world, including Scotland. HABs are formed when certain species of single-celled phytoplankton (microscopic, free-floating organisms that are able to photosynthesize) increase in cell numbers during favourable environmental conditions.

HABs can have a number of different impacts. Some phytoplankton species produce toxins that can accumulate in the flesh of shellfish which feed on them. These shellfish can pose a risk to human health if consumed. Some form high biomass blooms that can smother animals on the seabed when the bloom dies off. Others produce toxins that can kill fish. Not all blooms are, however, harmful, and may only produce water discolourations, scums and foams which, whilst unsightly, are benign.

The majority of phytoplankton species in the oceans form blooms that have no negative impact. In fact, phytoplankton blooms play an important role in the marine food web. The Scottish aquaculture industry experiences impacts from HABs annually, the most frequent being closures of harvesting areas due to algal toxins in shellfish flesh exceeding EU regulatory levels.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO recently published the first Global HAB Status Report (GHSR). The IOC HAB Programme conducted a study involving 109 scientists from 35 countries who interpreted data gathered from 1985 to 2018. Their task was to detect changes in the distribution, frequency, and intensity of these naturally occurring phenomena, looking for global trends. Marine Scotland was one of the contributors.Diarrhetic Shellfish Toxins and Paralytic Shellfish Toxins during 2017-2019

The study found that reported HAB events have increased in some regions and decreased or stabilised in other regions of the globe. Within Europe there has been no significant change in HAB events once higher levels of monitoring effort have been accounted for. This variability in regional trends is driven in part by differences in HAB species and impacts that are observed in different parts of the world. Emergent impacts in some regions have also contributed to this variability.

The often stated view that HABs are on the rise throughout the world was not confirmed by the study. Regional assessments indicate that intensified monitoring efforts, associated with both increased aquaculture production and tourism, could be responsible for the perceived increase in harmful algal events. The study also highlighted that trends in HAB events need to be considered regionally, and at the species level, if drivers are to be better understood.

A special issue of the journal Harmful Algae, published in February for the GHSR, contains regional overviews of HAB events from around the world.

Key points for Scotland:

  • In Scotland the number of HAB events increased in the 1990s as monitoring efforts to comply with the EU Shellfish Hygiene commenced and intensified as the shellfish aquaculture industry developed. Since 2005, the number of HAB events (as categorised in this study) have stabilised although the duration of harvesting closures and number of sites impacted can vary from year to year, and the first closures of shellfish harvesting areas due to Azaspiracids were enforced in 2011.
  • Diarrhetic Shellfish Toxins (DSTs) are responsible for the majority of shellfish harvesting closures annually, with closures due to Paralytic Shellfish Toxins being less widespread and more irregular.
  • Closures of shellfish harvesting areas due to Amnesic Shellfish Toxins have reduced since the introduction of end product testing and shucking of King Scallops in 2005.
  • HABs have also resulted in mortalities of farmed fish.
  • In a separate study annual losses from DSTs are estimated at 15% of total shellfish production in Scotland (equivalent to £1.37m a year in 2015 GBP).
  • Food Standards Scotland are the competent authority responsible for undertaking the Official Controls to determine the safety of marine waters used for the harvesting of live bivalve molluscs in Scotland. This ensures shellfish placed on the market are safe for consumption.
  • The Scottish Association for Marine Science has developed a HAB report system to alert shellfish farmers to the potential risk from HAB events.

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Plastic Bag Free Day

Wed, 2021-07-07 14:24

Last week was Plastic Bag Free Day, a global initiative that aims to eliminate the use of single-use plastic bags. So, to acknowledge the day, we’d like to highlight some of the important work that we do to reduce the amount of plastic and marine litter from entering our amazing aquatic environment.

Marine litter

Marine litter is washing up on Scottish shores with each tide. It is a global challenge affecting the world’s oceans, seas, coastlines and shores. The problem is largely caused by a range of materials such as: plastics, metals and glass, which degrade very slowly. The type of litter which is most commonly found at sea and washed ashore is plastic.

Marine plasticsMarine litter on Aberdeen beach Crown copyright

Marine plastics have a negative impact on our marine environment, our economy and they threaten human health. Larger plastic items in our seas can entangle animals, smother habitats, damage tourism and pose a serious risk to life and livelihood by causing vessel breakdowns at sea. As a result of sunlight and wave exposure, plastics become fragmented, making their way into the marine ecosystem by ingestion, consumed by creatures as small as plankton to as large as sea mammals. Plastic fragments cause obstructions and physical damage to the digestive tracts of animals which eat them and can result in death. Plastics may also act as a vector for contaminants.

Plastic pellets/nurdles

Marine plastics come in many forms including the smaller pieces of microplastics which include plastic pellets, powders and flakes (collectively referred to as ‘plastic pellets’) which are the building blocks of all plastic consumer goods, including plastic bags. To prevent pellet loss across the supply chain we support the plastic industry’s ‘Operation Clean Sweep’ (OCS), but we know more needs to be done which is why we have worked with the industry to develop a best practice pellet handling standard. The publicly available standard will be published later this year.

Marine litter researchMarine Scotland staff beach cleaning

Seabed litter is monitored on our vessels which carry out scientific surveys covering most of Scotland’s seas. Floating microplastics in our seas are also monitored by sampling them from the sea surface. In addition sub-tidal marine sediment samples are now also being collected and analysed. We also collect already dead fulmars, for stomach content analysis of plastic debris, as fulmars are used as an indicator species with the OSPAR Commission.

Marine Scotland supports many initiatives to reduce the amount of litter entering our seas and fund organisations which educate members of the public, organise beach litter cleans and promote the safe-disposal of marine litter. Some of which are:

  • supporting KIMO’s Fishing For Litter which helps fishermen remove and bring ashore litter that they catch in their nets
  • funding Local Coastal Partnerships around Scotland’s coastline which all have a role to play in supporting beach cleans and other efforts to reduce marine litter
  • supporting SCRAPbook a collaborative project between the Moray Firth Partnership and Sky Watch to map the litter hot spots round Scotland’s mainland coastline and support their clean-ups.
Further information:

To find out more about what the Scottish Government is doing to combat marine litter please check out some of the links below:

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Mandatory monitoring for Scottish scallop dredge fleet

Mon, 2021-06-28 12:58

Our Future Fisheries Management (FFM) Strategy, launched in December 2020, set out our policy initiatives for the next ten years to protect the environment and support a strong, sustainable and resilient fishing industry. The FFM Strategy presents a clear vision for delivering accountability and confidence in our sea fishing activities, and in ensuring that we have the right data and knowledge available on which to base management decisions.

A key component of the FFM Strategy is the £1.5 million Modernisation of the Inshore Fleet Programme – a Scottish Government commitment to more effectively monitor fishing in inshore waters by deploying appropriate and proportionate vessel tracking and monitoring technology across our fleets.

Since 2017, in accordance with existing legislation, a number of scallop dredge vessels operating in Scottish inshore waters have had operational Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) devices onboard. Now, under the first phase of the Modernisation Programme, the use of such technology is being deployed across Scottish registered scallop dredge vessels to monitor activity at sea.Scallop dredge vessels in NE Scotland 2021

The technology uses Global Positioning System (GPS) and other data such as speed, direction and winch movement detection, to ascertain vessel location and what fishing activities the vessel is engaged in at that location. Cameras focussed on the dredges provide a bird’s eye view of where the dredges are stowed, emptied and launched from (there is no intention that they identify individuals).

Fully funded voluntary installations are ongoing around Scotland and our intention is to introduce legislation to make REM technology mandatory for scallop dredge vessels. Our priority therefore is to ensure remaining eligible scallop dredge vessels take advantage of the available 2021 funding before allocation moves to the next phase in the Modernisation Programme and REM systems become mandatory.

The inshore marine environment is increasingly in demand, by a variety of sectors who want to utilise the resource. The Modernisation Programme aims to help address the challenges this poses by enhancing the fisheries evidence base and enabling improved interaction between the fishing industry and other marine users. The Modernisation Programme will help to deliver accountability and confidence in our fleets, provide a more detailed profile of Scotland’s inshore fisheries, to aid and improve management measures, and to help sustain this important industry for our coastal communities.

Next Steps

If you wish to have the funded REM unit installed, or have any further queries, please contact Marine Scotland’s Fully Documented Fisheries (FDF) Unit. The FDF Unit will advise you throughout the process and send you the necessary paperwork, with a view to arranging an installation this summer.

Further information

The FFM Strategy has set out a clear direction of travel regarding vessel REM in Scotland. We are tailoring the deployment of REM across our fishing sectors to reflect the varied nature of fishing activity. We will shortly consult on rollout of REM in Scotland using a proportionate and risk-based approach.

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Understanding behaviour of Northeast Atlantic mackerel

Mon, 2021-06-21 16:12

Scientists from Marine Scotland have been involved in a survey sampling mackerel eggs in the Arctic Circle.

Four scientists from Marine Scotland, which is the Scottish Government Directorate responsible for the integrated management of Scotland’s seas, joined the crew of the chartered vessel Marine Fishing Vessel (MFV) Altaire to survey mackerel spawning activity within the Northern North Sea and Norwegian Sea regions this month.

Colleagues were involved in collecting and analysing plankton samples, as well as small quantities of adult mackerel for analysis to assist ongoing research led by scientists from the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen, Norway.

Mackerel eggs in various stages of development

G7 sampler deployment from Altaire

Plankton samplers such as the Gulf 7 sampler (below and main image), and also importantly their flowmeters, are used to collect samples of plankton and calculate the volume of sea water filtered (and therefore also the density of mackerel eggs) captured within the sampler during its journey through the water column.

The three yearly International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) surveys have been running since 1977, with recent surveys reporting significant change taking place in the spawning behaviour of Northeast Atlantic (NEA) mackerel. It has found an increasing proportion of the stock appear to be moving away from the traditional hotspot areas, along the continental shelf edge west of the UK and Ireland, and heading further offshore with spawning boundaries proving harder to define.

 

 

As part of the last survey review process, a commitment was made to undertake exploratory icthyoplankton (the eggs and larvae of fish) surveys within the mackerel spawning boundary areas in these remote North and Northwest regions, during June when the highest mackerel spawning densities are likely to be encountered.

sampler and crew onboard Altaire

During this survey the Altaire has made its way North, gradually building up a picture of mackerel spawning activity. Conditions have been calm but despite visibility and sea conditions being generally good, sightings of marine mammals have been thin on the ground with just one sighting of two orca being reported North of Shetland.

Altaire crossed over the Arctic Circle at around 6pm on 14 June and with any semblance of midnight darkness disappearing entirely at this point Altaire continued further North, until finally approaching Lofoten the next day.

This Island archipelago delivers truly stunning views and although our crew weren’t granted completely clear conditions during their short visit, the mist did lift enough to give them a glimpse of the striking landscape behind.

At the Northernmost point and amid extremely chilly conditions some of our team attempted some (unsuccessful) rod and line fishing off the Island of Moskensoya but before long the weather once again closed in around the lofty peaks of Lofoten and it was time to bid farewell.

survey track for the Altaire

Having completed the first part of the survey, part two will be filling in the survey sections that were missed on the way North.

Mackerel eggs have been reported from virtually every station sampled albeit numbers have been generally low to moderate but this certainly provides hard evidence that the mackerel are spawning in latitudes above the Arctic Circle.

As the world’s northernmost non-Arctic nation, Scotland is directly affected by the profound changes that are occurring in the region. Scottish researchers have a long tradition of delivering world-class scientific projects in and about the Arctic. Seven Scottish universities are members of UArctic, an international and multidisciplinary network of higher education institutions that aims to further education and research about the High North. The Scottish Government’s Arctic policy framework – published in September 2019 – seeks to promote greater Scottish-Arctic cooperation and knowledge exchange with a view to developing joint solutions to common issues and ambitions.

Further information:

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News from our Scotia crew

Fri, 2021-06-18 15:00

Colleagues onboard our marine research vessel (MRV) Scotia are nearing the end of their latest survey trip but have made good progress collecting information on the abundance and distribution of Nephrops norvegicus, commonly known as langoustine or Dublin bay prawns.

Nephrops is the second most valuable species landed by the Scottish fleet, representing 15 per cent of the value of all Scottish vessels’ landings. Some 450 vessels in the fleet land prawns valued at around £80 million per year, with £36.8 million in direct gross value added generation through capture and processing which employs almost 2100 people across Scotland. The importance of sustainable management of the Nephrops fishery to Scotland is reflected in the fact that it is the only shellfish species currently subject to a quota.

The areas in which this underwater television (UWTV) survey takes place have been visited regularly over a number of years, usually using one of our research vessels, MRV Scotia or MRV Alba na Mara. The data we get from these surveys provides us with crucial information we need about these sea creatures and is used to provide Nephrops fisheries management advice.

Whilst at sea our team of scientists review footage of the muddy sea bed where Nephrops dig their burrows, allowing for statistical analysis to be carried out in real-time. Mud samples are regularly collected, which helps us to better understand their habitat preference, We also undertake some trawls to catch Nephrops, which enables us to monitor and record their size, shape and reproductive status.

Due to COVID-19 related guidance and rescheduling of surveys, this survey had to be adapted to incorporate additional tasks that hadn’t been possible when restrictions were at their height. In addition to the principal Nephrops work our team were tasked with recovering and deploy monitoring buoys, all equipped with oceanographic sensors and acoustic recorders, at monitoring sites in the North Sea and off the west coast of Scotland.

These devices are part of the Collaborative Oceanography and Monitoring for Protected Areas and Species (COMPASS) project and record the record the sounds produced by marine mammals, including the songs, whistles and moans of larger whales and dolphins, the echolocation clicks of porpoises, and even some noises produced by seals! During this work, our colleagues had the fantastic good fortune to witness two types of dolphin (white sided and bottlenose) leap up from the water and then slap their tails down hard on to the surface of the water.

Later a large pod of dolphins accompanied the vessel as the crew worked through the stations. Retrieval and deployment of further moorings at Hyskeir, Barra and Tiree were all completed in good time, and the vessel completed the last of the stations in the Inner Hebrides before returning to Aberdeen.

 

 

COMPASS and Interreg logos

 

 

Further information

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Use of new technologies to better understand changes in oxygen levels in the North Sea

Tue, 2021-06-08 13:14

The Scotland’s Marine Assessment 2020 portal provides a range of information on the health of our seas and how to determine the state of marine ecosystems.

One example is the NERC-funded (Natural Environment Research Council) AlterEco project, which is an alternative framework to assess marine ecosystem functioning in shelf seas. This project carried out successful research using novel autonomous technologies for recording and monitoring oxygen levels in North Sea waters, as well as parameters that influence its state, such as temperature and nutrient concentrations. Oxygen contained in water, also called dissolved oxygen, is essential for the survival of most marine organisms.

The AlterEco project collected data between 2017 and 2019 from a total of 18 ocean gliders – autonomous robotic vehicles that were deployed at sea for several months at a time, as seen below. The aim was to improve the coverage of measurements of dissolved oxygen and nutrient concentrations in both time and over large areas, investigate what might cause observed levels of reducing oxygen (deoxygenation) and form a better understanding of the ecological health of the North Sea.Glider on board the vessel

The project launched gliders from the coastal waters off Blyth, Northumberland, towards Dogger Bank, mostly using the small coastal vessel Research Vessel (RV) Princess Royal, University of Newcastle, and was supported by Marine Research Vessel Scotia, Marine Scotland and RV Endeavour, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquatic Science (CEFAS).

These gliders were used to collect observations along two perpendicular transect lines, repeated back and forth, and also at a single location (replicating a traditional ship survey with extremely high sampling rates). The map below shows the cross-shaped transect lines, one east-west at 56.2º N, and the second north-south transiting between shallower water on Dogger Bank in the south to deeper regions in the north. There were occasional diversions when technical problems or bad weather pushed the gliders off course. The results demonstrate that the deeper sea regions north of Dogger Bank undergo periods of prolonged vertical stratification, when distinct density layers occur within the water column from spring (early April).

Map of the sea off the coast of Blyth plotting the track of the gliders

Oxygen levels are known to follow seasonal changes, and the gliders captured this cycle -. in spring the water goes from being completely mixed, to vertically stratified, when distinct layers form due to seasonal warming. At this time, a surface warm layer becomes separated from the deeper, cooler layer. The dissolved oxygen concentration in this cool bottom layer decreases dramatically during this stratified period that extends through spring, summer and autumn, as microbial organisms respire and so use up available oxygen. In some locations, oxygen levels reached the limits of what is considered a healthy threshold value of 6 mg L–1 by the end of the late autumn (see figure below). Luckily, UK shelf waters typically revert to being well mixed in winter, as was observed during the AlterEco measurement period, and these waters once again become oxygenated. This observed decrease does give cause for concern, particularly if future changes might push oxygen levels lower.

Heat fluxes, gas exchange and water depth also play their part in variations in oxygen concentrations in the water. Oxygen is less soluble in warmer water than colder water, which leads to oxygen concentration decreasing when the warming water mirrors the atmosphere, and increasing when the water cools. Water depth controls the volume of water that is not impacted by air . Nutrient concentrations, light availability and biological productivity also play a critical role in changing oxygen levels as the growth of phytoplankton, (microscopic marine plants) both contribute to increasing oxygen levels, just as plants do on land, but also fuel the microbial depletion of oxygen in the deeper water.

Future threats to this system from climate change include predicted rising sea temperatures, which would make water less able to hold onto its dissolved oxygen, longer and stronger periods of stratification and increases in phytoplankton production, with some areas of the North Sea already approaching oxygen deficient levels measuring close to the 6 mg L–1 threshold – a level which may be unsuitable for some organisms.

Long term continuous glider time series from AlterECO showing bottom oxygen concentration in the North Sea, red line showing the threshold at 6 mg –-1 for ‘healthy waters’. Each colour on the figure represents the measurements made by one glider.

Aside from these important scientific results, AlterEco also demonstrated the capability for autonomous sustained ocean observing using ocean gliders. These technologies delivered high-resolution sampling of multiple ocean measurements over large sea areas and with only limited assistance from large research ships. Additional project benefits included the trialling and testing of new sensors and important developments in sensor calibration and data quality assurance using ocean gliders.

Looking forward, the state of the art data collected in AlterEco will be used alongside numerical models to demonstrate how observations of this type can contribute to assessments of the health and environmental status of Scottish and UK seas, and how observed changes are influenced by human activity, climate change and naturally occurring cycles.

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Investment reducing harbour’s carbon footprint

Tue, 2021-06-01 10:17

Improvements to power supplies at Mallaig Harbour will help to reduce its carbon footprint and bring benefits to the fishing fleet, the chief executive of the authority has said.

Mallaig Harbour Authority received £207,410 for the installation of shore power through the Scottish Government fund set up to support ports and harbours losing income from landing fees due to the disruption caused by Brexit.

With a small local fleet and no fish market, vessels landing at Mallaig have faced issues exporting their produce over the last year with one local buyer reporting that langoustine tails sold for £6.25kg in the last landing before lockdown in March 2020 were down to an average price of £3.90kg in February 2021.

Fish dues paid to the harbour were also down 70% to November 2020, compared to the same April – November period in 2019.

In light of these issues, in February the harbour applied for the Scottish Government funding, Chief Executive of Mallaig Harbour Authority Jacqueline McDonell explained:

“The installation of shore power at Mallaig Harbour is something that the local fishermen have been requesting for years as it would provide them with electricity supplies from the quayside and mean they wouldn’t have to be running generators aboard their boats at the port. However with our fishing dues down over the last year it’s not something that we would have been able to invest in without this fund.

“Access to electricity at the harbour has been particularly heightened with the closure of the local Fishermen’s Mission office over the pandemic, as crew would have usually been able to access those facilities too.

“It’s been such a hard time for fishermen, providing this energy source for them to use instead of their generators at the harbour will save them a bit of money and provide cleaner power to boats.”

Image of shore power on Mallaig Harbour

The new electric hook ups have been installed on the two piers, and provide a mixture of single phase and three phase electrical connections, depending on the requirements of the boat. Once completed there will be potential to power 28 boats from the plug in points.

Jacqueline continued:

“While we are in a fortunate position to have diverse revenue streams in Mallaig, and significant income from ferry dues and aquaculture businesses to maintain a level of turnover, it has been a nightmare for our fishing fleet. The first few months of the year were really difficult, and we saw local boats having to be tied up due to the export issues.

“This has been a fantastic opportunity to invest and support our fishing fleet during what has been a difficult time for them, and hopefully save them money, reduce carbon emissions and improve living standards aboard vessels in port.

“It will make a huge difference and give boats who are berthed for the weekend an option of where to lie, and power for things like microwaves and televisions so it can be a home from home. Access to shore power also helps to maintain the life of engines and other equipment aboard vessels, as the trickle of power means engines are not starting from cold each time.”

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Lets Talk MS

Sun, 2021-05-30 09:00

Marine Ornithologist Rich Howells blogs about his experience of living with Multiple Sclerosis for World MS Day.

Working at Marine Scotland, the acronym ‘MS’ is something I hear all the time. However, MS means something completely different for me, since I have Multiple Sclerosis.

Scotland has one of the highest, if not the highest, prevalence of Multiple Sclerosis in the world. Multiple Sclerosis is also the most common neurological condition in young people, being generally diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, and is about two to three times more common in women than men. However, there’s a great deal of misunderstanding around this disease. As this is World MS Day, I’d like to use this as an opportunity to raise awareness of Multiple Sclerosis, and share my story.

Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic neurological condition, where the body’s immune system attacks the myelin surrounding nerves (like the plastic coating on an electrical wire) in the brain and spinal cord. This damage causes scaring, or sclerosis, to the nerves, which occurs in multiple places in the body, hence the name Multiple Sclerosis. Over time this damage to nerve function (like a broken wire), results in physical and/or mental disability. MS affects everyone differently and there’s no reliable way of predicting how your disease will progress. As such, in addition to the very real physical and mental impacts of Multiple Sclerosis, the uncertainties surrounding disease progression and how to plan for and tackle this is a real challenge for people living with the condition. It is still not understood what causes Multiple Sclerosis and although there’s is no cure, there are a growing number of treatments to help slow down disease progression, with many more in development, so there’s never been a better time to have Multiple Sclerosis, so to speak!

My Multiple Sclerosis journey started in 2015 while completing fieldwork as part of my PhD studying seabird populations on the Isle of May, when I fell over, much to the amusement of my team. Unbeknown to me at the time this was the first indication of weakness in my right leg, which continues today. However, as Multiple Sclerosis is notoriously difficult to diagnose, it was several years, numerous tests, MRIs and a lumber puncture later that I was officially diagnosed, just before my wedding.

Currently I have Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis, with only slight impacts on my day to day life including: my slightly lazy ‘drop-foot’, meaning I trip often; some memory problems, I think; and trigeminal neuralgia, causing brief but agonising facial pain. However, the major obstacle I face is the unknown, which has become even more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularity due to the nature of immunosuppressant drugs. While I’m not the sort of person to worry about getting hit by a bus, my wife Lydia and I have had to consider Multiple Sclerosis in our life choices.

For example, we’ve recently bought a ground floor flat in case of any future mobility issues, have had to curtail our future travel plans, and have probably brought forward family planning by a few years. However, my diagnosis has also led to some positive changes in my life, including regular mindfulness/yoga (often on the beach), far more physical activity and new friends developed though my Multiple Sclerosis networks. While I don’t know what the future will hold for me, I do know that I now, more than ever, live every day to the max.

Living with a disability is often challenging and isolating, especially perhaps for disabilities like Multiple Sclerosis which can be hidden much of the time. While talking about these things to people with disabilities can be difficult, it’s only through greater understanding and active dialogue that we can help people through these difficulties, helping break down barriers and leading to much needed support. I hope you’ve found this a useful introduction to Multiple Sclerosis and my story, and to finish I’d like to offer a few suggestions.

If you know someone with Multiple Sclerosis:

  1. Avoid having preconceived ideas about what someone with Multiple Sclerosis looks like or the disability they face – everyone is different
  2. Get informed about Multiple Sclerosis
  3. Talk to people with Multiple Sclerosis to see how you can support them, or just ask how they are

For anyone recently diagnosed or living with Multiple Sclerosis:

  1. Remember that Multiple Sclerosis is not a death sentence, there are things you can do to slow down and manage your symptoms
  2. There’s plenty of support out there – reach out and get involved, it helps
  3. Multiple Sclerosis shouldn’t stop you doing things, you might just have to do them differently

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