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Your chance to find out more about our Freshwater scientists

Mon, 2017-04-24 11:28

Open Day schedule

On 13th May, our Freshwater scientists are holding an open day at the Atholl Palace Hotel, Pitlochry.

This free and family friendly event will showcase past and present work that has been instrumental in developing our understanding of Scotland’s freshwater fish populations and fisheries. You’re welcome to drop in at any time  between 10am and 5pm and check out all the different exhibits we’ll have on show and scientists will be on hand to talk to you about what they do.

Learn – See – Explore

  • Study fish DNA, find out how we tell the ages of fish, discover what a baby dragonfly looks like
  • Find out how and why we follow fish using electronic tags
  • Watch our fascinating demonstration on catching fish using electricity
  • Check out our topical talks and informative videos
  • Chat with our scientists and learn about being a fisheries biologist, geneticist or chemist

Initially set up in 1948, the Marine Scotland Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory employs around 40 staff at its main site in Pitlochry on the shore of Loch Faskally and outstations in Montrose and Shieldaig. Our dedicated team conducts science that supports national fisheries management and conservation. Staff work on a range of fish species in both freshwater and coastal environments, but primarily Atlantic salmon and Brown (sea) trout.

**Book your free tickets now!**

 Further Information

The post Your chance to find out more about our Freshwater scientists appeared first on Marine Scotland.

SCObs Weekly Sampling to Expand at St Abbs

Fri, 2017-04-07 13:20

The Scottish Coastal Observatory (SCObs) monitors the temperature, salinity, nutrients and plankton community at a number of sites around the Scottish coast. The efforts of Marine Scotland scientists are supported by a network of local citizen-scientists who deploy small temperature sensors and collect water samples for analysis.  Many of the SCObs sites have been collecting data since 1997, and a first report featuring observations up to 2013 was recently published.  Monthly means of the data presented in the report are available for download.

More recently, SCObs has also established a site at St Abbs, on the Scottish east coast, almost 50 miles south of Edinburgh.  In collaboration with staff at the St Abbs Marine Station, temperature sensors have been deployed since July 2013.  From April 2017, the monitoring is expanding to include the collection of water samples for salinity, nutrient and phytoplankton analysis.  Dave Lee and Bee Berx from the Oceanography Group travelled down to St Abbs on 31 March, to deliver the kit needed for the St Abbs Marine Station staff to collect and store samples.  After a short training session, they were also treated to possibly the tastiest Cullen Skink around, before heading home.

So, how do our citizen-scientist volunteers help SCObs?

Volunteers who collect samples are sent empty vials, bottles and phytoplankton sampling equipment, which they use to collect water samples on a weekly basis. Nutrient samples are frozen, while the preserved phytoplankton samples and salinity bottles are stored at room temperature.  Samples are returned to the Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen on a regular basis, and the samples are analysed.  Meantime, the volunteers receive replacement sampling kit from Marine Scotland.  The volunteers also deploy and recover the temperature sensors: these are attached to piers or buoys, where they are permanently submerged.  Every three months, the volunteers also post these back.  The data is downloaded from the instrument, and a new sensor is posted out to the volunteers.

St Abbs sampling siteThe St Abbs Marine Station is a registered charity and has a research collaboration agreement with Edinburgh Napier and Heriot-Watt universities. All three partners are members of the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland (MASTS).  They particularly focus on issues related to marine conservation and sustainability, as well as education and providing excellent research facilities.



The post SCObs Weekly Sampling to Expand at St Abbs appeared first on Marine Scotland.

MRV Alba na Mara Survey 0517A Programme

Thu, 2017-04-06 10:00

Duration: 06 – 26 April 2017

Fishing Gear: Scallop Dredges


  1. To carry out a survey of scallop stocks on the West Coast.
  2. To age, measure and assess shell damage on all scallops caught.
  3. To Identify and sample additional areas of commercial interest to the scallop fishery.
  4. To collect information on by-catch of other commercial fish and shellfish species.
  5. To identify, quantify numbers, and damage assess of starfish species in all dredge tows.
  6. To collect flesh samples for genetic and toxin analysis back at the laboratory.
  7. To undertake underwater filming trials using a Go-pro camera.
  8. If time permits carry out a depletion study on a selected dredge tow.


The survey will depart from Fraserburgh on 06 April and after vessel drills, make passage for the West Coast stations on the survey.

Scallop dredge hauls will be made at sites used on previous surveys as shown Figure 1. Hauls will be of 30 minutes duration.  In addition to the historical tows, additional tows will be done to the South West of Islay and if time permits, from the Clyde.  From each haul all of the scallops will be measured to the half centimetre below and aged.  Numbers and size distribution of commercial fish and shellfish species will be recorded along with scallop shell damage and starfish numbers and species.  Tissue samples will also be collected from selected sites and frozen for toxin analysis back at the laboratory.

Figure 1: Scallop Dredge Haul Sites

Figure 1 0517A Scallop Haul sites

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It’s all about… fabulous forests and wonderful woodlands

Fri, 2017-03-31 10:00

The latest edition of the Scotland’s Environment web have been published and the theme – It’s all about… fabulous forests and wonderful woodlands – is about celebrating and raising awareness of the importance of forests of all types.  And with 18% of land in Scotland covered by woodland, and our forests contributing significantly to the wellbeing of our economy, wildlife and our own lives, we certainly have good cause to celebrate. And that’s why it’s needed two editions!

Did you know that Marine Scotland Science freshwater colleagues also have an interest in trees though?  Water temperature (Tw) is important for the growth, production and survival of freshwater fish and there is understandable concern over rising temperatures due to climate change. Under certain circumstances, bankside trees can reduce high temperatures providing management options however, fisheries and river managers first need information on where rivers are hottest, where temperatures will increase most and where bankside tree planting would be most beneficial.

Want to read more? Excellent! We’ve produced a topic sheet about the work we’re doing through the Scotland River Temperature Monitoring Network (SRTMN).

Further Information


The post It’s all about… fabulous forests and wonderful woodlands appeared first on Marine Scotland.

New MarCRF PhD proposals

Tue, 2017-03-28 10:00

The Marine Collaboration Research Forum (MarCRF) is a successful cross-disciplinary initiative developed between the University of Aberdeen and Marine Scotland Science. Its priority is to work with each other as well as stakeholders and policy makers to provide the science necessary to identify research priorities, co-develop innovative research programmes and an evidence-based framework to deliver policy relevant science.

We’re delighted to be able to publish the latest list of PhD opportunities:

  • Assessing the efficacy of an MPA for protection of the common skate: integrating population genomics, tagging and modelling to determine connectivity, abundance and recruitment.
  • Plankton impacts on farmed fish (PIFF)
  • Environmental regulation of algae DNA methylation and timing of harmful algal blooms in the North Sea
  • Assessing responses of marine top predators to offshore structures
  • Developing Marine RangeShifter as a platform for computer-aided spatial management of fish stocks
  • PRETURB:   Predator & Prey behaviour around tidal turbines
  • Optimising the use of fisheries-dependent data in real time reporting to benefit the Scottish demersal fleet
  • The physical impact of towed fishing gears on the seabed
  • Biodiversity monitoring in deep sea marine ecosystems using eDNA
  • Metagenetic surveillance for marine invasive non-native species using eDNA

More information is available on the Aberdeen University website and on

The post New MarCRF PhD proposals appeared first on Marine Scotland.

MRV Alba na Mara Survey 0417A Programme

Fri, 2017-03-24 09:00

Duration: 25 March – 03 April 2017

Gear: Surface and subsurface PAM moorings


To deploy a series of moorings comprising dhan buoys (9 surface marked moorings) and acoustic release systems (21 subsurface moorings) with attached acoustic recording devices (30 C-POD and 10 SM2M) as part of the east coast marine mammal monitoring programme (see Table 1 and Figure 1).


Loading of all equipment will be carried out on 22 March. Alba na Mara will sail from Fraserburgh on the morning of 25 March and after all required drills make passage for the first mooring position.  The ultimate order in which the moorings are deployed will be dictated by the current weather forecast and the likely shelter that can be provided by the east coast.  Accurate position records will be kept detailing where the moorings are eventually placed as this may differ from the planned position.  If all the moorings have been deployed before the scheduled end of the survey Alba na Mara will carry out range-testing of acoustic salmon tags using a moored system already deployed within Aberdeen Bay.

Figure 1: Positions of all 30 moorings to be deployed during cruise 0417A

Figure 1 Positions of all 30 moorings to be deployed during cruise 0417A

Table 1: ID, name and geographic position of all 30 moorings to be deployed during 0417A. Moorings proposed to be surface-marked highlighted in grey.

Table 1 0417A ID, name and geographic position of all 30 moorings to be deployed***********************************************************************

Further Information:

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Keeping the Beaches Clean in Aberdeen

Fri, 2017-03-17 10:00

In the next few days some colleagues will be donning their gloves, picking up their biodegradable bags and heading out around the beaches of Aberdeen in an effort to rid the shores of unsightly litter. The first event is organised by the Marine Conservation Society at Nigg Bay, further details are shown below.

Aberdeen MCS 2017 beachcleans

Then on the 20th and 21st March starting at midday on both days, beach cleans will be happening as part of the Surfers Against Sewage annual “Big Spring Beach Clean”. Colleagues will be concentrating on three sites within Torry; Nigg Bay Beach, the beach running parallel to Greyhope Road prior to the first Harbour break water and the small beach just inside the first breakwater (see map).

Map of three areas - Surfers against Sewage

The first day meeting point is at Nigg Bay car park. Best reached on foot due to the current roadworks. Gloves and biodegradable bin bags will be supplied, however please bring your own gloves and bags if possible. A sharps box will be available on the day, please do not pick anything up that may cause harm – just inform the organisers and they will dispose of it in the sharps box. It goes without saying that the weather can still be brutal at this time of year so please dress appropriately. The cleans will last approximately 1 hour, but any time at all that can be spared is most appreciated.


Further Information:

The post Keeping the Beaches Clean in Aberdeen appeared first on Marine Scotland.

How do dams impact river connectivity and salmon populations?

Thu, 2017-03-16 10:00

Figure 1: Stronuich reservoir dam on the river Lyon, Perthshire. The river Lyon is a major tributary to the river Tay and an important salmon river, yet it is also heavily regulated for hydropower.

Many of Scotland’s rivers contain important rearing habitat for juvenile Atlantic salmon, an anadromous fish species that supports an economically important fishery and is often a target for conservation with many of its home-rivers designated as Special Areas of Conservation. Many of these rivers also generate hydroelectricity, which is an important source of renewable energy (see Figure 1 for an example).

Since the late 19th century, an extensive network of inter- and intra-basin water transfers has been developed to increase the potential for hydroelectricity and more recently numerous small run-of-river hydropower schemes have been completed or are planned. Notwithstanding the current need for renewable clean energy sources, these developments have led to a substantial alteration in the flow regime of those rivers and their connectivity. In turn, this has raised concerns that the regulation of rivers might have consequences for the maintenance and conservation of economically important Atlantic salmon stocks in Scotland. To mitigate against the possible negative effects of river regulation, river restoration projects aim to restore the natural connectivity and functioning of salmon habitat. However, these projects tend to be expensive with uncertain outcomes in terms of success. Therefore, it is important that tools are developed to identify those areas where restoration efforts are most likely to be successful in terms of yielding high quality habitat and fish production.

One way to assess habitat change (loss or gain) is to look at how dams have altered the connectivity of rivers. Connectivity is a metric (indicator) that describes how well an individual fish can travel along the longitudinal profile (length) of a river. Put simply, it identifies whether adult Atlantic salmon can reach their spawning grounds from the sea, whether juveniles can migrate locally (between summer and winter habitats), and whether smolts can reach the sea from their natal streams. Often the amount of fish habitat lost or gained is assessed by simply identifying changes in accessible wetted area (river area). Although data on changes in wetted area are easily obtained and the approach is potentially useful at large scales, this approach has some drawbacks. Primarily, it does not include any information of the actual quality of fish habitat. In practice, this means that there is a risk that assessments of impacts on longitudinal connectivity focus on areas that may not be important in supporting local fish communities and thus limit the quality and relevance of such assessments.

Using the River Lyon as a case study (Figure 2), scientists at the University of Aberdeen, Marine Scotland Science and the James Hutton Institute investigated the importance of different types of weighting in an analysis of longitudinal connectivity. Put simply, weightings allow you to prioritise river reaches according to their value and this value can be represented in different ways. The weightings used were based on: 1) habitat suitability for spawning; 2) predicted salmon fry production; and 3) wetted area. Habitat suitability for spawning was based on data from a walkover survey that classified the geomorphology of the river reaches in combination with observed habitat use by adult spawners in similar Scottish rivers. The predicted salmon fry production was based on a model developed by staff at the MSS Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory, in Pitlochry. An additional benefit of the fry density model was that it allowed investigation of how fry production in the river Lyon has changed between a pre-regulated (before dams went in) and a regulated state. Wetted area was estimated using Ordnance Survey maps of the river and the lochs present within the river network.

Figure 2: (A) topography; (B) nine sections of a simplified river network, sections are delineated by barriers or tributaries; (C) mean fry density per metre square for each section, based on MSS fry density model; (D) historic map showing river network pre‐regulation, note dams not present and lochs smaller in size, loch at Stronuich not present (based on OS map, period prior to 1930, from National Library of Scotland).

The results indicate that using wetted area alone to assess regulation impacts could misinform managers and regulators, because it suggests that the most important area for connectivity is the area upstream of the Lubreoch hydropower dam. However, according to the other weighting approaches, most of the valuable connectivity for salmon is maintained by the sections lower on the river. This shows that including more relevant details about the quality of the habitat rather than just total area (habitat suitability indicators and river productivity) can improve our ability to identify those areas in the river network that are able to maintain high levels of connectivity. Focussing on those areas could increase the ability of a regulated system to provide suitable in‐stream conditions important for ecosystem functioning or provide a valuable tool for prioritising the removal of historical barriers and weirs that are no longer required. This sort of information could also be useful for setting flow and process‐related targets for the regulation of rivers and floodplains. It is estimated that the introduction of barriers (dams) in the river Lyon resulted in a 21% (95% CI 16–26.5%) reduction in fry production relative to the natural state.

Changes to guidelines for specific river systems should be made with appropriate caution as it is necessary to first ascertain the robustness of the approach. Moreover, any management and conservation decision needs to be based on a solid understanding of what the ecological targets are. This study has looked at a fundamental element (i.e., longitudinal habitat connectivity) that makes up the habitat template, but needs to be part of a holistic approach in which the spatial and temporal aspects of, for example, hydraulic conditions, temperature, community dynamics, and sediment budgets are considered as well.

Further Information

The post How do dams impact river connectivity and salmon populations? appeared first on Marine Scotland.

Scottish Inshore Fisheries Conference 2017

Mon, 2017-03-13 09:30

The fourth Scottish Inshore Fisheries Conference will be held on Thursday 27th and Friday 28th April 2017 at Eden Court in Inverness.

The conference will open on the afternoon of Thursday 27th April with a session to introduce the EMFF funded Scottish Inshore Fisheries Integrated Data System or ‘SIFIDS’ Project.  This project will focus on using new technologies and processes to improve data collection and use within Scotland’s inshore fisheries, with the intent of reducing the reporting burden on fishermen and improving the information base on which fisheries management decisions are made.   This session is then followed  by the official opening of the conference at an evening reception at Eden Court (17.30-19.00)  and all delegates are welcome to attend this.

On Friday 28th April 2017, Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity will open the day, and delegates will also have the opportunity to attend sessions on a variety of subjects including fisheries management challenges and actions, Brexit, marketing the local catch and a session delivered by Norwegian colleagues on how they manage inshore fisheries.

There will be ample opportunity for networking, visiting stands, speaking to representatives from a range of organisations, celebrating our fantastic seafood, and sharing experiences and knowledge in an informal setting on a wide range of issues.

Delegates are free to attend both days or register for one and can register at

More Information

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Vacancy – Salmon Assessment Modeller (Closing date 20th March 2017)

Thu, 2017-03-09 10:00

We are currently seeking applications for a Salmon Assessment Modeller within Marine Scotland Science based in Pitlochry.

This post will be based Freshwater Fisheries Programme, which provides research and advice in support of Scottish Government policies in relation to freshwater and diadromous fish. The post holder will develop juvenile assessment models, improving approaches for characterising habitat and modelling juvenile densities at national scales. The post holder will also be required design and develop strategic monitoring networks for freshwater fish, with a particular focus on juvenile sampling strategies in the first instance.

Further Information:

The post Vacancy – Salmon Assessment Modeller (Closing date 20th March 2017) appeared first on Marine Scotland.

How would you like to be a Scientist-in-Charge?

Wed, 2017-03-08 11:21

I work as a physical oceanographer for Marine Scotland Science and every December I am also the Scientist-in-Charge (SiC) of the MRV Scotia’s research cruise.   Before taking over the December cruise I work-shadowed a colleague who taught me the ins-and-outs of Scotia and this type of cruise.  Funnily enough not many people are keen on being out on a research vessel in the North Atlantic in December; let alone being in charge of it.

On that cruise we cover the northern North Sea and the Faeroe-Shetland-Channel, sometimes not the most pleasant place in winter. The weather in December can be variable, anything from calm (getting all the work done in time) to blowing gales most of the time and forcing us to shelter for days (getting no work done).

My official duties as SiC include:

  • Working to achieve the scientific objectives (i.e. making decisions about the science);
  • Organising science planning meetings beforehand;
  • Paperwork (writing the cruise programme and cruise summary report);
  • Responsibility for the health and safety of the science crew (i.e. risk assessments, making sure that people get some sleep and don’t work too much);
  • Logistics (cabin allocations, watch list, transportation of equipment, containers);
  • Visitors (paperwork, training);
  • Post-processing and backing up of data; and
  • Pre/post cruise meeting with captain and officers.

What this means is that during the cruise I usually meet the captain in the morning to discuss the day’s work, look at the weather forecast, and make decisions about the upcoming work plan. I enjoy knowing what is happening and analysing the different options (well, sometimes there are no options and all we can do is seek shelter in Faeroe, Shetland or Orkney). As SiC I am the point of contact between the science crew and the bridge and basically I am on call for the whole cruise (I get called for any serious problems). I work a normal shift plus then some more, for data processing for example.

Berit Rabe_Scotia tripBefore and after the cruise there is quite a bit of organising and paperwork involved. While at sea there is the responsibility but also the advantage of knowing what’s going on, having discussions with the captain/crew, and planning each day.

Another task is to keep up morale. In December we miss lots of the festive activities on land so we try to make our own fun and get involved with activities such as our ‘secret Santa’, cookie-eating evening and so on whilst off shift.

The crew on Scotia are predominantly male; something I’ve never really minded.  However, on our last cruise we actually had an even male/female split for the science crew.  That doesn’t happen often so it was encouraging to see.

My advice would be; if you are female and are thinking about a career in STEM, just go for it! I have had lots of positive experiences by being female and once the crew realises that you know what you are doing you definitely have their respect. I strongly believe that calmness is a superpower.  I have been inspired by SiC Humfrey Melling while working onboard a Canadian icebreaker during my PhD who handled his cruises superbly and calmly. Overall I really enjoy being at sea and being SiC on our December Scotia cruises; even though it is a lot of hard work and responsibility.

Dr Berit Rabe


Further information:


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Joint Warrior Training Activity: 26th March – 2 April 2017

Mon, 2017-03-06 10:48

Joint Warrior (JW) 171, will take place between 8th and 20th October 2016 and will comprise of a programme of exercises conducted across the UK by land forces, warships, submarines and aircraft from 15 Nations. The majority of the exercise will be focussed in the airspace, offshore and coastal waters to the North and North West of Scotland. During this exercise, there will also be unmanned vehicles operating in the Northern Minch and Sea of the Hebrides from 2 October.

Further Information

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Ecologist Vacancy

Fri, 2017-02-17 17:21

We are currently seeking applications for an Ecologist within the Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory based in Pitlochry.

This post will play a key role in the research and advice provided by Marine Scotland Science to the Scottish Government.

The post holder will also assist in the development and application of models to assess salmon stocks in Scotland. Collaboration with local management groups, and academic organisations, will be required.

Further Information:


The post Ecologist Vacancy appeared first on Marine Scotland.

New Marine Scotland Director

Wed, 2017-02-15 12:48

Following an external recruitment process, chaired by a Civil Service Commissioner, we’re delighted to announce that Graham Black, currently HMRC Deputy Director Large Business, Scotland and Northern Ireland has been appointed as the new Director of Marine Scotland.  He will take up his new role on 16 March 2017.

Graham said:

“I am delighted and excited to be joining Marine Scotland, which has such a vitally important role and which is already operating so professionally and successfully.

“My first task will be to meet members of staff and our wide range of stakeholders – both to introduce myself, and more importantly to establish how we can meet the challenges ahead.”

Congratulations, Graham and we look forward to welcoming you on board.

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Helping fishermen to DiscardLess

Mon, 2017-02-06 14:06

Gear SelectivityToday sees the publication of a new report in the Scottish Marine and Freshwater Science series, but it’s something a little different – it’s a Manual and some factsheets.

The Selectivity in Trawl Fishing Gears manual forms part of the DiscardLess project – a Horizon 2020 project set up to provide the knowledge, tools, and methods required for the successful reduction of discards in European fisheries. The idea behind the manual is to help fishermen, net makers and fisheries managers to understand more about the possible modifications that can be made to their gears so that they can design and develop gears themselves with a selective performance suitable for their particular fishery.

The manual describes the different stages of the fish capture process, highlights how different parts of the gear may influence selection and identifies possible design changes which can alter the selectivity of the gear. There is also a mighty catalogue of 64 fact sheets which provide brief descriptions of many of the catch comparison and selectivity trials that have taken place in the North Atlantic and adjacent seas. This is again to highlight the potential gear modifications that can be made and to provide an indication of their likely effect.

Dr Barry O’Neill

Related Information



Ask a Scientist

Tue, 2017-01-31 11:30

Always keen to make science accessible for everyone, our colleague Dr Francis Neat recently contributed to a series of children’s books on ocean ecology.   Dr Neat was approached only last week to answer some questions, posed by children through a school project, in the “Ask a Scientist” section.   As a specialist in the habitat and ecology of deepwater fisheries Dr Neat said he was “very happy to be involved in this insightful series” and was thrilled to be asked to contribute.

The books, all relating to the ocean and it’s many wondrous creatures, are set for publishing early next year but we have a snippet of Dr Neat’s interview below.

Question 1: “What is your favourite deep-sea creature?”

There are many weird and wonderful creatures in the deep-sea, some cute-as-you-like, others hideously ugly, so it’s difficult to pick a favourite. However if I must pick one, it is the so-called ‘Sofa shark’ (scientifically known as Pseudotriakis microdon and shown in the picture above). It is a rather placid and otherworldly looking creature with a big mouth, small teeth and a flabby body. We very occasionally catch then around 1000 m down and they always cause a bit of stir when they come up from the depths. The last time we caught one, a picture of it went viral on the internet and even found its way into Newsweek.

It’s my favourite because the world is intrigued by it, but we know virtually nothing about it – and that’s why deep-sea science is so exciting!

Question 2: “Do you think the things people do in the ocean can hurt animals in the deep sea?”

Yes – there are a number of threats to deep-sea animals. Fishing can reach depths of 1500 m (one mile down) and bottom trawls can damage fragile corals and sponges that live on the deep-sea floor in some areas. Deep-sea mining is potentially a threat and needs to be very carefully done to avoid causing harm to deep-sea creatures and habitats. Litter and pollution is a problem – plastics, chemicals, oil spills and lost fishing gear can all threaten deep-sea life.

Question 3: “Are there sharks in the deep ocean?”

Yes – in fact there are about 350 different species of sharks that live permanently in the deep-sea. Furthermore, recent scientific studies show that shallow water sharks, like the great white shark and the basking shark, often visit the deep-sea for feeding.  So sharks are very much at home in the deep-sea. The true deep-sea sharks are a very strange looking group and many have very peculiar feeding habits, e.g. the cookie-cutter shark takes bites out whales and dolphins. Another species, the sail-back shark eats mainly the egg-cases of other sharks and rays. Among the weirdest are the goblin shark with its bizarre nose, the frilled shark that is a living fossil from an age before the dinosaurs, and the Greenland shark that is thought to live to be 400 years old. Curiously, no sharks are found deeper than around 3600 m – nobody really understands why.



Best buddies help marine life

Wed, 2017-01-25 10:00

It is well acknowledged that any kind of marine litter poses a detrimental effect to the environment, economy and society so in response, Scotland produced its first Marine Litter Strategy in 2014 with the aim of reducing the amount of litter entering the sea.

The Strategy sets out over 40 actions including encouraging producers to change the design of products, such as finding alternatives to plastic in cotton bud sticks. It also includes introducing industry codes of practice for plastic pellets and support for a monitoring programme for microscopic plastic particles like the microbeads in personal care products and in fact, only recently, the UK Government, supported by the Scottish Government and other devolved administrations launched a consultation to seek views on proposals to ban microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products in order to protect our marine environment.

cotton-bud-projectAs part of the implementation of the Strategy, Marine Scotland established a Steering Group to monitor contribution to delivering these actions.  Members of the Steering Group include FIDRA who are undertaking a range of work that recognises the potential impact of microplastic pollution on marine biodiversity. In today’s blog Dr Clare Cavers, a Research Officer for FIDRA, tells us more:

“Visit the beach and you may well find yourself scanning the tideline for that perfect pebble or shell, only to find a litter of man-made objects amongst the natural debris. In the tangled seaweed are lots of little plastic sticks, often mistaken for lollipop sticks or straws, but actually the remains of some of the hundreds of thousands of cotton buds flushed down toilets every week in the UK.

Because of their size and shape, plastic cotton bud sticks slip through wastewater treatment systems, wash into rivers and seas, and end up on our beaches. On one Scottish beach, 13,500 plastic cotton buds sticks were found by Marine Conservation Society Beachwatch volunteers in a single visit. The Society’s 2016 Great British Beach Clean recorded them as the 6th most common item, with an average of 23 found per 100 metres.  Not only do they look bad, they are also an indicator of a public health risk as cotton buds mark the trail of sewage from bathroom to beach.

These plastic sticks are a danger to marine life as well and have been found in the stomachs of fulmars and loggerhead turtles and are even known to cause deaths due to damage to internal organs. In addition, plastics in the ocean act like a sponge for chemical pollutants such as pesticides. Toxins which may be present at low amounts in the water can build up to high levels on plastics as they are soaked up from the surrounding sea.

Fidra, an environmental charity based in Scotland, is liaising with manufacturers and retailers of plastic cotton buds, encouraging them to consider switching from plastic to a fully biodegradable alternative such as paper. Earlier this year the charity was delighted by the resultant decisions of leading manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and retailer Waitrose, to phase out the plastic in their own brand cotton buds and move to paper by the end of 2016.

As these companies lead the way on cutting back on this plastic problem, Fidra is recognising their example, aiming to add them to their Good Buddy List of Friendly Cotton Bud brands once the change is made.  In the last few weeks commitments have also been announced by the major retailers Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons, BootsUK and Superdrug to change their own brands cotton buds to paper stems by the end of 2017.

Plastic in our seas is a major pollution problem. Better materials are out there and the more we use them the closer we are to a cleaner ocean. This is an excellent example of major brands taking a lead and Fidra hopes that many more companies will follow soon.  Less well known brands sold in small or independent shops present a bigger challenge, and the Scottish Government’s leading example by naming plastic cotton buds in the Marine Litter Strategy could play a significant part in this.

Even paper cotton buds should be disposed of responsibly with household waste, and under no circumstances should they be flushed down toilets. However, if they do end up in the sewage system they stand a much greater chance of becoming waterlogged and settling out of the wastewater stream, never making it onto our beaches. The public can take The Cotton Bud Project pledge to show their support for using fully-biodegradable cotton buds.

Dr Clare Cavers
Fidra is a Scottish registered charity and SCIO no.SCO43895, based in East Lothian, Scotland.
More information is available about Fidra and its other projects on their website.




Keeping an eye on the coastline with SCObs

Mon, 2017-01-23 10:00

Scientists in Marine Scotland, along with a small group of voluntary citizen-scientists, have been monitoring the physics, chemistry and biology at multiple sites in Scotland’s coastal waters since 1997. The sites monitored, shown on the left, include Millport, Mallaig, Loch   Maddy, Loch Ewe, Scapa, Fair Isle, Scalloway, Cromarty, East Coast and Stonehaven.SCObs monitoring stations

Consistent ecological time series of data such as this are very rare and interest in this data set is growing at both a national and international level, both for assessments of the status and health of our ecosystems as well as input to blue-skies research, such as within project proposals and studentships.

This work has recently been re-titled the Scottish Coastal Observatory (SCObs) because of the global importance of such coastal observations and Marine Scotland is working to increase the availability of information and data from this programme to external stakeholders including policy developers, academia and members of the public. As a first step, a three part report has been compiled to provide a basic description of the seasonality and variability of the main parameters examined between 1997 and 2013. These include temperature, salinity, nutrients, carbonate chemistry, chlorophyll ‘a’ phytoplankton, algal toxins and zooplankton. A rigorous quality check of all the data collected has been completed. These data are available to the public on request with a summary available for download from 20th Jan (doi: 10.7489/1761-1).

The SCObs report provides the first description of the sustained seasonality and variability that occurs from year to year within Scotland’s coastal environment. As this time series increases in duration, the Scottish Government is placed in an optimal position to investigate the impacts of anthropogenic drivers such as climate change in its coastal marine ecosystem. Highlights from SCObs to date include:

(i) the first high frequency study of ocean acidification (i.e. carbonate chemistry including pH) in Scottish coastal waters detailing the variability on a weekly timescale

(ii) regional differences in temperature and salinity in Scottish coastal waters

(iii) nutrient data revealing the absence of anthropogenic enrichment at SCObs sites

(iv) plankton exhibit a strong interannual variability and seasonal descriptions of key zooplankton taxa  are presented for the first time from Scottish coastal waters.

By providing open access to a prime data set, Scotland is actively contributing to assessments of the North Sea area east of Scotland and parts of the Celtic Seas to the west. These are areas of fundamental importance to Scotland’s fishing and expanding aquaculture industries. SCObs ensures that that relevant environmental data is available across these regions with the objective of providing high quality assessments of environmental health. SCObs data have already had a key input into assessments for the Water Framework Directive, Marine Strategy Framework Directive and OSPAR Eutrophication Assessment.

Dr Eileen Bresnan

More Information

Out of Doors with the Dolphins and Porpoises

Thu, 2017-01-19 11:12

Last week, our Marine Mammals Specialist, Dr Kate Brookes was interviewed by Euan McIlwraith from the Out of Doors programme on Radio Scotland about the ECOMMAS project.  They had been intrigued after seeing our blog post about one of the acoustic loggers from the ECOMMAS array being found on a beach near Aberdeen harbour.  Euan was interested in why we are collecting data on dolphins and porpoises on the east coast of Scotland and how we’re going about it.  You’ll have to listen to find out the answers!

You can hear the interview on the BBC iPlayer at about 1 hour 5 minutes through the programme.


Further Information:


Scottish Fishermen Land 1000th Tonne of Marine Litter

Wed, 2017-01-18 13:30

Our very own Professor Colin Moffat was asked recently to attend and give a short presentation at an event to celebrate the success of the KIMO UK’s Fishing for Litter scheme. Supported by partners, including the Scottish Government, the Fishing for Litter scheme encourages skippers of fishing vessels to land litter they catch in their nets during their normal fishing activities.Prof Colin Moffat giving speech

The bumper haul of 1000 tonnes of marine litter – enough to fill almost three Olympic-sized swimming pools – was collected by more than 210 fishing vessels from around Scotland’s coast and landed at the 17 harbours participating in the project.

Fishing for Litter was introduced into Scottish waters by KIMO UK in 2005. KIMO UK’s Chairman, Cllr Raymond Christie, said: “Reaching this milestone is a great achievement and I would like to thank all of the crews who took part for their fantastic efforts to help protect our precious marine environment and shoreline.”KIMO rubbish collection group picture

Marine litter, much of which is plastic, originates from many sources including a significant amount from the general public. If left in the sea, it would gradually break down into smaller pieces, which have the potential to impact the marine food chain.

Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, said: “Marine litter is a very serious issue both for Scottish seas and across the global oceans. It is shown to harm wildlife and the natural environment whilst also impacting on our marine industries through damage to subsea and coastal infrastructure, vessels and fishing gear.

“The Fishing for Litter project supports the Scottish Government’s commitment to tackling the issue of marine litter through our Marine Litter Strategy and I would like to congratulate KIMO on their success in reaching this significant milestone. I would also like to take this opportunity to commend those fishermen who are participating and making a real difference in cleaning up Scotland’s seas”.


Further Information:

  • KIMO UK Marine Litter AnimationScottish version of the animation,   Gaelic version of the animation
  • KIMO (Local Authorities International Environmental Organisation) is an association of coastal local authorities whose goal is to eliminate pollution from the Northern Seas. The organisation’s members more than 70 local authorities representing over 6 million inhabitants in Denmark, Sweden, the Faeroe Islands, the Netherlands, Belgium, United Kingdom and Germany. KIMO UK is the United Kingdom network of the organisation.
  • Fishing for Litter is an active environmental response to the increase in marine litter found in the seas around Great Britain, Scandinavia and Western Europe. Through the participation of local fishermen, this project is designed to recover marine litter and raise awareness of the significant detrimental impact such waste can have on the marine environment and the potential threat to human health.