Light and Colour Underwater

A talk by Barry Kaye, Lancashire MCS: 19:30 on Wednesday 8th November at the Lancaster Maritime Museum, Custom House, St George’s Quay, Lancaster, LA1 1RB.

Jellyfish at Bloackpool Sealife Centre

Above: Some colourfully lit plankton from our visit to the Blackpool Sealife Centre last month.

Sunlight provides the power for photosynthesis, and is essential for life on Earth. While green plants make direct use of light, animals have evolved complex eyes adapted for vision in a range of marine environments; from shallow, brightly lit tropical waters, the dark green seas around our own coasts, and down to the abyssal depths where sunlight never penetrates…

In this talk I will try to show how things appear to the plants and animals that make the sea their home. We will see that colour may play a part in hiding from predators or attracting a mate, and many sea creatures perception and use of light is very different to our own.

Some marine animals have visual abilities that look like ‘superpowers’ compared to our own limited eyesight, but vision seems to be a very plastic sense that rapidly adapts to help (marine) organisms cope with their favoured environments. The world they see may be very different to what our eyes can make out, when we peer through a diving mask, or watch the ‘Blue Planet’ with David Attenborough!

Poster for Light and Colour Underwater 146kB PDF

As you may be aware the Lancaster Maritime Museum has suffered some devastating cuts to its budget, so we are very grateful to them for offering to host our meetings this Winter. Our full programme of talks is given below:

Lancashire MCS Winter Programme 2023-24


8th November: Light and Colour Underwater by Barry Kaye (Lancashire MCS).

13th December: Christmas Quiz by Lewis Bambury (Lancashire MCS).


10th January: Beyond the tearoom, the wildlife of the Small Isles (Muck, Eigg, Rum, Canna) and Knoydart by Mark Woombs (Lancashire MCS).

14th February: How are salt marshes helping to protect the North West coast? By Joseph Earl (Morecambe Bay Partnership).

13th March: The marine life of the first Morecambe Bay – 350 million years ago! By Trevor Lund.

10th April: Protecting the Environment – Realistically by John Blowes (Halton Lune Hydro) PLUS local group AGM.

8th May: Plankton of the Bay by Mark Woombs and Barry Kaye (Lancashire MCS).

12th June: Blackpool and Fylde College student dissertations (several 10 minute presentations).

All talks start an 19:30, at the Lancaster Maritime Museum. We request a donation of £4 per person to cover costs. This presentation will be available over Zoom, please contact us (contact page) if you would like, to receive a link. We do ask for a donation to cover Zoom charges.

Posted: November 2nd, 2023
Posted in MCS talks

Phytoplankton of Morecambe Bay

Wednesday 14th June at 19:30 at Lancaster Maritime Museum

Phase contrast micrograph of phytoplankton, BK April 2023.
Above: Phase contrast micrograph of phytoplankton at Knott End, April 2023. Species depicted come from number of families include Asterionellopsis, Stephanopyxis, Chaetocerus, Pseudo-nitzschia, Odontella and Ditylum, indicating just some of the diversity on our doorstep! Photomicrograph Barry Kaye.

Phytoplankton are the smallest plants on the planet, yet vital to all life. While they drift at the mercy of ocean currents, they are very sensitive to their environment, and are capable of explosive growth when they encounter the right conditions. In this talk we will look at the phytoplankton sampled at Knott End over the last 18 months, to get a glimpse of its diversity, and begin to understand how it changes over time.

Join us on Wednesday 14th June 2023 at 19:30 at Lancaster Maritime Museum to find out more.

Posted: May 30th, 2023
Posted in MCS talks, Science

Mark’s Mini Monsters

A talk by Mark Woombs, looking at some of the zooplankton in Morecambe Bay.

Planktonic worm larvae and the reef they may eventually form.

Above: Planktonic worm larvae (top left, shows micrographs at two stages of development) eventually settle to form reefs up to 2m tall, like this one close to Conger Rock, Morecambe (with Heysham power station in the background). Photos Mark Woombs.

Is it possible that a microscopic worm can develop into this extensive reef close to the town of Morecambe, via a trip around the Irish sea? Come along to our next MCS meeting and find out about this, and many other amazing happenings in Morecambe Bay!

To find out more, join us at the Lancaster Maritime Museum on Wednesday 10th May 2023 at 19:30 for:

Mark’s Mini Monsters – Zooplankton of Morecambe Bay

by Mark Woombs (Lancashire MCS)

Posted: May 2nd, 2023
Posted in MCS talks, Science

Blockships of Scapa Flow

The Tabarka with inserts of other wrecks and the sea-life that inhabits them.
Above: The wreck of the Tabarka with inserts of other blockships and the sea-life that inhabits them. Photos Lewis Bambury and Gordon Fletcher, Lancashire MCS.

Scapa Flow is best known as the final resting place of the German High Seas Fleet from the Great War; but it is also home to large numbers of less important vessels sunk to block channels and so protect the Royal Navy from U-boats. These vessels are often in shallow water, and are in turn home to a wide range of interesting, and often colourful marine life.

To find out more, join us at the Lancaster Maritime Museum on Wednesday 8th March 2023 at 19:30 for:

The ‘Tabarka’ and other blockships of Scapa Flow

by Gordon Fletcher and Lewis Bambury (Lancashire MCS)

Posted: March 3rd, 2023
Posted in MCS talks

The Azolla story: How an amazing plant changed our climate

A talk by Alexandra and Jonathan Bujak (Azolla Foundation)

Carp and ducks eating azolla in China. A fisherman is collecting azolla to feed his livestock.
Above: Carp and ducks eating azolla in China. A fisherman is collecting azolla to feed his livestock. Image rendered by Victor Leshyk from the cover of ‘The Azolla Story’.

49 million years ago a plant called azolla covered the surface of the Arctic Ocean. The Arctic Azolla Event lasted 1.2 million years, during which time azolla sequestered enormous quantities of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere, and moved our planet’s climate from a greenhouse world to the ice-age climate, with permanent ice and snow at both poles…

If you would like to know more, The Azolla Story: A message from the future by Jonathan Bujak and Alexandra Bujak is available from Amazon.

Alternative Zoom meeting details are available through our Newsletter – you can subscribe here.

All are welcome, we request a donation of £4 to cover costs of room hire and speaker expenses.

Wednesday 11th January 2023 at 19:30 at Lancaster Maritime Museum.

Posted: January 5th, 2023
Posted in Events, Marine science update, MCS talks, Science

MCS Talk: Fisheries for Large Pelagics

Wednesday 12th October at 19:30 at the Maritime Museum Lancaster:

A talk by by Andy Richardson (Royal Society of Biology) examining the fascinating biology, sustainability challenges and innovations behind the offshore fishery for tuna and other pelagic species.

Please be aware that the meeting room is up four flights of stairs. The lift at the Maritime museum has been repaired. Alternative Zoom meeting details are available through our Newsletter – you can subscribe here.

All are welcome, we request a donation of £4 to cover costs of room hire and speaker expenses.

Posted: October 4th, 2022
Posted in Marine science update, MCS talks

MCS Talk: My Life as a Crustacean

Wednesday 14th September at 19:30 at the Maritime Museum:

Galathea strigosa
Above: The squat lobster Galathea strigosa stares back at me from his crevice between rocks. Due to the optical properties of seawater the blue patterns on his face will stand out to other animals, but reds fade quickly over distance, and will appear grey – providing camouflage until you are very close! Photo: Barry Kaye.

How crustacea sense their environment, and how an understanding of thesir senses might give us insights into their life. Crustaceans have been adapting to life at sea for 500 million years, and possess a suite of sensory capabilities that are astounding in their sensitivity and complexity. Some can see in the ultraviolet and infrared spectrum, and detect plane and circularly polarised light, extending their perception of colour far beyond that of the most accomplished painter! They smell with their legs, and while they are covered in armour, their sense of touch is the most sensitive in the animal kingdom…

Talk by Barry Kaye (Lancashire MCS)


£4 donation to Lancashire MCS requested

Posted: September 4th, 2022
Posted in MCS talks

Lancashire MCS Talks Program 2022-23

We are pleased to announce our program of talks for 2022-23. Talks are usually on the second Wednesday of the month, and will be held at the Maritime Museum on the Quay in Lancaster starting at 19:30. Please subscribe to our Newsletter for further details and any changes to our program!

14th Sept My Life as a Crustacean by Barry Kaye (Lancashire MCS) 12th Oct Fisheries for large pelagics by Andy Richardson, Royal Society of Biology
16th Nov The “Little Cucumber” Fish of Wyre, Osmerus Eperlanus by Tom Myerscough, Wyre Rivers Trust.
14th Dec It’s Not Christmas Yet – Christmas Quiz with Lewis Bambury, Lancashire MCS
11th Jan The Azolla story: How an amazing plant changed our climate 49 million years ago by Alexandra and Jonathan Bujak, The Azolla Foundation.
8th Feb Seagrass – experience at Knoydart and Gigha, and discussion of its potential for carbon capture in the Bay by Mark Woombs and Barry Kaye, Lancashire MCS
8th Mar The ‘Tabarka’ and other blockships of Scapa Flow by Gordon Fletcher and Lewis Bambury, Lancashire MCS
12th Apr Phytoplankton in the river Wyre 2022 by Barry Kaye, Lancashire MCS
10th May Mark’s Mini Monsters of Morecambe Bay by Mark Woombs, Lancashire MCS
14th June Exposed shores by Gordon Fletcher, Lancashire MCS plus Fighting phytoplankton (short talk) by Barry Kaye, Lancashire MCS


Talks will start at 19:30 at the Maritime Museum, the Quay, Lancaster (Facebook link). Please join us in person if you can, but note there are four flights of stairs up to the meeting room. Funding permitting we hope to broadcast meetings over Zoom for the benefit of those unable to negotiate the stairs – or who live ouside of the Lancaster area.

£4 donation to Lancashire MCS requested

Posted: September 4th, 2022
Posted in MCS talks

Crustacea in the Bay!

On the 23rd July 2022, Mark and Caitlin Woombs, Jean Wilson, Lewis and myself dived deep into our collections to present a course on Crustacea to the Royal Society of Biology as guests of the Wyre Estuary Country Park. The course started with a general introduction to marine crustacea – one of the most diverse groups of animals on the planet – by Mark. This was followed by a maze building experiment, overseen by Caitlin, to show how simple experiments demonstrate that shore crabs can learn quite complex tasks.

Above: Carapace widths of Carcinas maenas, showing the cut-off at 35mm, indicating the current maximum size of this year’s young shore crabs.

Jean had gathered large numbers of shore crab moults from the beach at Knott End, which were used to see how the population is developing through the early part of the year. The rough graph of carapace widths, produced during the practical session, is reproduced above.

I updated an old presentation on ‘Colour underwater’ to look more specifically at sensory perception in crustacea – a fascinating field that I think went down OK, and I hope I can revisit in our winter lecture series later this year. Finally, Lewis tied the afternoon off with a review of all things crustacean in the form of a quiz. How many legs has it got?

Above: The light hearted crustaceans quiz, presented by Lewis (right) with Mark dressed as a lobster!

Thanks to Jean for organising, and to Alison Boden and the staff at the Wyre Estuary Country Park for making us very welcome!

Barry Kaye, Lancashire MCS

Posted: August 2nd, 2022
Posted in Events, MCS talks

Plankton studies in the Wyre estuary, 2022

From the start of 2022 Mark Woombs, Jean Wilson and myself have been sampling plankton every fortnight from the river Wyre estuary at Knott End. The intention of this study is to refresh our understanding of plankton diversity and dynamics in the Bay area, and contribute to studies on the health of the River Wyre. Phytoplankton – microscopic marine plants – are the base of the marine food web, and contribute approximately 50% of the oxygen we breathe, whilst quietly sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide. Zooplankton are (generally microscopic) animals that convert phytoplankton biomass into food that is accessible to the rest of the animals in the world’s oceans.

In estuarine systems there is never really a shortage of plant neutrients. As a consequence there is the opportunity for phytoplankton to be present in high numbers from early spring, as light levels and surface water temperatures rise, through to late autumn, when grazing combined with lowered growth rates (due to reduced light and temperature) finally cut the poulations back.

Above: Preliminary analysis of phytoplankton results from the river Wyre 2022. Increased daylight triggers a massive, but very short, bloom in Odentella mobiliensis. This is followed by a smaller bloom in Coscinodiscus spp.

This does not mean, however, that the same phytoplankton species dominate our samples throughout the year. In fact, our study to date has revealed a dynamic interplay between phytoplankton species, with different species commming to dominate the total population in succession. The most likely cause of the species population collapses is disease, rather than grazing, though we only have direct evidence for this in one of our phytoplankton families, the Coscinodiscus, where the appearance of the fungal disease Lagenisma coscinodisci in late May coincided with a decline in the numbers, particularly of C. wailesii, which had been the dominant member of the Coscinodiscus to that point.

Plankton species taken during the sampling program were used to illustrate our talk to the Royal Society of Biology on 21st May, but we will have a more complete picture of plankton activity in the Wyre at the end of the year, and hope to present this work in more detail then.

Barry Kaye, Lancashire MCS

Posted: August 2nd, 2022
Posted in Marine science update, MCS talks, Science