As a distraction from Coronavirus, I would like to present The Open Sea: The World of Plankton by (Sir) Alister Hardy. I recall borrowing a copy from my local library a great number of years ago, perhaps 15 years after its first publication (I believe) in 1958… It was one of the books that got me interested in Marine Biology (with some help from the televised under-sea explorations of a certain Jaques Coustea). Hardy provides a fascinating account of the search for, and study of, some of the weird and wonderful creatures that float about in the seas about us. The ingeneuous (commonly hand built) equipment to catch and keep these creatures alive, state of the art in the early 60’s is still the go-to for the amateur plankton hunter. Back then the black and white line drawings and occasional colour plate hinted at a world that was alien and exciting in my imagination…
Revisiting the publication now as a Kindle Edition (re-published in the Collins ‘New Naturalist’ series), I find it every bit as fascinating and informative; while I am now familiar with many of the coastal species described, there have been a few where the desciption has triggered a light bulb moment of ‘that was what I was looking at!’. I fear I must blame this book in a large part for my habit of keeping a small plankton net in my dive suit pocket, to deploy on long surface swims back to the van after a dive. A good dive keeps on giving with an interesting or novel capture to be discovered later under the microscope!
You can get the Kindle version without fear of infection from Amazon (about £10), or collect an (older or original!) edition second hand from ABE Books (they will deliver!).
After a year’s absence, it was good to be able to attend the Kite Festival at Morecambe again this year. Our ‘new’ gazebo had its first outing – and proved to be very successful, bringing us a bit closer to the people moving along the prom viewing the kites!
There was quite a lot of interest in our stand, and we are greteful to everyone who came to chat to us, as well as a number of donations. The local area group made £26.80 from donations, and sales of pin badges raised £42 for National MCS.
Saturday, coincided with Armed Forces Day, so we were treated to a Dakota fly over and parachutists! Sunday was more difficult, with high winds causing us to close down a little early for fear of loosing our gazebo!
While the amounts of money raised are small, as long as we can break even, events like these allow us to ‘spread the word’ about quite how special the marine life around the UK is, and how much it deserves our protection. On this score, it was great to see how many younger visitors were interested in our marine life, and clued up as to some of the threats it faces…
It is my sad duty to report that Betty Green has died. Betty and her husband Gil were great supporters of the group since its inception, and keen divers into their seventies! Betty’s love for, and understanding of, marine life was outstanding, and a great inspiration to all of us blessed to have known her.
I know that many of us hold fond memories of her, diving, or on shore walks. The photograph (by Chrissy Ryan) is on one of our trips to Lochaline. She will be missed..
A big thanks to everyone who came along to our meeting, ‘Loch Sunart and the Isle of Gigha’ on the 14th November, which looked at the life in two very different post-glacial marine-scapes. Gordon did an excellent job exploring some of the fascinating life in Loch Sunart, which included flame shells (photo. above by Gordon Fletcher) and hard corals.
The life around Gigha might be described as prosaic – almost terrestrial in that is is dominated by large marine plants (though this is unusual for a marine ecosystem!). It did, however, open up a brief discussion about invasive species, led by observations of wireweed (Sargassum muticum) and Codium (tomentosum/fragilis). The problem with introduced species is that they are extremely difficult to remove once established, and the process of removal may be damaging to many other species in the area. For Codium, studies suggest that our native species are not being overwhelmed. Wireweed is hard to ignore, being a large spreading kelp species, but is also being colonised by local wildlife; so while it clearly competes with native species, it also presents opportunities for local wildlife. The final picture, I felt, was of quite a healthy mix of marine plant and animal species around the island.
We are very pleased to report that Betty Green, a long time supporter of the group, has been awarded the The Wildlife Trusts’ Marsh Volunteer Award in recognition of her outstanding and demonstrable contributions to marine conservation. I cannot think of a person more deserving of this award!
Further details: Volunteer marine conservationist wins prestigious award
The Bay is home to a vast army of locals, who have survived and adapted to a landscape that appears at first glance to be empty… At our talks on the 10th February we investigated the most overlooked creatures of the Bay. The couch-potatoes. These are animals that, having found a place suitable to put down roots, have stopped there for the rest of their lives. They rely on the tides of the Bay to bring food to their waiting mouths.
The ecosystem of the Bay is driven by phytoplankton blooms, which are at their most extensive in Spring and Autumn. For the rest of the year plant life is comparatively scarce. In this environment our ‘couch potatoes’ play a vital role; every bacterium, every gram of poop, anything that can be recycled is brought back into the food chain. Despite their sedentary nature, these filter feeders are an essential part of life in the Bay.
This intensive re-use of all things organic has, unfortunately, an unexpected side effect. Organic toxins, such as PCBs (banned in the seventies) are held within the marine food web, and are responsible even today for the deaths of top marine predators, such as dolphins and killer whales (See for example: BBC report by Rebecca Morelle).
This sobering fact leads us some way towards our last talk of the Winter series in the Gregson – ‘Human Impact on the Bay’ on Wednesday 9th March. At this meeting we will look at a couple of the ways we impact the life of the Bay, through Fisheries and litter.
I will be trying to be there for 6pm at the latest. Weather forecast is fine, but the temperature is not that thrilling for August so bring plenty of layers (at least one more than you think you will need!) as the shore is exposed to whatever wind is blowing at the time. The shore here can be muddy in places so bring clothes and footwear that you don’t mind getting mucky.
I’m looking forward to seeing the shore here for the first time since the swim last year. You may be surprised at what can be seen.
The MCS had a stall at the Catch The Wind Kite Festival in Morecambe for the first time this year. The event had good weather, and there were a lot of people passing through, listening to music, or admiring the kites. We had quite a few people drop in on the stall, and I was pleased to see that many of the kites were marine themed, including an octopus and a pair of blue whales!
We are very grateful to the event organisers MoreMusic for providing us with space at this event, and to Kathy for enthusiastically manning our stand!
Above: Red (green and blue) herrings flying above the promenade at Morecambe during the kite festival, June 2015.
Above: A photo taken at the Roa Island Yacht club just before the swim on the 21st September 2014 (click for larger version).
On the 17th August we were unable to swim due to bad weather (see post), and we were worried when we arrived on the 21st that we would be unable to get away because of building work on the jetty, which meant that our intended access to the beach was blocked! Thankfully Roa Island Boating Club came to our rescue, allowing us to set off from their slip. One of our swimmers also started from the yacht club, extending the swim to just short of two miles, the others took a lift on the support boats and left as intended from close to the Lifeboat slip, and everyone made it to the Piel Island slipway without mishap.
Unlike our attempt in August, the weather was perfect, warm, with clear skies and almost mirror flat water. The visibility was also excellent – we could see the bottom without being able to reach touch it from the surface! A very pleasant day out for everyone, and a big thank you again to boat crews who patiently looked after the swimmers!