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

Plankton Calendar 2023

MCS WRT calendar 2023
Some highlights from the MCS/WRT Plankton calendar 2023

One of this year’s projects has been to carry out regular plankton samples in the Wyre estuary at the Knott End slipway in conjunction with the Wyre Rivers Trust. Jean has worked up some of Mark’s super photos from the surveys, and put them as pin-ups for the coming 12 months in our calendar. Armed with this, next time you go in the sea, you will know who you are swimming with!

Calendars are on sale at £8 each, proceeds to Lancashire MCS and WRT. Collect at our meetings in December or January. Please note that numbers are limited!

Posted: December 1st, 2022
Posted in Science, Uncategorized

GB Beach Clean: Half Moon Bay

Beach clean survey underway!
Surveying beach litter at Half Moon Bay, September 2022

Thanks to everyone who came along on the 24th September as part of the Great British Beach Clean, the results for the clean are as follows:

  • Total litter for whole beach 6kg
  • 240 items per 100m of beach cleaned
  • 378 plastic items, accounting for 79% of total by number.
  • Sanitary/sewage related items accounted for 6.2% of the total. This consisted of wet wipes, cotton bud sticks etc.
  • Other groups making up the rest of the total

National statistics are correlated by MCS, and will be available through their website soon

Our next beach clean at Half Moon Bay is on Saturday 3rd December 2022 at 11:00. Furether details to follow…

Kathy MacAdam

Posted: October 4th, 2022
Posted in Beach Clean

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

Zooplankton dynamics

Above: The sea gooseberry Pleurobrachia pileus grazing on smaller zoooplankton using two long sticky tentacles that it trails behind it (to the right of the main body above) as it swims. The smaller circular organisms are ‘sea sparkle’ (Noctiluca scintilans), between 1 and 3mm in diameter.

I am not as up on zooplankton, but thought I should follow up my earlier post on phytoplankton dynamics in the earlier part of the year with something to indicate that the zooplankton are not (too) boring! For this article I have chosen the sea gooseberry Pleurobrachia pileus which, at about 2cm in diameter, is a member of the zooplankton which is large enough to be seen – though difficult to spot in the water as it is transparent… You can often find individuals stranded as the tide goes out, but their appearance on the beach as small lumps of jelly does not do justice to them underwater. In their element they are propelled by rows of modified cillia called ‘ctenes’ – you can see eight rows of ctenes, slightly inset into the otherwise oval body of the animal in the photo above. These ctenes can refract light to give bright and continuously changing coloured displays underwater…

The population of Pleurobrachia pileus reached a peak in the Wyre estuary in early June, when small examples of Beroe cucumis first appeared in the fortnightly samples. Initially the Beroe were only a few millimeters long – very much smaller than the Pleurobrachia. Despite this they latch on to their very much larger prey, and use modified ctenes to chew or rasp flesh from the sea gooseberry. Over time, and repeated attacks, the sea gooseberry is damaged, diminished, and will eventually die.

Above: A juvenile Beroe cucumis (bottom left) latched onto a sea gooseberry, which is using its ctenes to spin rapidly in the water, to try and dislodge its predator. Photograph from the Wyre river sample of the 14th June.

Over a couple of weeks feasting on sea gooseberries the Beroe increase in size, and can reach a total length in excess of eight centimeters. The adult Beroe are able to ‘unzip’ their mouths, opening them wide enough to ingest Pleurobrachia whole, as seen in the photograph below:

Above: By the 30th June the Beroe were large enough to consume smaller sea gooseberries whole, as you can see towards the left of the picture above.

Beroe itself is not without predators, however. In the photo below (same individual as above) you can see that the beroe is in turn being eaten by a ‘megalopa’ or juvenile crab.

Above: Beroe has bumped into the sea gooseberry to the right – it is still full of one of its bretheren, hoewever, so the sea gooseberry is likely to get lucky this time! You can see that the lower surface of the Beroe is distorted where it is being attacked by a megalopa, or crab larva.

I have often seen adult crabs eating jellyfish, and spider crabs will often climb kelp at the turn of the tide to catch moon jellies or lions manes that drift past, but this is certainly the most ambitious decapod I have ever seen! What goes around, comes around…

In the German Bight the appearance of Beroe results in a near total collapse of the Pleurobrachia plieus population in a matter of weeks(1). In the Wyre the population of Pleurobrachia falls significantly, but a continuous supply of larvae in the plankton ensures that the species is still present in our samples, and indeed it was Beroe that had disappeared from the sample on the 26th July 2022.


(1) Coastal Plankton 2nd Ed. by Otto Larink and Wilfried Westheide. Published 2011 Verlag Dr Friedrich Pfiel, Munchen (ISBN 978-3-89937-127-7). p74.

Barry Kaye, Lancashire MCS

Posted: August 2nd, 2022
Posted in Marine science update

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

Honeycomb worm reefs at Morecambe

Early morning on Saturday 16th July 2022 we walked out, following the tide, from the Battery at Morecambe to Conger Rock, a large eratic boulder close to the Low Water Springs level between Morecambe and Heysham. The purpose of our walk was to check on the honeycomb worm reefs that had last been seen by the group in this area over thirty years ago!

Above: Lewis, Mark and Jo at Conger Rock; the Sabellaria historically the honeycomb worm reefs started just beyond this point.

Honeycomb worm reefs are built by small worms of the species Sabellaria alveolata, and can be found from close to the high water mark down to extreme low water, where the largest reefs can reach a height of 60cm. The reef is formed from sand grains stuck together to form tubes that protect the worm from predators and dessication when they are exposed at low water.

On our walk we found that while the reef is still present, much of it is in poor condition, showing signs of erosion, with no live worms. The erosion, however, allows us to see the structure of the reef in greater detail, as in the close-up photograph below.

Above: Detail of the honeycomb worm reef, showing the tubes formed from glued-together sand grains. Here the reef is dead, and the matrix between the tubes has been eroded out. It will disintegrate over time, hastened by bad weather.

Honeycomb worm reefs tend to by cyclical, and while many were in a state of decay, there were also sections of reef in relatively good condition. The reefs stretched for a distance of several hundred meters along the low water mark back towards Morecambe.

We enjoyed a super cooked breafast at the Beach Cafe on our return to the Battery!

Barry Kaye, Lancashire MCS

Posted: August 2nd, 2022
Posted in Marine science update, Science, Shore walks