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Joan Edwards

Joan Edwards is the Head of Living Seas at The Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts.

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Delving deep to reveal Somerset's sea jewels

Posted: Wednesday 20th August 2014 by Joan

The four divers load up the RIB cpt Zak O Leary

Getting quality information on our marine habitats and the wildlife that depends on them is vitally important when it comes to arguing for their conservation, writes Dominic Flint.

This  provides a more complete picture of the fantastically diverse marine environment of the Somerset coast that has been somewhat underappreciated in the past

Last week a team of  professional scuba divers surveyed  marine life at two sites in the Bristol Channel off Porlock Weir in  Somerset to obtain just such high quality data.

The sites were a boulder reef north of Gore point and a sand and shell plain in the centre of Porlock bay.  The divers assessed the habitats, videoed their dives and took many stills images and small samples to help identify the species living there.

This is the first time that the sub tidal marine life of this area has been surveyed in over 30 years. This is mainly because there is no local diving infrastructure; the very large tidal range (12m+), strong currents, murky Severn outflow water and very limited boat launch options don’t make this a popular location for diving.

Despite the technical difficulties in getting to these dive sites the divers were excied to find two different and very diverse sea bed habitats.  They recorded dense coverings of bryozoans and hydroids on the sand and boulders with numerous branching and hedgehog sponges, rare stalked jellyfish, bunches of cuttlefish and squid eggs, squat lobsters hiding in crevices, many crab and fish species and brittle and sunstar starfish.

The samples taken have been analysed microscopically and the creatures identified to species where possible, as has the life captured in the photographs and video. Together these provide an extensive species list for each site.  A report is being written which will describe the habitats both physically and biologically and include photographs of many of the creatures and algae found.

This survey, funded by The Wildlife Trusts, complements the extensive intertidal, seashore, marine mammal and birdlife records collected by the Somerset Wildlife Trust members, volunteers and staff.  This now provides a more complete picture of the fantastically diverse marine environment of the North Somerset coast that has been somewhat underappreciated in the past.

The wealth of evidence provided by exploratory dive surveys like this in areas where there is little or no habitat or seabed data will ensure that we have the evidence to argue for their conservation so they are not neglected in future discussions over marine protection and conservation measures.

Dominic Flint (pictured, right) is a marine biologist, HSE qualified commercial diver and PADI diver trainer with a life-long enthusiasm for conservation and the sea.  He has extensive knowledge of UK marine life gathered from over 30 years as a scuba diver and regular participation in the Seasearch dive survey programme.   Dominic  has worked on marine conservation issues and sustainable fisheries in the Far East, the seas around Antarctica and the UK.  He now works on, and organises, marine habitat diving surveys around the UK coast.

You can read more about the recent survey here.

cpt Kat Brown Long clawed squat lobster

Image credit:   Long clawed squat lobster Munida rugosa cpt Kat Brown

Read Joan's latest blog entries.

Comments

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    A very good initiative by the Wildlife Trusts. Not an easy area to survey. I wonder how the survey results will compare with the work we did 30 years ago. Any preliminary comments?

    Friday 22nd August 2014
    by Keith Hiscock

    HHi Keith Thank you for your comment and for sending the original 1970's survey data to me. Initial observations are that there were fewer starfish and urchin species than you found but more sponges and crab species, surprising to me was that we saw no Sabellaria reefs. We have also produced a longer species list than you, mostly down to the huge number of quality digital photographs we are now able to take. Overall the sites look very similar to how you saw them and by chance rather than design we appear to have dived within a few 10's of metres of your sites at Porlock Bay and Gore Point. It is most interesting to see that in this area of the inner Bristol Channel how the usual shallow subtidal habitat zones are compressed by the conditions so that the lower circalittoral zone (which is often quite deep in other locations) appears to start almost at spring low tide mark. Once again thanks for the data Dominic

    Monday 1st September 2014
    by Dominic Flint

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Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

A very good initiative by the Wildlife Trusts. Not an easy area to survey. I wonder how the survey results will compare with the work we did 30 years ago. Any preliminary comments?

Friday 22nd August 2014
by Keith Hiscock

HHi Keith Thank you for your comment and for sending the original 1970's survey data to me. Initial observations are that there were fewer starfish and urchin species than you found but more sponges and crab species, surprising to me was that we saw no Sabellaria reefs. We have also produced a longer species list than you, mostly down to the huge number of quality digital photographs we are now able to take. Overall the sites look very similar to how you saw them and by chance rather than design we appear to have dived within a few 10's of metres of your sites at Porlock Bay and Gore Point. It is most interesting to see that in this area of the inner Bristol Channel how the usual shallow subtidal habitat zones are compressed by the conditions so that the lower circalittoral zone (which is often quite deep in other locations) appears to start almost at spring low tide mark. Once again thanks for the data Dominic

Monday 1st September 2014
by Dominic Flint

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