By Sarah Ward
Living Seas Officer
This August, I had the pleasure of organising a day of scuba diving for some volunteer divers as part of our Seasearch programme. After a very early start, we loaded up the boat with all the dive gear and cameras, and headed off from Eastbourne Marina out into the Beachy Head East recommended Marine Conservation Zone (rMCZ). As if on cue, the sun broke through the clouds and we were soon steaming under blue skies with a gentle breeze. Having planned the day months in advance, needless to say I was more than pleased!
Our task for the day was to collect data on the underwater habitats within the Beachy Head East rMCZ. This information can be used as evidence by statutory bodies for use in the upcoming consultation on Tranche 3 MCZs, as well as contributing to Seasearch’s UK-wide database on underwater environments. What’s more, it’s also really interesting to see what’s down there!
We carefully selected two sites to survey: the first site was a few miles offshore from Bexhill-on-Sea, a large area which had never been surveyed before by Seasearch divers (we named the site ‘Bexhill Mussel Garden’); the second was on a rocky reef area offshore from Eastbourne, known as the Horse of Willingdon Reef.
Whilst we can predict some of the animals which might be using the area based upon information already known about physical factors, such as sea bed type and water depth, we can never know exactly what’s there without taking a look for ourselves. Neither of the sites was disappointing and the divers returned to the boat excited to share what they had seen and look through the photos and videos they had taken.
Seasearchers are experienced scuba divers who have undertaken training in identification skills and habitat classification. Following their dives they will complete a form detailing the habitat, seabed cover and species encountered. This is then entered into a large national dataset which covers the whole of the British Isles. The divers observed a variety of different species, including mussels, crabs, catsharks, plaice, and even a spotted ray!
Many scuba divers carry underwater cameras, which is particularly useful when surveying as often a camera captures detail that the diver may not see at the time, as well as providing a reference to look back on. Our volunteer divers have kindly provided some footage from the dive at Bexhill Mussel Garden which can be viewed below!
Seasearch is a partnership between Marine Conservation Society, The Wildlife Trusts, statutory nature conservation bodies and others, coordinated nationally by MCS and coordinated and delivered locally in Sussex by Sussex Wildlife Trust. Please click here for more information.
Seasearch volunteers – happy after two successful dives! / Sarah Ward