Diving for Data
Emily Cunningham, Living Seas Officer, The Wildlife Trusts
Imagine you’re on your safety stop after an incredible dive. Sunlight glints off a shoal of silvery fish as they throng above a reef, rich with life and colour, seemingly centimetres beneath your fins. Out of the corner of your eye, another glint of silver catches your attention… Its silhouette darkens against the hanging curtain of submarine gloom as it grows nearer: large, round… a sunfish!
Any guesses where this incredible wildlife encounter took place? I’m betting you wouldn’t believe me when I said it happened within a stone’s throw of the north Cornwall coast…
UK seas are amazing: full of life and colour; from coastal seagrass meadows to deep sea corals. The Wildlife Trusts have long been campaigning for better protection for the diverse array of creatures and habitats found beneath UK seas – but we’re constantly faced with the issue of a lack of underwater data. In fact, we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the depths of our oceans! So, we decided to commission our own dive team – 5 professional marine biologists and divers to survey important sites around the English coast. The team started their survey programme accompanied by the BBC’s Roger Harrabin, who recorded the adventure of their first dive off Plymouth Sound. You can watch Roger’s fantastic piece on the dive team here.
The team’s target sites are those that we believe should be designated as Marine Conservation Zones – a type of Marine Protected Area that protects habitats and species of national importance; like pink sea fans, seahorses and even cold water coral reefs. Many recommended Marine Conservation Zones (rMCZs) are being held back from formal designation due to this lack of data – which we’re working to remedy!
As well as St Ives, the team have surveyed The Manacles, a stunning MCZ designated for the protection of glorious rocky reefs and fragile Maerl beds and Beachy Head East rMCZ, a diverse coastal site off the Sussex coast. Our survey programme has taken a real hit by persistent wind (“British Summer”) – but we’ll be continuing on next year, diving for the data needed to get our seas the protection that they deserve.
You can meet the Dive Team and read about their progress at wtru.st/diveteam.