Explore the Scottish seabed...from your sofa!

People can now survey Scotland’s coastlines and seabed from the comfort of their own home.

By Julie Currie
Saturday, 11th July 2020, 4:45 pm
Take a virtual dive...to discover an underwater world of wonder like this kelp forest, captured by George Stoyle to help launch Scottish Natural Heritage’s new online guide.
Take a virtual dive...to discover an underwater world of wonder like this kelp forest, captured by George Stoyle to help launch Scottish Natural Heritage’s new online guide.

From the critically endangered flapper skate to vast kelp forests, basking shark feeding grounds to delicate maerl and flame shell beds, Scotland’s seas and shores support an estimated 8000 species of plants and animals.

In Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) wants to encourage more people to get involved in recording and monitoring their local marine life.

The Marine Biodiversity Handbook – Scotland’s first how-to guide – has been developed to include comprehensive information and resources for planning and carrying out surveying and monitoring.

Pretty as a picture...common starfish on jewel anemones by George Stoyle.

While coronavirus restrictions mean that surveying in the field may be on hold for the foreseeable future, SNH is launching new online training to accompany the handbook that will help people who are interested to dive in and get started right away.

Training allows people to learn about different habitats and species and improve their survey skills by taking a virtual dive, to experience and practice those skills on real survey footage of a variety of locations around Scotland.

It is aimed at a wide range of users, including coastal communities, local environment groups and those who use the sea for work or recreation.

Caitlin Orr, SNH project officer, said: “We developed the handbook in response to the clear message we hear from people all around Scotland that they want to get more involved with their local coasts and waters.

Wonderful world...of unique creatures to discover, like this flame shell pictured by Ben James.

“Coronavirus restrictions inevitably mean that people won’t be able to get out and about using the handbook as we had hoped, but we wanted to develop a way for people to get started and begin to boost their skills.

“We hope that, together with the handbook, this online training will inspire and support more people to get involved in monitoring our seas and shorelines when it is safe to do so.”

Community-led monitoring can play a valuable role in boosting knowledge of marine species and habitat in Scotland.

The ultimate aim is to increase participation in marine biodiversity surveys and provide resources and support to allow this to be done efficiently, safely and enjoyably.

What lies beneath...a rocky reef habitat captured in the Outer Hebrides by George Stoyle.

SNH aims to ensure data collected by communities is of the highest quality so it can make a valuable contribution to research.

The Community-led Marine Biodiversity Monitoring Project is a partnership between SNH, Fauna and Flora International (FFI), and local communities, with funding support from the William Grant Foundation.

Kerri Whiteside, FFI’s marine community support officer, said: “Those who live along Scotland’s breathtaking coastline are incredibly motivated to explore, and look after, the marine life that exists in their nearby waters.

“Pooling knowledge and skills through initiatives like this will ultimately ensure that we have healthier seas.”

Nick Addington, chief executive of the William Grant Foundation, added: “We’re delighted to support this partnership. No-one has more of a stake in the health of our marine environment than the people who live and work in and around our coasts.

“We hope it empowers local volunteers and community groups to play a greater role in protecting marine habitats.”

To find out more, visit www.nature.scot/communitymarinesurvey.