Estimating diving conditions in Morecambe Bay

October 14th, 2013

By Barry Kaye, Local MCS, 9th October 2013

The talk reviewed a web project that brings together physical information about the Bay from a range of sources, including weather, sea state and river inputs. This data informs our current understanding of physical processes in the Bay. Data are interpreted in a map that shows sea states, wind directions and the levels of principle rivers over the last five days. In addition, graphical displays review sea-sate (wave height and period) and river levels over the last fifteen days.

Graph showing river levels into Morecambe Bay

Graph showing river levels into Morecambe Bay over the last fifteen days (archival data)

The talk went on to look at how physical conditions might interact with the geography of the Bay to influence diving conditions. There is no formal model of the Bay’s ‘underwater weather’, but a number of approaches to developing such a model were proposed.

A link to the observatory is given below, users are advised, however, that this is a ‘work in progress’, there are a few rough edges, and information is provided without warranty of any kind:

Diving Roa Island: Estimating diving conditions in Morecambe Bay

Sustainable Fisheries in Morecambe Bay

September 12th, 2013

By Joe Moutlon, IFCA, 11th September 2013

The Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCA’s) are a recent addition to the management of our coastal waters, taking on the role of the Sea Fisheries Committee in 2011. Unlike the old committee; they have a broader remit to manage fisheries, social and environmental activities up to 6 miles from the coastline.

Joe’s talk took in fisheries in the Bay area, describing the mix of traditional and more modern practices, and how they are managed to help ensure sustainable stocks and livelihoods. The Bay is an unusual fishery, with fishermen employing a small number of boats, and a larger number of tractors! Both require a great degree of skill to navigate across the shifting sands safely to their preferred fishing grounds, which include some of the largest mussel beds in the world. Many of the traditional catches are sustainable – with populations of cockles and mussels experiencing natural cycles of abundance. Where there have been concerns, for example with takes of juvenile Sea Bass around Heysham, both fishermen and the angling community have supported the ‘Heysham Bass Nursery Area’, which is now closed to fishing under Byelaw 5.

With further good management, and the engagement of the fishing and angling communities, it is to be hoped that the traditional pattern of seasonal fisheries can be sustained for the foreseeable future.

Images from the Roa Island shore walk (August 14th 2013)

August 15th, 2013

Presented by Lewis Bambury at Capernwray Dive Centre, this talk reviewed some of the photographs taken on the shore walk at Roa Island in July, and put this into the broader context of our previous surveys of this area.

Parasite Lernaeenicus sprattae shown on a juvenile spratt, and after removal

The parasite Lernaeenicus sprattae shown on a juvenile spratt, and after removal

One of our mystery organisms (pictured) was a parasite on one of the juvenile spratts caught in the rock pools. Lewis had narrowed it down to probably being a copepod, and this was confirmed by David Fenwick and Mike Moon, who identified the species as Lernaeenicus sprattae. Commonly seen on Spratts in UK waters, it gets its name from its preferred feeding mode, attached to the eye of the unfortunate fish. Extensive parasitism is possible, and this can result in considerable deterioration in the health of individual fish. The two green appendages are egg sacks.

Some of the other organisms featured in the talk are shown int he gallery below, alongside some photos taken underwater on the same site:

Roa Island Shore Walk

July 25th, 2013

Group on the shore at Roa

We had a very enjoyable visit to the beach at Roa Island on 24th August July, the weather was super, the water (fairly) warm, and there was plenty to see; so a great success! We will be looking at some of the photos taken at our meeting in August (see our diary for up to date details), and putting these into context of our long-standing interest in the marine life at Roa, and the Bay area in general.

Thanks to everyone for coming along – we look forward to seeing you again in August!

Death of Ron Crosby

June 26th, 2013
Photo of Ron Crosby.

Photo of Ron Crosby on the summit of Ben Nevis in 2006 during the 3-Peaks challenge, a fund raising event for National MCS.

We are sorry to announce that Ron Crosby, a  founder member of the Marine Conservation Society, and Chairman of the Lancashire Area Group for many years, passed away on Sunday evening (23rd June 2013) after a short illness.

He was a driving force behind the group for some years, and we will miss his enthusiasm, knowledge and unrivaled experience of diving in the UK. He was also active in a number of globally significant marine wildlife conservation projects, particularly that in the Chagos Islands.

Our thoughts are with his wife Rita, also a staunch supporter of the group, and his family.

Roa Island dive 19th June 2013

June 20th, 2013

Roa lifeboat station and Piel Island at sunset just after HW

Above: Photograph of the Roa Island lifeboat station at sunset, with Piel Castle in the background, taken Wednesday 19 June 2013

Our next monthly meeting will take place at Roa Island, a site which has been visited and surveyed by our group for at least twenty years! The meeting, from 18:30 on Wednesday 24 July, is an informal shore walk to coincide with an exceptionally low tide, so we hope to see a lot of sea life exposed on the beach and in small pools that we would normally have to dive so see.

Just so the divers aren’t left out, we have a small number of high water dives planned in the run up to the shore walk*. The first of these was on the 19th June in near perfect conditions. Diving close by the pier and lifeboat station we saw a number of the same creatures underwater, that we will get to see exposed in a few weeks time.

At our August meeting (back at Capernwray Dive Centre) we hope to bring together the shore walk and dives (and maybe earlier survey work) to get a ‘hands on’ picture of life above and below the tide at this very interesting local site.

Please note: The walk in July is suitable for (accompanied) children, but be aware that the beach is very muddy, and you should wear shoes or boots that you are happy to get wet and dirty. If you bring a camera – best to have an underwater housing for it in case… You are free to explore, but most people stay within site of the pier, so it is not important if you arrive late.

Journey time from Lancaster – about one and a half hours, all welcome!

* Please note that dives at Roa Island are very dependent upon the weather, so there are a number of possible dates in the diary that we shall ‘cherry pick’ from…

Calendar for 2013-14

June 17th, 2013

We’ve got our new calendar online, covering September 2013 through to April 2014. As yet the Roa island dives are not in the calendar, but the first possibility is for Wednesday 19th June, meeting at about 19:30 BST. The weather is looking a little iffy for this with wind swinging round to the NW for Wednesday. Well get other dates online asap.

We have a possible trip to Lochaline in May 2014. This trip is usually for five nights with a mix of divers and non-divers, but to run this we really need 10 people (sleeping 2 or 4 to a room), and to get a good date we’ll need to book soon, so if you are interested please contact Barry!

MCS diary for 2013-14

Beachclean June 2013

Also, a big thank you to everyone who came along on Sunday for the beach clean and litter survey! Data is being processed, and hopefully we’ll get a short report on that in the next meeting.

Just beyond the Bay (12th June 2013)

June 14th, 2013

Presented by Lewis Bambury and Gordon Fletcher of the local area group, these talks on the 12 June 2013 at Capernwray Dive Centre looked at some typical dive sites in the North West of England.

Gordon introduced the topic with reference to the local geology, which was completely re-modelled by the last ice age. Offshore this leaves three dominant ecosystems – extended, shallow, muddy plains dotted with the remains of drumlins which provide a scatter of ill-sorted boulders and pebbles, plus the Lune Deeps – a U-shaped glacial valley that reaches depths in excess of 60m. The fine sediments make for difficult diving conditions, as witnessed by Lewis’ introductory slide, and a diver interested in marine life needs to acclimatise to an environment that is nearly monochrome, covered in a fine silt that lifts into an impenetrable veil with the slightest fin kick.

Above: approximate location of the Hebe at the entrance of the channel to Preston Docks.

The ecosystems, while shallow, are dominated by animal life due to the fine suspended silt that cuts off the sunlight needed by seaweed. The mud is inhabited by secretive, burrowing worms, molluscs and crustacea – species we don’t see on most popular dive sites. Where a solid substrate is provided either by a wreck, or by a boulder scatter, the species mix is dominated by hornwrack (a common find on the strand-line around the Bay), with sponges, anemones and hydroids also being abundant. Lewis’ photos showed the dramatic difference between the mud plains and the site of the Hebe, a steamship stranded on Horse Bank 11th December 1911, with the plains apparently featureless with the odd worm-cast, starfish or antenna hinting at the presence of life beneath the surface, whilst the old iron plates of the Hebe bloomed with a profusion of plumose anemones, with mussels and hydroids filling any available gap.

Lewis thanked Darwen Sub Aqua Cub (based near Blackburn) for inviting him to join them on visits to the Hebe and the Lune Deeps.

The talk was prefaced by a short introduction to our beach-clean program by Jo Kaye. The next beach cleans at Half Moon Bay are scheduled for Sunday 16th June and Saturday 21st September 2013.

See our diary for full details.

Oban dive trip May 2013

May 22nd, 2013

Our latest visit to Oban on the 10th May was wet in every sense of the word – with almost continuous rain, but also some exceptionally good diving. Dives centred on Loch Creran, with the wormery and the inner basin being popular with all of the group.

Following from the talk about surveys in the area on the 8th, we can confirm that there are quite a lot of orange coloured worms (Serpula vermicularis) – these being seen by several divers, and possibly accounting for several percent of the individuals seen. While none were as clearly yellow as the single specimen photo’d back in 2007, this is a pretty strong indication that yellow is at least possible for this species (see gallery).

Less good news on the sea-pen front, however. A dive at Loch Feochan turned out a large number of common sea-pens (Virgularia mirabilis) in very shallow water (3-5m). Amongst these were a large number of juveniles that looked a lot like the specimen photographed at Gallanach over Easter (see gallery). After a discussion with Ron I am forced to concede that there is no current evidence for Funiculina quadrangularis at Gallanach, though Ron has seen this species there on previous occasions… (We’ll have to look again!).

Otherwise a great spectacle was put on by sea-cucumbers, with very large numbers of Psolus to be seen below about 10m in the inner basin of Loch Creran – densities reaching several individuals per square metre. There were some sea cucumbers in the outer basin as well, but in slightly deeper water (ca 18m+). There appears to be at least one other species present – but I’m not sure of its identity (photo in the gallery). Other high spots of the weekend included a thornbacked ray and a couple of dogfish.

Non divers enjoyed the Falls of Lora, and an excellent trip to the Oban Sea Life Centre (where thornbacked rays and dogfish were demanding petting!), but it was a bit damp for cycling or kayaking…

Thanks to Tralee Bay for accommodation and Gordon for organising the trip.

(by Barry 22nd May 2013)

Oban trip Easter 2013

April 6th, 2013

Sperm whale in Oban Bay, Easter 2013. Photo Chrissy Fletcher

This Easter was one of the coldest we’ve had in several decades, but the weather was clear and sunny on the West Coast of Scotland, indeed, it was the driest I’ve ever seen it there! The cold snap made for very cold diving conditions – coldest at 5°C in the Inner Basin of Loch Creran, with most dives being 6°C and only a couple of degrees warmer on the surface. This kept even the keenest of us down to one dive a day – the rest of the day being spent warming up again! The planned diving surveys were at least in part successful despite being frozen out, and I hope to talk about those at our meeting in May.

In addition to the diving there were kayak trips around the coast, and cycling and walking explorations of Kerrera and diverse places around Oban. Without doubt the best wildlife was to be seen from a hotel on the Oban water-front, however, as Chrissy’s photo above attests – a sperm whale… That was rather unexpected!

More information about the sperm whale sighting linked below:

BBC Scotland – sperm whale sighting in Oban Bay

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust – Whale and dolphin sightings

Barry