Scientists explain the future of our seas

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Marine scientists hosted engaging public talks called the Future of Our Seas in a dome in Oban’s Station Square on Monday and Tuesday.

The project, funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council, is a collaboration between scientists and artists to raise public awareness about the challenges facing our seas.

It trained 12 researchers at Dunbeg’s Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) to find new ways to communicate their subjects to the public, and hopefully interest and inspire them.

Alongside hour-long presentations titled Cold Water and Corals, Bacteria and Windscreens, and Plastic and Acid, SAMS PhD student Charlotte Findlay gave an interactive talk on Sounds of the West Coast, looking at noises humans make under the sea, and what impact it can have on animals.

‘It is one of those things that I don’t think people realise,’ Charlotte said. ‘We all make noise when we use the marine environment. We aim to get people involved, come and experience it all, and hopefully have a good time.’

Underwater noise pollution may arise from boats, or acoustic deterrent devices deployed by fish farms to scare away predators such as seals. Charlotte’s PhD at SAMS is investigating how far the noise spreads, and determining the risks to marine mammals, such as damaging their hearing.

‘Underwater noise can have an effect on animals,’ she said. ‘It can displace them from habitats used for breeding or feeding. There is evidence that devices are removing animals from around fish farms.’

In another talk, titled Beautifully Strange, Dr Laura Hepburn revealed the weird world of hydrothermal vents on the deep ocean floor, which release hot water up to 400 degrees centigrade, yet also support life as rich as a coral reef.

‘Their unique alien-ness makes them beautiful,’ Dr Hepburn said. ‘These vents create a special kind of chemical energy, and support animals that can’t be found anywhere else on Earth. They use the same kind of energy that we would expect to find on Mars, so we study these systems because it helps our search for life on other planets, and helps our studies of how life evolved on Earth.’

Her presentation engaged the senses, showing footage, playing sounds, and even diffusing salt in the air so so people can smell the sea. She said: ‘We want people to go away knowing that there is stuff going on in the deep sea, it is not out of sight and out of mind, and when you look at the sea you look at it thinking about what is going on far beyond what you can see.’

Dr Raeanne Miller, SAMS’s knowledge exchange and communications manager, said: ‘We had several hundred people come along and take part in the activities designed by young scientists from across the UK. Many of our visitors were from Oban and the surrounding area, but we also had a lot of tourists from all over the world visit the dome.

‘It was great to be able to showcase marine science to such a wide audience, and to add to the lively summer atmosphere in Oban. The scientists who participated were brilliant, and it was great to see them grow, develop, and bring to life their ideas for engaging activities.’