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This week, our intrepid local correspondent on the peninsula, Nic Goddard, tells of a fascinating summer-long project to survey marine life along the shores of Loch Sunart and the Sound of Mull.
An exciting citizen science pilot project is running on the shores of Loch Sunart and the Sound of Mull this summer – and hopefully beyond.
CAOLAS (Community Association of Lochs and Sounds) are working with Flora and Fauna International and the Sunart Community Benefit Fund on this exciting project.
Led by marine biologist Dr Mark Woombs, a series of workshops are being held over the summer to teach people how to identify the rich flora and fauna here on the seashore of Ardnamurchan.
I attended a workshop in June held at Kilchoan where we spent the morning learning how to identify and classify the wide range of plants and animals on the shores.
From seaweed to starfish, crabs to cockles and limpets to lichen we were taught to categorise and catalogue. We then had a hands-on session with some sea life Mark had bought along in an open tank, including a lobster, several large crabs, starfish, brittle stars and more.
Then we headed down to the low tide mark to put our new skills into practise.
There have been three workshops held so far at Kilchoan, Salen and Strontian, but there is another still to be held at Lochaline on August 4.
Around 20 people have attended each workshop so far and the project hopes to educate local people and visitors about the rich and diverse flora and fauna in the area – one of the reasons that Loch Sunart is a Marine Protected Area (MPA).
The CAOLAS team has also visited Strontian Primary School and will be visiting Ardnamurchan High School, too, to make sure people of all ages are involved in the project.
Having learned to tell a periwinkle from a barnacle and know the difference between bladderwrack and spiral wrack seaweeds, there are a series of intertidal biological surveys running over the summer to collect data.
I joined a very soggy survey last week at Camas Torsa just before low tide. Despite intermittent heavy rain showers pouring down on us, a group of 10 hardy citizen scientists brandished our waterproof clipboards to record our findings.
Mark told me: ‘All the data we record is useful, but some of it could be of very significant value. For example, we are surveying at Loch Teacuis in September where we know serpulid worms occur but have not been recorded on the sea shore. This reef forming worms are one of the reasons
that Loch Sunart is a MPA.’
We were taught how to record the profile of the shore, lay a transect line, record our position and throw quadrats. We then recorded our findings which will be collated together.
Scientists conducting serious and valuable research we may have been, but we all took great delight in turning over rocks to discover crabs, starfish and anemones.
I can now gender identify a crab, assess a square for percentage lichen cover and place a dog whelk in the correct phylum, class and order.
There are more surveys throughout August. For information and to book a space on a workshop or survey, email the project at email@example.com
Mark told me that there are plans to continue the project beyond this initial summer pilot scheme, saying: ‘Hopefully it is not a finite project and will continue and expand in future years.
‘CAOLAS is happy to lend the equipment for people wanting to have a go at surveying their own shores. Ultimately we hope to extend this to snorkelling and diving.’
There was some welcome summer weather for the citizens scientists and their survey of the shoreline at Loch Sunart. Photograph: Nic Goddard.