The second MASTS Annual Science Meeting at Heriot Watt Conference Centre, 11-13 September 2012 brought together those researchers, established and early career, to share their science with the wider community in Scotland. Much of the research is directly supported through MASTS and the calibre of the science and the excellence of its delivery were notable. Ranging through the broad research themes of Marine Biodiversity, Function and Services; Productive Seas; and Dynamics and Properties of Marine Systems the oral presentations and posters covered a vast range of topics; some of direct concern to Scotland, many with applications and relevance beyond its borders.
Only a selection of speakers could be included in this series of short podcasts, but even they reflect the diversity of topics that were presented. Each interviewee was asked to give a brief summary of their presentations at the Science Meeting, which were already a resumé of their science.
Click on the picture to listen to the podcast.
John Baxter from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) begins by setting the scene with a brief overview of Scotland’s legacy of excellent marine science and a description of the amazing diversity of its marine environment, and the challenges we face in the future.
Professor David Paterson (MASTS Executive Director)
The success of MASTS in bringing together a wide range of stakeholder groups to pool their knowledge and expertise to address questions of both national and global interest is impressive, but is all the more stunning when one considers that it has only been in existence for a very short time. David Paterson is the Executive Director of MASTS. In his podcast he explains why MASTS came about, how it has managed to coalesce so rapidly and successfully, and what its aspirations are for the future.
As our coastal waters come under increasing pressure there follows a necessity to ensure they remain sustainable into the future - not just environmentally, but also for the people that rely on them for livelihoods, recreation and as a key thread in their culture. This is no more so than when ‘government’ has an obligation to draw up zonation for activities including nature conservation. When conflicts occur, each side might regard the other as unreasonable and intransigent; Ruth Brennan has been trying to understand how such conflicts arise, and how we might avoid them. Download the e-book mentioned in Ruth's podcast here. Image of Northbay pier, Barra, courtesy of Domhnall Uilleam MacLeod.
Heidi Burdett (PhD student at University of Glasgow)
As the world ocean faces increasing challenges resulting from the activities of humans through their industry transport and general exploitation of marine resources, it is becoming increasingly clear that if we are to sustain a healthy ocean we must understand in detail, how the seas function and how they contribute to the great global chemical cycles. Maerl is a lowly form of marine algae, but it plays a major role in local chemical cycling and through its activity it may even contribute gases that impact weather systems. Heidi Burnett is trying to unravel the complex interactions of a Scottish maerl bed. Image of a maerl bed courtesy of Dr Nick Kamenos.
An essential ingredient of any marine management regime is knowing to what extent a habitat or species has been lost, or maybe lost in future. Taking the mussel, Modiolus modiolus, as an example Kate Gormley has been looking at existing populations to provide environmental parameters which inform where the mussel ought to be, and in the face of environmental change where it might be in the future. The possession of such a tool will be of great use to policy makers and managers as they designate conservation zones in the face of climate change and other stressors. Image of mussel bed courtesy of Rob Cook.
Dr Sebastian Hennige (Heriot Watt University)
Scottish waters are home to some of the most complex deep-sea habitats known, and the cold water coral reefs that for so long remained hidden from science in the dark, deep waters off Scotland are one of those habitats. Whilst remaining little known in detail, increasingly they are being recognised as having huge biodiversity and are teeming with marine life. Yet even these ‘hidden’ treasures are not immune from the impacts that have followed on from the excessive CO2 that we are emitting to the atmosphere, ultimately much of which will be absorbed into the ocean. Sebastian Hennige has been investigating how these unique corals will cope with ocean acidification and predicted climate change. Image of a Lophelia reef from a submersible cortesy of Seb Hennige.
Kate Wade (MASTS PhD student at University of St Andrews and University of Stirling)
It is along the coast where the impacts of human activities on the marine environment are most obvious. Salt marshes are a valuable habitat, neither land nor sea, but a strange hybrid that changes as the tide ebbs and flows. Rich with nutritious mud brought from the rivers that empty into our estuaries and freshened by the incoming tide, salt marshes provide one of the most diverse and interesting of all habitats. Yet coastal development, pollution and now the spectre of sea level rise all take their toll and salt marshes are a threatened resource. Can we bring them back to their former glory? Can we restore them back to their natural state? Kate Wade’s research is looking very positive. Image of new saltmarsh shoots courtesy of Kate Wade.
Rising abruptly from the deeper sea-floor, seamounts provide a stark contrast to their surroundings and are of immense importance to a wide range of species. It is the combination of topographic complexity, hydrography and biophysical activity that give these dynamic environments their diversity. Yet it is their richness that could lead to their decline as valuable resources. Recognising the value of the seamounts as ecologically as well as economically important zones is the first step to developing management tools to maintain them into the future. Lea-Anne Henry has been looking at the balance between competing pressures. Image of Octopus courtesy of the JC073 cruise and JNCC.
Ewan Edwards (MASTS PhD student based at the Cromerty Lighthouse Fieldstation, University of Aberdeen)
A flock of seabirds trailing in the wake of a fishing vessel may be a romantic image but it is one that sums up the interaction between humans and wildlife. Indeed the population explosion of the northern fulmar in recent years has been attributed to the provision of a ready food supply from the discards of fishing boats. Evidence of increasing reliance has been gained from stomach contents but just how important are discards for individuals, colonies or regional populations? And what might happen if discards are withdrawn? Ewan Edwards’ research is attempting to shed light on these and other questions about this relationship between man and bird.
Helen Wade (MaREE PhD student, ERI, UHI)
Scottish seas have always been amongst the most productive on the planet and now they are the location of new exploitable resources. Rising costs and concern about the environmental impacts of fossil fuels are the drivers to seek energy sources with a smaller environmental footprint. The turbulent waters off the coast of Scotland are recognised as amongst the most energetic in the world – a source of power from offshore marine renewable energy. Just as Scotland leads in the capture of the energy it is also in the vanguard of understanding its effects on wildlife and the natural environment. Sea birds are unique in that they can be impacted above the surface as they fly and feed, and below as they dive to hunt. Helen Wade has been investigating the vulnerability of seabirds to marine energy developments. Image of Great Skua being fitted with a GPS tag courtesy of Angus Jackson.
Fishing remains an important activity around the Scottish coast but as stocks appear to dwindle and management is imposed, the requirement for accurate assessments of fish numbers is a pressing issue. All too often there has been a divide between those that fish and those that study, but now Paul Fernandes describes a novel approach that embraces stakeholders at the very beginning of surveys for the anglerfish in Scottish waters. His research also engages fishers with collecting the data and testing the efficiency of nets in capturing the animals, providing a more accurate estimate of the population of this valuable resource.
Amongst the rich variety of fish populating Scottish waters is the enigmatic and massive basking shark, the world’s second largest fish. Once exploited for their oil, these leviathans suffered major declines in numbers. Despite their huge size we still know little about their lives and behaviour. Even seemingly simple information about whether the shark lives in discrete populations or whether it is part of a global genetic pool remains an unknown. Recent developments in genetic analysis are likely to provide some of the answers. Lilian Lieber has been assessing their social structure and mating behaviour through genetic techniques.
Described by Jacques Cousteau as ‘the silent world’, the ocean is actually a very noisy place and getting noisier, as we humans encroach more and more into it in search of resources and as the most important medium for international trade. Natural sounds whether from communicating or navigating animals, from undersea slides and submarine volcanic activity are all part of the acoustic backdrop of the marine environment but recently other unfamiliar and threatening or damaging signals have become part of the ocean soundscape. Peter Tyack is a world renowned authority on the effects of noise on marine life and as a MASTS Professor he provides an excellent introduction to the problem of anthropogenic noise and its potential impacts on mammals and other sealife.
Dr Luke Rendell (MASTS Lecturer at University of St Andrews)
With offshore energy installations planned around many areas of the Scottish coast knowing how dolphins and porpoises will be affected is paramount if healthy populations are to be maintained. Using Pambuoys(tm) to monitor the presence of marine mammals and relate any activity to noise from wind turbines is the thrust of the Scottish Marine Mammal Observatory. As Luke Rendell explains, the first array of three Pambuoys(tm) have been installed and are now making regular recordings and sending data.
Operation of offshore energy devices poses one set of questions but it may that the installation phase is where considerable activity and ensuing noise is generated. Many of the proposed sites for windfarm construction are also likely to be used as foraging areas for marine mammals, and indeed some sites are very close to Special Areas of Conservation designated for dolphin and porpoise. But, what are the direct and indirect impacts of construction noise? Paul Thompson explains how, by using existing data combined with expert knowledge, assessments of effects in the Moray Firth are being compiled to test the method.