Isle of Arran: Thoughts for the new Scottish MPA Network

Well, I’ve been having an exciting summer so far! Aside from hours of interview transcription and qualitative data analysis, which I actually secretly, or not so secretly, enjoy, I’ve also been helping out on the Isle of Arran.





I mentioned I was part of this work in a previous post and this time round I was there for 4 days worth of surveying. We were again really lucky with the weather, zooming about around Whiting and Lamlash Bay in the rib provided by the people from COAST. A fantastic NGO working for marine conservation around Arran. COAST stands for the Community of Arran Seabed Trust and works towards protection and restoration of the marine environment, particularly around Arran and the Firth of Clyde. They took a leading role in establishing Scotland’s First No Take Zone.

A No Take Zone (NTZ) (sometimes referred to as a fully protected marine reserve) are a type of marine protected area (MPA) where activities that remove animals and plants from the marine environment (sometimes with the exception of scientific monitoring purposes) are strictly prohibited. The activities that are not allowed to operate within a NTZ can include: fishing, aquaculture, mining, dredging; recreational activities such as swimming, boating and scuba diving are usually allowed.

NTZ are very important in the face of climate change. Healthy intact ecosystems (on land as well as marine systems) are able to adapt and cope with changes much better than degraded ecosystems that are suffering from species loss. This is the idea of resilience. By having NTZs as part of a larger MPA network, these areas of high protection could act as a buffer against climate effects, protecting habitats from other destructive impacts and providing a refuge for species as conditions change.



(A Highland Dancer! Finally got a picture!)



The Scottish MPA Network has now been designed and the advice on the design of the network has been passed to the Scottish Ministers. A total of 33 Scottish Marine Protected Areas have been proposed (see the Scottish Government webpage for details). It is now open for public consultation. This is a great opportunity for the public to have their say on the proposed MPAs. The consultation is open until 13th November 2013.


Dahab Diving


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A selection of photos from snorkelling and diving around Dahab. With unbelievable colour and complexity on the reef I’ve really been enjoying my time diving here so far! This week has been about getting the students on the Glasgow University … Continue reading

Brief Update! Back in Bonnie Scotland….but not for long!

This post is going to be a little bit backwards. I’ve been back in Scotland for nearly two months and have been super busy! I’m going to give a quick run down to get everyone up to speed.

I’ve been working away, starting my qualitative analysis. Meaning I had the opportunity to attend a two day training course in order to use the software programme NVivo. It’s a great tool for inputting all my interview data which I can then code and conduct further analysis.

Additionally now I’m officially a PADI Divemaster I can help out with the office dive team and my PhD colleagues’ fieldwork. This includes using Baited Underwater Camera Systems and scuba dive transects using stereo video cameras to assess habitat association with juvenile fish species. My role is more for support, helping out on the surveys, being a dive buddy and swimming along behind the cameras having a jolly time!

We’ve also had some fantastic weather the past few weeks, meaning it’s not absolutely Baltic on the surface interval back on the boat! There’s some stunning scenery and fantastic marine diversity on our sites on the Isle of Arran. So far I’ve done my first dive over a seagrass bed seeing huge hermit crabs, a pipefish and comb jellies! These are the little guys who shot to fame through the BBC Blue Planet Series: here’s an awesome picture of a comb jelly from Antarctic (currently working on getting one in Scotland!)…

Photo credit:
“Comb Jelly, Mnemiopsis sp. – Jellies like this can be very abundant in Southern Ocean surface waters and it is widely suggested that they will be amongst the big winners in a higher CO2 world. –  British Antarctic Survey © “

I attended a couple of events at the Glasgow Science Festival. The first being the Clipperton Canal Boat Launch along the Glasgow Canal, which will now be a floating laboratory touring Scotland getting an idea of the life along and in a canal. The second was an event called “Best of the West” highlighting the ladies in Science and featuring some of their work. The talks were fantastic! The speakers had the awesome task of spending only 20 seconds per slide with no more than 20 slides in which to explain their work. The quality was brilliant and it was great to chat to fellow female scientists with a glass of wine in hand and a relaxed atmosphere. Here’s hoping the event is even bigger next year!

Aside from that, I’ve been preparing for a Glasgow University Expedition to Egypt (Follow the project here!). And that’s actually where I am at the minute! First day in Dahab! I’m out here working as a consultant for the socioeconomic side of the research. As part of my MSc research I was investigating the shark fin trade in Northern Madagascar using interviews which different people involved in the trade. Out here the intention is to interview fishermen, restaurants etc and start identifying how the trade of fish works in the region.

I’ll also be helping with out with the dive team and making sure their survey technique is up to scratch! Can’t wait- I’ve got my trusty camera here so will be hoping to get some good shots! Keep an eye out for updates this week!

Where are all the goats?

For my first entry from New Zealand I’m again going to concentrate on a local Marine Reserve.

I’ve been in NZ for 3 weeks, and for the past 2 I’ve been based in the small town of Leigh, an hour north of Auckland. Whilst conducting my research, I’m also based at the local dive centre completing my PADI Rescue and Divemaster Courses (more to follow soon!).

Goat Island Marine Reserve is the local Reserve situated off the coastal town of Leigh, next to Auckland University’s Leigh Marine Lab. Goat Island was so named in the sailing ship era, when sailors often left goats on small offshore islands in case of shipwreck.

Goat Island

New Zealand has a long history of marine reserves. Back in the 1960s fishers and scientists were already observing dramatically reduced fish populations in some species. It occurred to scientists that if they were to observe the marine environment then studies would be greatly enhanced without the confounding factor of fishing pressure. Professor Val Chapman and Dr Bill Ballantine were proponents for the creation of a marine reserve in the coastal area surrounding the marine lab.

Snapper and a spotty

Red moki

Support for the marine reserve grew, backed by the New Zealand Marine Sciences Society and the New Zealand Underwater Association, legislation was drafted and the Marine Reserves Act became law in 1971. Under the Act, areas for scientific research were allowed to be set aside and no fishing, collecting or disturbance of marine life would be allowed.

Snapper in the sunlight

After wider consultation, the Cape Rodney-Okakari Point (Goat Island) was approved as a marine reserve in 1975 and officially opened in 1977. A series of habitat maps covering the whole reserve was drawn up by scientists at the laboratory during 75-79. The baseline data from these maps have proved invaluable as some changes may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

Stingrays and eagle rays are often found in the reserve

It took a number of years before snapper and crayfish were large enough to eat the larger sea urchins in the reserve. Over the next 10 years, populations of these sea urchins (which feed on the kelp and can leave barren areas where no kelp remains) decreased, allowing the kelp forests to recover, when encouraged the return of species such as silver drummer to the reserve.

Goatfish feeding in the sand

Research at the reserve is ongoing and the reserve’s fully protected status is important for allowing scientists to disentangle the effects of climate and natural changes on the marine ecosystem. Some species are returning to the reserve after an absence of 30 years highlighting the complex interactions that occur during the recovery of an area.

Red moki in the kelp

Further reserves have been established under the Marine Reserves Act, however, a review of the legislation is now ongoing in the hope that it can be updated to reflect the need for full biodiversity protection rather than a focus purely based on scientific research. A strategic look at a network of MPAs in New Zealand is needed.

A leatherjacket, New Zealand’s only triggerfish

The reserve is now attracting approximately 300 000 to 400 000 visitors every year, demonstrating the powerful sway marine reserves have in public consciousness as areas of natural beauty and areas to be enjoyed.

Sea urchin shell

Goatfish come in a range of sizes from these little ones to larger and more brightly coloured individuals

For more information on marine reserves around New Zealand:

A google search all brings up a lot of information!

Checking out dive conditions!

No diving but a great view

Up close and personal: Nudibranchs everywhere!


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A sunny day over at Magnetic Island. I really like these little dives hunting for nudibranchs and things you might often overlook in good visibility. With only about 2m vis today it was time to concentrate on macro shots again. … Continue reading

Megafauna on the S.S. Yongala


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Time for a bit of a deeper dive and a bluer feel to the photographs! Sitting 30m deep, 109m in length and having spent 102 years of sitting on the ocean floor the wreck of the S.S. Yongala provides a … Continue reading