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Divers search for ‘weed’ off UK’s east coast

Divers will be scouring the depths of the North Sea over the next two weeks in a bid to identify new species of seaweed. The teams, co-ordinated by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), will also be carrying out in-depth marine surveys off parts of the UK coast that are often thought of as wild and inhospitable. 

Areas being dived in the first two weeks of August are: The Blackwater Estuary, Orford Ness, West Runton, Hunstanton, Gibraltar Point, Flamborough Head, Robin Hood’s Bay, The Durham Heritage Coast, Beadnell, The Farnes and St Abbs.

From the estuaries of Essex to the east coast of Scotland, wet suited and finned enthusiasts will be diving from boats and carrying out shore dives to collect reams of new information on the presence of rare and threatened species of seaweed.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt from MCS says that whilst seaweeds aren’t on the tip of everyone’s tongue as a favourite species, they are vital to us. “Seaweeds provide alginates that are used in toothpaste, cosmetics and paints. Algae is a vital food source for many coastal communities, and in the UK we eat samphire – that makes a wonderful salad with lemon and olive oil. Seaweed is also a rich source of iodine, which is otherwise deficient in many tropical developing countries diet. Different ‘weeds’ are used in gelling, water retention, and emulsifying procedures. But in the ocean they are also very beautiful, ranging from dense kelp forests on shallow reefs all around the UK, to deeper red calcareous fields of coral like maerl in Cornish waters.”

Divers from local dive clubs will be operating along the North Sea coast under the ‘Seasearch’ banner – a national dive project run by MCS that allows divers to learn how to collect underwater data.

Regional and local ‘Seaseach’ co-ordinators in the North Sea will also carry out training and surveys. Rob Spray is one of MCS’s Seasearch divers who is organising the surveys and he says leisure divers generally become supporters of marine conservation efforts after seeing the amazing biodiversity of UK seas.

“Some divers are even lucky enough to make some historic findings. Last year, divers in Norfolk discovered what is thought to be the world’s largest underwater chalk reef, just off Sheringham. We don’t attract many marine high flyers to the East Coast so to make the most of our great team of experts and volunteers the idea for an east coast road trip was hatched. We hope to give experts from all around the UK a taste of the North Sea’s fantastic biodiversity. This may not be quite the kind of road trip Dennis Hopper would have signed up for but over the course of just 12 days we hope to give East coast marine recording a real shot in the arm!”

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt says the Norfolk chalk reef could be the first of many east coast finds: “Who could imagine that such a wonderful habitat exists, little more than a stones throw away from a busy Norfolk town. Only with the support of the members of the public can we really protect hidden gems like the chalk reefs of Sheringham.

You can find out more about becoming a Seasearch diver at www.mcsuk.org


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