Sunday, 8 August 2010

SEAWEED and excitement are an unlikely combination. But that was the case for marine ecologist Dr Heather Sugden as she surveyed the Northumbrian coastline.

Her discovery of dabberlocks seaweed, a cold water kelp, was the highlight of her investigations of the rocky shores from Boulmer to the Borders.

The study, funded by Natural England, is part of a nationwide examination of the shoreline, which is providing information on the effects of climate change.

Dr Sugden said the kelp species had been disappearing from UK southern shores and was believed to be retreating north.

It was last recorded at Robin Hood’s bay in North Yorkshire.

“We thought it had disappeared completely so to find it in Northumberland was fantastic,” said Dr Sugden.

“It is now incredibly rare in the south but it has found a refuge in the North East.”

The seaweed provides important nursery areas for fish, and as no similar species has filled the vacant niche, there is concern for the potential loss of habitat where young fish can develop.

The survey was the first time the North East shoreline had been studied as part of the long-term Marine Biodiversity and Climate Change project.

The information from the surveys helps scientists understand the effects of climate change on the marine environment.

The project began in 2001 and since 2005 85 locations around the coastline of England, Wales and Scotland have been surveyed.

The North East exercise, by Dr Sugden and colleague Dr Nova Meiskowska from the Marine Biological Association plotted the distribution and abundance of 67 species of shells, seaweed, snails, sponges, anemones and urchins.

Dr Sugden said: “Barnacles, limpets and seaweed are a familiar features, but they are also excellent indicators of changes in the environment.

“We are interested in what the coastal ecology of the North East can tell us about the way that the climate may be changing.

“This region is a key area in which range limits of intertidal species are likely to be changing in response to warming coastal temperatures

“The North East is one of the few areas that has never been systematically surveyed and urgently needs a benchmark from which to measure future changes.

“Seaweed was once used to predict the weather, and now it also has a role in helping understand the impacts of climate change on the marine environment.

“The information from the survey will provide a benchmark that can be used to identify future changes in abundance and distribution of intertidal species, and help predict potential changes resulting from the effects of changing temperatures.”

She said that the survey also illustrated the richness of marine life on the Northumberland coast.

“The biodiversity we found is spectacular. The Northumbrian coast is a hidden gem.

“The fantastic biodiversity shows how almost pristine and beautiful the Northumberland coastline is.”

The latest research shows that some fish species have moved northwards over the past 30 years by distances ranging from around 50 to 400km, with cold water species such as monkfish and snake blenny moving the furthest.

It is thought that climate change has contributed to a decrease by approximately 9% in the total number of seabirds breeding in the UK between 2000 and 2008.

Increasing sea temperatures may have the potential to increase the geographic range of some harmful algal bloom species associated with paralytic shellfish poisoning events.

Dr Sugden, who worked as a marine adviser with Natural England in Newcastle, this week began a new job at Newcastle University’s Dove Marine Laboratory in Cullercoats.

She will be working on the Big Sea Survey, a project in which seeks to involve communities in their local marine environment.

Volunteers will continue to monitor a stretch of shoreline.

No comments:

Post a Comment