In October, Paul Fiander organised a seasearch observer course to be run at out clubhouse, which was run by Chris Wood, the National Seasearch Coordinator and was attended by 25 club members.

Seasearch is a project which has been set up under the umbrella of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and is aimed at getting divers to learn about what they are seeing underwater and helping to protect the marine environment round the coast of Britain and Ireland by recording what they see during their dives. It was devised by Dr. Bob Earll and Dr. Roger Mitchell in the mid 1980’s and it was run by the MCS and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Much of the work was carried out on expeditions in the West of Scotland and there were also local projects in Wales, Sussex and Dorset.

By 1999 a National Steering Group was formed in order to take the project national and this consisted of conservation bodies, NGO’s, diver training organisations and independent experts for example BSAC, PADI, Scottish Natural Heritage, The Wildlife Trust, MCS and the Marine Biological Association. Funding from The National Lottery in 2003 gave the project a big boost and enabled a National Co-ordinator and a network of local co-ordinators
to be put in place.

The course consists of a day of lectures and is for people new to marine habitats and recording and so assumes no knowledge (apart from the fact you have to be able to dive!) It takes you through the basics of taxonomy, classification hints, recognising marine habitats and it all concludes with how to fill out the observation form during a “dry dive”, enabling us to put our skills to the test.

We were lucky enough to have Chris Wood the National co-ordinator taking the course and we were joined by Sue Scott, a marine biologist who regularly features in Dive magazine and Trevor Glass, the Marine Conservation Officer from Tristan Da Cunha a remote group of volcanic islands in the South Atlantic. Sue was due to visit Tristan Da Cunha and train other divers to carry out seasearch surveys of this unique, remote group of islands. It was fantastic to have some extra, expert help to assist all us novices with our identification skills.

At the end of the day Sue gave us a presentation on Tristan Da Cunha and gave us a glimpse into the rather unusual habitat both above and below the water. This is an active volcano and home to 261 British citizens living in the world’s most isolated settlement. They are 1350 miles from their nearest neighbour, St Helena and are of particular interest as originally being volcanic the island was devoid of living organisms and therefore the flora and fauna is evolving. Being such a long way away from any other land does also limit the number of species that are able to colonise it.

The following day we were due to carry out our first survey dive although the British winter weather held true and the next day’s practice was blown out, and again the following weekend the one after that!

A group of eleven of us have now dived, under the watchful eye of Chris Wood, completing our first survey dive at Lulworth Banks on the 23rd January. This was a beautiful day and whilst the viz was shocking there was sufficient to be able to concentrate on small patches of the sea bed, whilst armed with our slates. We did even manage to make it into the Seasearch news for “dragging Chris Wood kicking and screaming into the 7c sea.” In order to fully qualify we do have to do one more dive with a tutor present and then three further dives and then we can be signed up as a Seasearch Observer.

This has definitely added an extra level of interest for those diving and many people commented that they couldn’t believe what they had been swimming over for all these years. It certainly made my buddy slow down and it is the first time I have been able to keep up with him for a long time!

Seasearch offers a number of other courses such as marine identification, ecology and specialist courses on seaweeds, nudibranchs and fish identification and I know that there is a definite appetite in the club for more knowledge!