Scientists from the University of Portsmouth and local volunteers have taken part in the UK’s largest ever citizen science project to understand how our coastline is changing in the face of climate change and species invasion. Additional reporting by Sarah Cheverton.
Running over three years and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the ‘Capturing our Coast‘ project recruited 2,500 volunteers to survey 1,800 sites around the country’s coastline and hundreds more to take part in additional data collections.
Drew Bennellick, head of landscape and natural heritage at the Heritage Lottery Fund, said ‘Capturing Our Coast has been brilliant at engaging people with nature through citizen science, as well as making a hugely important contribution to our understanding of the UK’s changing coastline.
‘The National Lottery is now the biggest funder of nature in the UK and it’s important to remember that this valuable contribution to our understanding of our changing natural environment is only possible thanks to money provided by the people who buy tickets.’
Initial findings from the report were published on 27th September and its key findings include:
- 162 records of invasive species confirmed on the UK’s coast including the Japanese Wireweed; the Portuguese and Pacific oysters; the Australian barnacle, the orange-tipped sea squirt and Wakame seaweed.
- Several seaweed and mollusc species are already showing changes in abundance, or are moving to different areas around the UK to escape extreme conditions.
Dr. Gordon Watson, from the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Portsmouth, said ‘Changes to marine life because of factors such as increased sea temperatures or more severe storms, may make our shores inhospitable to certain species that we take for granted.
‘Our volunteers in the south were some of the most active in the country with 437 volunteers trained using over 2,090 quadrats to count species on the south’s shores across Dorset, Hampshire, Kent and the Isle of Wight.’
Quadrats refer to a technique used in the study of ecology, where ‘a series of squares (quadrats) of a set size are placed in a habitat of interest and the species within those quadrats are identified and recorded.’
‘By studying keystone, indicator and invasive species and how they are changing, we are better able to understand what is happening more widely across our seas because of human impacts such as climate change.’
Along with our volunteers, we have collectively demonstrated how powerful a collaboration between scientists and members of the public can be.
Dr Jane Delany, a Senior Lecturer in Marine Ecology at Newcastle University
The project lead Dr Jane Delany, a Senior Lecturer in Marine Ecology at Newcastle University, said ‘Invasive species are one of the top threats to UK coastal biodiversity. Globalisation of maritime activities has resulted in invasive coastal species arriving in UK waters through shipping traffic, escapes of species deliberately introduced for aquaculture, and introductions through ‘hitchhiking’ with imported species.
‘And we had some really exciting finds. In the North East we spotted orange-tipped sea squirts which are originally from South Africa and New Zealand, but were found thriving in Cresswell.
‘And we are seeing successful populations of the Australian barnacle, likely to have come across on ship hulls.
‘The effects of individual species can be complex, with both positive and negative potential impacts, and research such as this will help us to build a more accurate picture of how biodiversity is changing.’
The project was a national partnership, led by Newcastle University, with the Scottish Association for Marine Science, Bangor University, Marine Conservation Society, Marine Biological Association Plymouth, University of Portsmouth, Hull University, and national support from Earthwatch. Additional support was provided by Heritage Coast Partnership and Cefas.
A version of this article was originally published on Phys.org.