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Day of reckoning for marine invaders

Volunteers are being asked to help track an alien invasion taking place around the UK’s coastline.

For centuries, marine species have moved around either by hitching ride on the hulls of ships or as stowaways in ballast water. In many instances, species have been deliberately introduced for commercial purposes.

Now, a national campaign to record non-native marine species is taking place to map the extent to which non-native marine species are present and to help scientists understand the impact they are having on the coastal environment.

The ‘Marine Invaders’ campaign will run September 8-11th 2017 and is part of the of the three-year Capturing our Coast (CoCoast) project, led by Newcastle University, supported by the University of Hull and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The team at Hull currently supports over 230 volunteers comprising of members of the general public and students all contributing data to important research questions at Hull that are integral to the national CoCoast Project.

Dr Jacqui Pocklington, CoCoast Project Co-ordinator, Newcastle University said: “Some non-native species that find their way to our shores don’t always stick around. The conditions required for a species to remain, grow and reproduce need to be close enough to its home range for it to survive. For this reason only a fraction of the species that move about actually start a life somewhere new.

“Of the species that do succeed, some have a positive effect – for example, they might become a new food source for existing species and increase the biodiversity of the marine environment.”

“Others thrive a bit too well and can become pests.  These invasive species compete for resources and introduce new diseases. If we can map the non-native species around our coastline then we can get a better understanding of how they’re affecting the marine environment.” 

If we can map the non-native species around our coastline then we can get a better understanding of how they’re affecting the marine environment. Dr Jacqui Pocklington, CoCoast Project Co-ordinator, Newcastle University 

One example of an invasive marine species is the seaweed, Sargassum muticum, commonly called wireweed. This is thought to have arrived in UK waters in the 1960s and now has spread as far as the Isle of Skye. It is thought to be responsible for displacing local species by starving them of sunlight.  

Another invader is the Chinese Mitten Crab, which is believed to have been introduced by ships emptying their ballast water when they reached port. The crab is native to China and Korea, but has been spotted in the UK in locations as widespread as the estuaries of the Thames and the Clyde. Concerns have been raised about the speed it is establishing itself and the damage it can cause to fishing nets and infrastructure.

Dr Nova Mieszkowska, Marine Biological Association of the UK Research Fellow says: “Non-native species can have both positive and negative effects on local marine communities that they invade and colonise. We still have much to learn about how non-native species affect the ecology of our shores, and this campaign will help to fill this knowledge gap.”

Dr Nicky Dobson, Project Officer at the University of Hull’s School of Environmental Science, says:  “Geographically, the Yorkshire Coast is an interesting place to examine for the presence of non-native species. Here we are situated on a boundary where two bodies of water meet and mix, the colder waters of the northern North Sea and the warmer waters on the southern North Sea. This invisible boundary, known as the Flamborough Front, is rich in nutrients supporting a diverse array of marine life. However, it is a barrier  –  many non-native species would need to cross this boundary in order to settle on our shores which we think are relatively pristine, but we need surveys to find out where the non-native species currently are.” 

Geographically, the Yorkshire Coast is an interesting place to examine for the presence of non-native species.  Dr Nicky Dobson, Project Officer, University of Hull

‘Marine Invaders’ is open to the public, all ages, and no special training is required to take part. Participants can visit the CoCoast website (www.capturingourcoast.co.uk), where a list of habitats and non-native species will be provided. Volunteers can then choose which habitat they wish to visit – sandy beach, rocky shore or ports and estuaries - and choose a species to search for. An identification card will be available to download, print and take to the shore to help with their search, which the CoCoast team say should take around 15 minutes.

The CoCoast Yorkshire team will be visiting two sites in the Yorkshire region over this weekend, firstly on Saturday 9th September where the team will be at Filey Brigg from 10:30 am (Grid Reference: TA 12062 80903; Post code: YO14 9LF). Then on Sunday 10th September you can join the team at Runswick Bay from 11:00 am where, in addition to ‘Marine Invaders’, the team will also be running a BioBlitz event (Grid Reference: NZ 80913 15972; Post code: TS13 5HT).

You can of course visit any site you choose over this weekend and records can be uploaded to the CoCoast website, and shared on social media using #marineinvaders  

Regular CoCoast volunteer Dave Bell, Cullercoats, who will be taking part in the Marine Invaders campaign, said: “I’m taking part because I am concerned with the interaction of the invasive species with the existing local inhabitants.”

The CoCoast partnership involves Newcastle, Portsmouth and Bangor universities, the Scottish Association for Marine Science, the Marine Biological Association of the UK and the Marine Conservation Society. Along with Earthwatch Institute, the Natural History Museum, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and the North West Costal Forum. 

To sign up, and to find out more about the Capturing our Coast project, visit www.capturingourcoast.co.uk

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