Marine Scotland blog

News from Marine Scotland

July 28, 2016
by Ruth Allen

In deep at the United Nations

Dr Francis NeatNext week, Marine Scotland scientist Dr Francis Neat (pictured right) will join the EU delegation to the UN in New York to discuss deep-sea fishing regulations and conservation in the high seas.

It’s a huge honour and as Francis explains “we rarely think too much about that part of the ocean that is beyond our national jurisdiction (more than 200 miles offshore), but the reality is that it is 50 % of the entire planet and we have every much a stake in it as any other country. The ‘high seas’ as this area is known belongs to everyone and no one, and as such is regulated under the auspices of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Much of the high seas are deep seas and in the last decade, the UN has been debating problems with deep sea fishing and its impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs), such as seamounts and coral reefs. A series of UN resolutions were passed calling on states and regional fisheries management organisations to better manage their fisheries and protect VMEs. This has resulted in a transformation of how the high seas are now managed.

Marine Scotland Science (MSS) has been at the forefront of providing data and advice on these issues in the north-east Atlantic through the Working Group on Deepwater Ecology (WGDEC) of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea ICES). I first participated in WGDEC ten years ago and was elected chair in 2010. During my 3 year tenure as chair, several areas of the NE Atlantic were closed to protect VMEs, including an area identified during a Scotia survey. Around the same time the European Parliament (EP) was debating whether a ban on trawling below a certain depth should be introduced. This debate rumbled on with environmental organisations and the fishing industry often at loggerheads and an overall failure to agree on what such a depth limit should be. Last year MSS, together with Glasgow University, published a paper reporting results obtained from MRV Scotia surveys that provided crucial evidence for a trawling depth limit of between 600-800 m. This received considerable attention at the time, from publications such as the Economist,  and on June 30th 2016 the EP finally agreed to put forward an 800 m depth limit to trawling, with the intention that this will finally become law by the end of the year.

On August 1st and 2nd 2016 the UN meets again to discuss progress on the implementation of its resolutions. As a scientific expert in this area I was invited by the European Commission to join the EU delegation to the UN and participate in this meeting in New York. I was honoured to accept and will be on my way there next week. It’s a once in lifetime opportunity and very satisfying to think that the work we do at Marine Scotland is internationally respected and underpins scientific advice for issues of global importance.”

More Information

July 27, 2016
by Ruth Allen

MRV Scotia: Survey 1116S Programme

Duration: 5-25 August 2016


  • GOV Trawl (BT 137) with ground gear A & B


  1. To complete an internationally coordinated demersal trawling survey in the North Sea in ICES area IV and continue an IBTS tow duration experiment.
  2. To obtain temperature and salinity data from the surface and seabed at each trawling station using a SEABIRD 19+ CTD. 
  3. Collect additional biological data in connection with the EU Data Collection Framework (DCF).



The Scotia will set sail on the morning of Friday 5 August from Aberdeen. Scotia will then proceed to the first station northeast of Peterhead at the Buchan Deeps. 


There are 82 programmed rectangles to be surveyed and these are presented on the chart below (Figure 1).  

Following on from the successful tow duration experiment conducted in 2015, it has been decided to continue the experiment for 2016.  Within the entire international survey area where two trawls are currently undertaken, one will be of 30 minutes duration whilst the other would be of 15 minutes duration.  This will allow a dual set of abundance indices to be calculated for the assessed species and allow further analysis to determine if the reduction in bottom time has any significant effect on catchability for certain assessed species.  As a parameter of diversity, species richness will also be compared.   The reduction of stations as well as the tow duration experiment should allow additional stations (see Figure 2.) to be sampled in the area to the south and west of Shetland.  

In addition, Scotland is the tertiary country in eight rectangles and will only be required to undertake a tow if the primary and secondary country fail to do so (see Figure 1).  Contact will be maintained with the other survey participants prior to and during the survey and a decision will be made regarding these stations and additional stations once the survey is underway.  Trawling will be undertaken during the hours of daylight which will vary depending on the vessels latitude at any given time and the survey trawl will be used during the survey using short sweeps.  The SCANMAR system will be used to monitor the headline height, wing spread and door spread for each haul and bottom contact data from each trawl will also be collected using the NOAA bottom contact sensor which will be mounted in the centre of the ground-gear. 

CTD casts (conductivity/temperature/depth) will be taken at every trawl station which provide surface and bottom temperature and salinity information.  Reverser bottles affixed to the CTD wire will also be used to collect water samples that will be analysed back at the lab and will provide information on salinities, nitrates, silicates and phosphates.

Further Information

Figure 1 - 1116S Area for Scotland

Figure 1 - 1116S Area for Scotland


Figure 2: Proposed areas Denmark, Scotland, Germany, and Norway should focus their additional tows. Scotland areas in blue and with the letter S

Figure 2: Proposed areas Denmark, Scotland, Germany, and Norway should focus their additional tows. Scotland areas in blue and with the letter S


July 26, 2016
by Ruth Allen

Ocean modelling/marine ecology PhD studentship

SeagullPhD Studentship: Modelling climate change impacts on seabirds via ocean and forage fish dynamics

Britain’s seabirds have declined over the last three decades, and the species that have declined most are those dependent on small, nutrient-rich forage fish like sandeels. These fish occupy a critical point in marine food webs, vulnerable to both “top down” effects (e.g. fishing) and “bottom up” climate impacts via local ocean physics and plankton productivity. Concern over human impacts on sandeels and their predators have led to fishery closures and the creation of special Marine Protected Areas and Marine Conservation Zones, but where does climate change come into this story? Are current hotspots of sandeel and seabird productivity in British waters, the sites one would naturally focus on protecting, still going to be the hotspots fifty years from now? Are recent short-term trends a reliable guide to long-term future change?

This studentship will address these questions by linking together state-of-the-art dynamical simulations describing regional oceanography, plankton ecology, and sandeel life history, along with spatially explicit data on seabird numbers and trends. This project thus integrates many disciplines including physical oceanography, data science, marine ecology, and life-history theory.

Excellent mathematical and programming skills are required, and a background in either oceanography or ecology is preferred. The project will be co-supervised by:

  • Dr Neil Banas, an ocean modeller in the Dept of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow UK
  • Dr Ruedi Nager, a seabird ecologist in the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health, and Comparative Medicine at University of Glasgow
  • Dr Peter Wright, a fish biologist and head of the Ecology and Conservation group at Marine Scotland Science, Aberdeen

The student will be registered jointly at Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities–a rare, highly interdisciplinary opportunity–and participate in the MASTS (Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland) research network.

The position is open to all UK and EU applicants and comes with three years of full support, including fees and an annual living stipend of approximately £14,000, as well as support for conference travel and other expenses. Start date is flexible, with winter 2016-17 preferred.

Review of applications will begin 15 Sept 2016 and continue until the position is filled. To apply, send:

1) a complete CV

2) a 1-2 page personal statement explaining your specific interest in this position and the skills you bring to it

3) names and contact info for three references.

Please send applications and other inquiries to Dr Neil Banas,

July 25, 2016
by Ruth Allen
1 Comment

SCUBA-diving ‘scientists’ can help monitor global ocean temperature

Dive computers and YSI Castaway CTD

Dive computers and YSI Castaway CTD

Did you know that each time you scuba dive you are potentially collecting data which can help scientists better understand our seas and oceans?

The potential of scuba divers to provide vital information about the temperature of our oceans has been demonstrated for the first time using ‘citizen science’. A study published today in Nature’s online journal Scientific Reports has shown that temperature profiles from scuba divers’ computers can be compiled to provide accurate records across the globe that add to our existing monitoring network in inshore areas. This offers additional data that could help us better understand our marine environment.

Dr Serena Wright (Cefas), lead author of the study, said: “Our results show that, with processing, dive computers can provide a useful and novel tool with which to augment existing monitoring systems all over the globe, but especially in under-sampled or highly changeable coastal environments.”

The work, led by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science in collaboration with the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) , developed the diveintoscience website that collected more than 7,600 temperature records from sport divers to build up a record of global sea temperature in the first ‘citizen science’ project of its kind.

Dr Kieran Hyder (Cefas), who led the citizen science project, said: “To undertake a global science programme that could generate this information would be hugely expensive, but there are millions of sport and commercial dives every year. Making use of just a small fraction of those dives will greatly increase our knowledge of what is happening world-wide.”

Co-author Dr John Pinnegar (Cefas), lead advisor on climate change, said: “The coastal environment is an important region of our oceans and is vulnerable to pressures brought about by increasing human populations and climate change. The diveintoscience initiative can help generate the large datasets often required to support and improve management decisions.”

The temperature recordings were downloaded from decompression computers that are commonly worn by sport divers, but the accuracy of these records was unknown. Comparisons made by ‘diving’ computers alongside scientific instruments and with satellite measurements of water temperature in this study showed that diver computers can provide accurate records.

Co-author Dr Martin Sayer leads the Natural Environment Research Council’s National Facility for Scientific Diving (NFSD) based at (SAMS, near Oban and has conducted numerous studies on the performance of dive computers. He said: “What we are hoping is that the results from this study will encourage manufacturers and their customers to see the potential benefits of developing new dive computer models that not only support the diver but also produce high quality oceanographic data.”

Dr Hyder acknowledges that there is still some way to go before he achieves his ultimate vision of a global oceanographic resource that is developed and maintained through citizen science. He added: “This has been a very successful proof of concept. The next stage is to work with dive computer manufacturers, potential user groups, diving organisations and the divers themselves to improve the quality of the information and the user experience.”

He added: “The potential of scuba divers to contribute to ocean monitoring is huge and I believe that this study demonstrates only the tip of the iceberg. I would encourage all scuba divers to get involved.”

More Information

July 22, 2016
by Ruth Allen

Orca spotting in Lerwick

Orca and calf

Orca and calf

One of the many advantages of working in one of our coastal fishery offices is the opportunity to not only be surrounded by beautiful scenery and to live in wonderful coastal communities, but to see things that are a little unusual and, quite literally, breath taking.

Two of our – very excited – fishery offices from Lerwick had the opportunity to see some orcas (Orcinus orca) and their calves playing in the water near their office. One managed to get some photographs while the other managed to capture some video.

There is a known pod of older orcas on the west coast, but other orcas come in to Scottish waters as visitors from Iceland.

Further Information



July 20, 2016
by Ruth Allen

The Pilot Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Spatial Plan needs your vote!

Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Plan areaThe Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Plan area supports a diverse marine economy and a vast majority of the area is used for multiple activities, meaning there is a potential for competition and conflict.  To try and address this, this area was chosen to pilot the development of a marine spatial plan, aimed at supporting sustainable management of the area’s seas, while balancing the needs of local communities and marine economic activities and protecting the environment on which they depend.

The pilot plan was a collaborative project, developed by working group that included Marine Scotland, Orkney Islands Council and Highland Council. It was given Ministerial approval in March 2016 and we’re delighted to say that it has been shortlisted for a Scottish Award for Quality in Planning. You can read more about it on the Marine Scotland website and vote for it to win the People’s Choice category.

There have been many lessons learned in going through the planning process which will inform the preparation of other regional marine plans and the governance arrangements that could underpin Marine Planning Partnerships. It is also anticipated that the pilot Plan will establish a useful basis for the preparation of the two future regional marine plans for Orkney and the North Coast Scottish Marine Regions.

Further Information


July 18, 2016
by Lyndsay Cruickshank

MRV Scotia: Survey 1016S Programme

Duration: 18 July – 3 August 2016

  • Sonardyne Ranger II USBL system
  • Sonardyne directional / omni-directional transponders (x3)
  • TV drop frame and wiring harness
  • TV sledge and wiring harness
  • SEA LED lights (x4)
  • SeaLaser (x4)
  • Kongsberg OE14-408 digital camera system
  • Kongsberg OE14-366 digital still camera system
  • Kongsberg OE14-366 TV camera system
  • SUBC 1-CAM Alpha HD camera system
  • mini Hammon grab
  • 0.25m2 USNEL BSL Box core

Marine Scotland Science (MSS) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) will undertake an offshore seabed survey of Geikie Slide and Hebridean Slope (GSH hereafter) Scottish Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area (NCMPA) on the Marine Research Vessel (MRV) Scotia (Figure 1).  Located to the north-west of Scotland, Geikie Slide and the Hebridean Slope (GSH) NCMPA follows the descent of the seabed from a depth of 113m on the Hebridean continental shelf, into the deep-sea of the Rockall Trough to a depth of 1757m.  Habitats within the MPA vary down the slope with the descent into deeper water.  The MPA represents the variation in sandy, muddy and gravelly habitat types present, and the animal communities they support.


  1. Conduct a Type 1 monitoring survey of GSH focusing sampling within nested boxes positioned to allow for sampling to occur across the range of depths, biological zones and proposed management measures at the site.
  2. Conduct Type 3 sampling within a nested box outside of GSH at the same depth and of similar current fishing pressure as a nested box within a proposed management measures area in GSH.
  3. Conduct a camera chariot transect and benthic sampling survey within GSH (including within area of existing MBES bathymetry and backscatter data) to gather further information on the distribution of broadscale habitats present within the site.

After completion of safety drills and exercises, Scotia will proceed westwards towards the Geikie Slide and Hebridean Slope survey area (GSH), stopping at a suitable location (Buchan Deeps) to undertake gear testing on route.  The vessel will then make passage to the work site and commence sampling with the 0.25m2 box core and TV frames on the stations detailed in Figure 2 and in Table 1 and 2.  In total, 108 TV, sediment and benthic infaunal samples will be collected from the GSH site.  Off-site contingency options have been identified following discussion with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).  These sampling stations may be visited if work is disrupted by prolonged bad weather.


Further Information:

Figure 1: Survey Location

Figure 1_Survey Location_Survey 1016S

 Figure 2: Sampling locations

Figure 2_Sampling Location_Survey 1016S

 Table 1: Station Positions

Table 1_Survey 1016S

 Table 2: Chariot Transects

Table 2_Survey 1016S web

July 15, 2016
by Ruth Allen
1 Comment

Tracking Atlantic Salmon and seatrout smolts

Deploying Acoustic receivers

Deploying Acoustic receivers

Scientists from Marine Scotland  are working with the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Ltd, in association with Glasgow University and local migratory fish interests, to monitor Atlantic Salmon smolt (Salmo salar) and seatrout smolt (Salmo trutta) as they migrate from the Cromarty Firth to their feeding grounds.

As part of a programme, the fish are being tagged in rivers feeding the Cromarty Firth and Marine Scotland has installed 40 acoustic receivers on a line from Burghead to Tarbat Ness to pick up signals from the tagged fish as they swim past. Additional receivers in the Cromarty Firth will separately monitor smolt movement and survival in the Firth. The aim of the survey is to determine whether or not the smolts natural migration route indicates that it may bring them into contact with any of the Renewable projects in the Moray Firth.

More Information


July 11, 2016
by Ruth Allen
1 Comment

When a research vessel became an aircraft carrier…for drones

Drone in flightDuring cruise 0816S, which ran from the 22nd to the 25th June, 2016, eleven marine scientists set sail from Aberdeen harbour towards the small island of Stroma in the Pentland Firth aboard MRV Scotia. The team was comprised of scientists from Marine Scotland, Aberdeen University and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).

The cruise’s aim was to survey seabirds and sea mammals using traditional visual methods at the same time an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) surveyed photographically the same transects. This simultaneous surveying will allow a quantitative and qualitative comparison between both these methods. The images captured offered enough detail to discern the many up-wellings and tidal rips in this highly energetic site.

Data were also collected from one of either the multibeam echosounder or the acoustic doppler current profiler (ADCP) at all times during the cruise. The data collected from these devices will help to characterise the hydrography of the area of study and provide information on the physical events and features in the water column. These water column events can be linked with surface events photographed by the UAV. Surface water temperature and salinity records were also collected throughout the cruise.

Aerial view of the Inner Sound from the drone cameraSome of the marine species spotted were razorbills, common and black guillemots, fulmars and gannets. A small number of harbour porpoises were also identified as well as one minke whale. The cruise ended on the afternoon of the 25th June and the Scotia berthed at Scrabster harbour ready for the next trip.

It is very useful to have detailed knowledge of sensitive fauna as well as biological and physical processes of a site targeted for offshore energy development. This can help to streamline and speed up consenting of the site and prioritise considerations during construction and operation. The Inner Sound of Stroma will host the Meygen tidal site. This is the first consented tidal stream energy array site in Scotland. The findings from this survey will greatly inform the potential impacts of this development. The full tidal cycle from ebb to slack water to flow was captured in a variety of ways that have expanded the knowledge of this location.

In addition to the data collected from the Scotia itself, baseline noise was collected using sound recorders attached to drogues that were deployed from the Scotia’s small vessel. A staff member from SAMS, experienced in these techniques, completed this part of the work. Background noise from the whole tidal cycle was recorded.

Once analysed fully, the results of this survey will give a holistic picture of the entire system in the Inner Sound as well as proving if identification of seabirds and sea mammals can be done with UAV technology to a reliable standard. This trip serves to highlight Scotia’s scientific data collection versatility and her capacity for continuous work as a lot of information was generated in only three working days

There is currently a substantial amount of hype surrounding the use of drones for monitoring and investigation work. Many new companies are created each week in Scotland alone. The initial impression of the scientists staffing cruise 0816S was that this technology will be a useful addition to the scientific arsenal and will increase the amount and quality of data gathering for a variety of tasks.


More Information