Community Voices #4 - Marine management MSc student James Spilsbury
James Spilsbury joined COAST in July to work on a research project coordinated by the universities of York and Glasgow. He tells us what it’s like to study how seabeds are evolving now that dredging has been excluded from the South Arran MPA in this interview.
Why did you choose to study an MSc in Marine Environmental Management?
I did my undergraduate in environmental geography which was focused on terrestrial conservation, so I figured I wanted to explore the marine side of it. So it’s all been very new to me this year. There is a completely different world under the surface!
Why did you choose this project with COAST?
I found it interesting that the project was well defined, with a methodology in place and that it would be useful research with relevant results. It was one of the few available projects that was about Marine Protected Areas and this was very appealing to me.
Could you explain what your research is about? What is a day out at sea like for you?
I’m doing a series of 10 video drops within 6 different areas of interest around the South Arran Marine Protected area (MPA) and No Take Zone, previously located and studied by SNH. I’m especially interested in areas that were previously dredged or trawled.
Once the data collection has been completed, I’ll analyse the footage to identify all living species and seabed types such as mudflats, kelp forests or seagrass beds. The cameras have been calibrated to estimate the size of individuals.
So on a normal day out at sea...? We would find the point we have selected using the GPS, and drop the camera rigs. We wait for an hour while these are recording marine life and then pick them up and move to the next point. Once we have finished, I have to check batteries and lights, download all the footage and make backups, digitise the exact coordinates of each drop and weather conditions or any incidents.
What do you find most interesting about your research?
I found the fact that baseline data has already been collected really interesting as I’ll be able to compare and look into ecosystem dynamics and observe changes in fish populations and seabeds.
I look forward to going out with the boat each time. We are working with “Creelers” a local fishing business and Ian, whom I go out with, is very enthusiastic about the project and very knowledgeable and full of stories about fishing.
What have you found most challenging about your research?
So far we have had a few logistical issues. We are still in early stages of the project, collecting footage. This will be followed by analysing video footage and extracting information. Just keeping track of batteries and lights carrying heavy gear around is quite tricky. Working from a small fishing boat with two large camera frames isn’t an easy task!
What are you trying to achieve?
We’ll investigate whether high impact trawling areas have improved since the MPA has come into force. Although it is still early days, this data will be part of an ongoing process to monitor changes in this marine area.
What skills do you need to carry out a research project like this?
I think you need to be organised, have a good system in place and be patient with downloading and other methodical aspects of it.. You need to get your sea legs to bear with all conditions of weather. Specied identification skills would be good when it comes to analysing the footage.
Overall I’d say you have to be enthusiastic about it because the labour intensive, less attractive parts of the job, need to be done. You have to keep the bigger picture in mind.