The Big Seaweed Search

This month COAST has been focusing on kelp and other seaweeds in their series which looks at the habitats and species that are found under the waves in the South Arran Marine Protected area. In some of their posts on social media they have highlighted The Big Seaweed Search , a citizen science project that is a great way for us to help monitor the effects of climate change on the marine environment. Read on to find out what COAST say about the importance of seaweed, and further below to find out more about The Big Seaweed Search and how to get involved.

To protect our marine environment it is vital we protect the kelp and seaweeds that support our marine ecosystems. Seaweeds mitigate the effects of climate change, coastal erosion and are immensely valuable species in our oceans.
Sadly the effects of climate change – ocean acidification, ocean warming and sea level rise – are threatening our seaweeds around Britain, altering their distribution on our coasts. Careful monitoring is required for us to gauge a better understanding of how these environmental impacts are influencing our seaweeds and, therefore, the wider ecosystem.

Harvesting of wild kelp – particularly by mechanical means – threatens this type of macroalgae. Seaweed aquaculture represents a potentially sustainable alternative and is currently carried out in 37 countries across the globe. At a local level, this type of aquaculture could offset carbon emissions of agriculture, and also improve water quality in areas with high run-off from land.
A number of experimental seaweed projects have been established in Britain, for example at the Scottish Association for Marine Science and the University of Highlands and Islands in Shetland. Sugar kelp is the main output from these facilities, with investigations focusing on the use of seaweeds as chemicals, biofuels and speciality products.

As with many species we find in our seas, there are various ways to get involved to make a difference when it comes to Kelps and Seaweeds. The Big Seaweed Search is a citizen science project, spearheaded by the Marine Conservation Society in partnership with the Natural History Museum. This project is all about monitoring the impacts of climate change on our marine environment and the unique species that live there, through recording what species of seaweed are found where and how their distribution is changing over time.

The Big Seaweed Search

The Big Seaweed Search first launched in 2009. Hundreds of people have taken part and the data gathered, alongside other research, show that the distribution of seaweeds around the UK is changing. Contribute to real scientific research from the Natural History Museum and the Marine Conservation Society by searching for 14 seaweed species at any UK seashore. You take part at any time of the year and as many times as you like.

We need more people to record the seaweeds on Britain and Northern Ireland’s coastlines to support research on three key environmental issues:

• rising sea temperature
• the arrival and spread of non-native species of seaweeds
• ocean acidification (the sea becoming more acidic because of absorbing carbon dioxide from the air)

Why seaweeds?

Seaweeds form the forests of the sea – providing shelter and food for thousands of marine animals. Seaweeds are also important for people, they provide a habitat for fish we catch, are used in food, cosmetics, and medicines, and protect our coasts by reducing wave and storm damage. This economic as well as environmental value means it is important for us to monitor seaweeds so we can understand and sustainably manage them.

The British Isles is globally important for seaweed diversity, being home to more than 650 species. Unfortunately, seaweeds are not as popular as flowers, butterflies, or birds, so fewer people make and submit observations of them. Whether you live near the coast or are just visiting consider taking part in the Big Seaweed Search.

What do you need to do?

You can take part in the Big Seaweed Search at any seashore in the UK at any time of the year. For details of the survey, and to download or order a survey guide visit how to take part.

The Big Seaweed Search guide includes instructions on how to take part and an identification guide for the 14 seaweeds we are asking you to record. There is also a recording form where you can write down your observations and other important information about your survey site.

Once you have been out and about on the beach, enter your results and upload your photos on the online form or you can post them to The Natural History Museum. For more details see here

Photo credit: The Big Seaweed Search