|With only happy memories of our Welsh escapades we cried ourselves to sleep when Kate's trip was blown out earlier this year. Happily it was re-scheduled and we were set to survey scallops... god it was hard work! There were plenty of scallops, filthy old scallops, to clean so we could count their rings. The oldest were in their twenties and there were hundreds... maybe we should have jumped ship onto the other boat which seemed to get the less well populated sites. Shellfish shaving apart there was a lot of interesting stuff on the seabed too, clingfish, porcelain crabs, mystery gobies and blennies as well as Pogges and a big Red Gurnard|
'Am I lookin' at you?'
Seasearch Surveys - Scallops 2009
part of the Seasearch community we have access to a great calendar of
events - organised in places you'd like to go to by people who know
what they're doing. It's like being in a club ...only without the
awful gits who know everything apart from how to make a dive trip
work - and we don't miss those at all. One of our yearly highlights
(admittedly just for the last couple of years) have been our trips to
The scallop diving was rescheduled after savage weather earlier in the year but we weren't to be denied our taste of hard labour ;-) Each survey has its own methods and techniques which make these dives a challenge and a definite break from the norm. For the urchins and starfish our 30m transects ran across rocky reefs and we measured and counted all those we saw within 1m of the tape... It acted as a rehearsal for the scallops. These mighty animals had to be collected when they fell within a metre of our straight line transects so they could be cleaned and aged on the surface.
Kate is one of the wardens of the Skomer Marine Nature Reserve and so as well as knowing the place like the back of her hand she has created a schedule of worthwhile surveys which maintain monitoring of key species and keep her army of volunteers occupied. The events are well attended and on quite a grand scale usually requiring at least two hardboats. It's rather nice to do something worthwhile and all the more so when the dives are interesting. This years dives didn't sound very appetising, flat gravelly bottoms away from the dramatic rocks we'd expect to dive.
The Skomer reserve's own hardboat Skelmy is used to ferry kit from the Martin's Haven beach to the hard boats used for the diving. Skelmy has jet drive so can work right up to the beach but isn't insured as a recreational dive boat. This saves all the heavy lifting required to carry kit along the narrow, lumpy path and metal gantry which tourists use to board the day trip boats to Skomer. It's still worth running your heavy gear down to the beach head before parking the car for the day at the top of the road.
Once out on the water the dive sites are rarely far away so I've never seen anyone look even slightly green. The boats stay out all day so a packed lunch is a good idea. Though it's not always necessary, if you're on the right boat the catering is very impressive. Appreciative divers have been served Mackerel poached in white wine!
The dives were on sandy, gravelly bottoms (smirk) around 20m, running out a 30m measuring tape before returning down the line collection any scallops within 1m either side... this was good shellfish country so we were soon weighed down. I've collected scallops before but these were going to be cosseted rather than consumed. The simple topology of the seabed was no obstacle to interesting diving. After a while we got our eyes in and we could see that the gravel was alive with porcelain crabs, it didn't stop there of course. The coarse seabed was perfect camouflage for a variety of small animals; prawns, gobies, dragonets, clingfish and spider crabs for a start.
Back on board with our cargo we had a few seconds to reflect on what interesting dives they were before we were put to work. Scallops are bivalves, they have two parts to their shells, they settle on the bottom with their flat side up and their pot bellied side down. The curved sides stay clean but previous studies had measured the flat, top sides so that was the plan. Unfortunately they had collected a thick layer of concreted sediment alive with sessile and some quite nippy wildlife on. This made it impossible to simply read off the growth rings and a channel had to be cleared in the muddy deposit... how I started to wish we hadn't found so many! Only a narrow clean channel was required and the positions of each significant (annual) growth ring were measured... this was time consuming too as some of the scallops were over twenty years old. So it turned out to be quite hard work but we did at least feel less guilty about enjoying the free diving than we had on the much easier urchin survey. Next years task is to spot territorial fish which sound like a treat and we've been told is great fun.
So have we put you off? I hope not! I wouldn't want to pretend that this years scallop wrangling was a walk in the park but it was fun, the dives were good and the wildlife was very diverse – different again from anything we've seen in Wales before and on sites we wouldn't have even seen if we had been just diving with a club or by ourselves.
The logistics are fairly simple if you join a trip – you just need to take care of your food and accommodation. We've camped at the Foxdale camp site - www.foxdaleguesthouse.co.uk and stayed in one of the little cabins at West Wales divers - www.westwalesdivers.co.uk who are also the best source of squashed air. There are plenty of good places to eat nearby, particularly in Little Haven, and if the weather permits there might well be a barbecue :-)
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