One month into the Coastal Explorer Internship already! Time really does fly when you’re having fun, and of course working hard. Here Sherece will provide a short update on what she have been up to so far over the month of May, as well as some interesting facts she’s learnt along the way…

Surveys

As covid restrictions are easing I have been fortunate enough to get out and about on some of The Wildlife Trust’s citizen science surveys. The first one I took part in was Kent Wildlife Trust’s Little Tern survey which is part of the South Swale rare breeding bird protection scheme. Marie (assistant ecologist at KWTCS and little tern enthusiast) and I trotted down along the sea wall to find our survey location looking out onto the mudflats of the Swale estuary as the tide ebbed. It was visibly the perfect location for waders and wildfowl, particularly for little terns, laying their camouflaged eggs in shallow scrapes in the shingle. These birds are migrant summer visitors in the UK; the smallest of the tern species and the second most endangered seabird after the roseate tern. Thank goodness the area is restricted to visitors as it would be all too easy to step on a nest and eggs. Currently, according to the IUCN red list the little tern’s population is decreasing. That’s why our work to help monitor and record any potential nests sites is so important, as well as being present on site to also ensure walkers avoid the restricted mudflats and shingle where these birds nest. Perhaps due to the vigorous wind we experienced that day, the little terns were not to be seen at their nests. However, Marie caught a short glimpse of one foraging further out in the estuary waters. Other exciting bird species seen included: shelduck, eider, avocet, shag or cormorant, great crested grebe, and sandwich terns. Since our visit, little tern activity has been seen by other volunteers, and we hope increases as the season progresses.

Avocet seen at Castle Coote

The second survey I attended in May was the long running national ShoreSearch survey. I travelled to Pett Level near Hastings as Sussex Wildlife Trust was hosting the event. ShoreSearch surveys are open for anyone to join in, and a great way to get people connecting with the diversity of marine and coastal life hosted by our intertidal zones in the UK. The survey was established in 2003 as a way of collecting baseline data about the health of our shores. Along with the group of volunteers, I completed a walkover survey; this entailed us walking all over the exposed rock in the intertidal zone at low tide and exploring what species lurked there. We only recorded species identification not abundance; this is recorded through ShoreSearch but gathered using differing survey techniques such as quadrat sampling. The species I saw included: beadlet anemone, Sagartia troglodytes (a kind of anemone), barnacles, dog whelks, flat top shells, chitons, amphipods, a juvenile green shore crab, and a common otter shell. We also saw a very large common spider crab which was deceased, dog whelk egg cases, as well as a thornback ray egg case.  The volunteers on this survey were amazing, they held such knowledge about the intertidal species and helped a novice like myself gain a real insight into what I was seeing. A special shout out to a volunteer named Claire who taught me a fair few things in the hour and half we were out together, such as the fact that male barnacles have the longest penis relative to body size in the animal kingdom in order to reach surrounding females! And that dog whelks can be identified by their channel in the base of the shell, as opposed to periwinkles for example, which have a rounded shell base.

Photos of Spider crab (deceased) (left) and common otter shell (right)

London Offices

The Crown Estate is a large real estate agent in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; owning not only the seabed and half the foreshore, but multiple shopping complexes, Regent Street, and Windsor Great Park to name a few. Their London offices sit on St James’s Market and I was able to visit them this month and meet the dedicated marine planning team in person. Although I had already met most of the team virtually on Microsoft Teams, it was nice to get to know everyone face to face! At The Crown Estate I sit within the marine planning team, alongside members like Johnny who is a marine data advisor. He is working hard on the Marine Data Exchange platform- a free data source which holds data collected by companies who work with The Crown Estate, available for anyone to access and use. Another member, Axel, is an assets manager dealing with offshore wind; managing the lease, decommissioning, undertaking performance assessments, and working with partners and government to maximise efficiency. Not to mention those in the GIS team such as Joe and Sam, who collate all the information about the activities on the seabed (e.g. windfarm sites, shipping routes and pipelines) and turn it into a visual data analysis tool. These are just a selection of the people I’ve met so far, and I can already see The Crown Estate has a wealth of knowledge which comes from the individuals within it.

CHASM

CHASM stands for Crustacean Habitat And Sediment Movement. The project has many partners including Chichester City Council, Brighton University, Channel Coast Observatory, Sussex Wildlife Trust, and CEFAS to name a few. CHASM was founded in order to look into anecdotal evidence that fisher-people were providing with regards to crab and lobster declines around the Selsey Bill area. It has been up and running for little over a year now, and the partners have worked extensively to shed some light on the issues of crustacean decline and sediment change. Excitingly, I am now working on the CHASM project to produce an interactive web based map, which collates much of Channel Coast Observatory’s data for Selsey Bill and the surrounding area in East Sussex. I will be primarily loading topography, bathymetry, wave, lidar, and sediment analysis data onto the map, so it can be used as a public resource. Maps are great visual aids and here I have the room to be creative and make something which hopefully shows the bigger picture of what’s been going on in the Selsey Bill area over time. Watch this space for further updates!

Desk-Based Research

The project with Vattenfall is looking into renewable fuels for their crew transfer vessels and service operation vessels. For someone like myself who has mainly an ecological and conservation background, fuel and energy sources is a new field to explore. To start, I wanted to gain an overview of the current literature on renewable fuels for the shipping industry as a whole. I have listed a few below which give an insight into the types of fuel/ energy sources I have found (see figure below). Firstly, hydrogen: it can be obtained from a range of sources such as ammonia and water. To obtain hydrogen from water electrolysis is used to split the hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can then be used in a fuel cell which works much like a battery producing electricity but never needing to be charged. Commonly referenced are biofuels which expand a wide variety of feedstock’s (sources). Biofuels are any fuels derived from biomass; there are 1st generation biofuels, in which the feedstock is food sources e.g. starch, sugar, animal fats or vegetable oils; and 2nd generation biofuels, also known as advanced biofuels, which are not food sources, but feedstock’s, such as animal waste and waste vegetable oils. I have also found that there is research being undertaken into the use of battery powered ships, although the general consensus at this time is that the batteries would be too large and too heavy for big ships, or long distance journeys. Further to what I have mentioned there are many more fuels to look into the feasibility of, so on that note I best get back to it!

Preliminary research showing types of alternative fuels that could be used in a range of vessels.