Samantha Blampied is an award winning marine ecologist, PhD candidate, and Spot X customer based on the wild Channel Island of Jersey, studying through the University of Plymouth. Sam’s primary field of research is around the effect of fishing gear on biodiversity, and identifying areas that may benefit from closures or No Mobile Gear Zones (NMGZ). Sam was generous enough to tell us a little bit about the Jersey marine environment and the important work she is conducting.
Can you tell us about the area of Jersey, where it is, is it a country (??!!), (editors note-getting products to Jersey is not easy!) and the marine ecosystems found there?
Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands which are located just off the North coast of France. Jersey is a self-governing dependency of the UK, officially known as the ‘Balliwick of Jersey’ which includes the island itself and it’s offshore reefs which form part of my research. (There’s no easy way to describe what Jersey is I’m afraid!).
The ecosystems found here include seagrass, maerl (editors note- in Australia we would call this coralline algae or rhodolith), rocky reef, sand mason worm communities, peacock worm reefs, gravelly sediment, the list goes on and, combined, these habitats harbour an extremely diverse range of species.
The Société Jersiaise Marine Biology Section is very active, what is it about Jersey that attracts so many researchers?
I think the fact that we work with a wide range of marine species, from worm eggs to dolphins, makes it appealing to anyone who has an interest in the marine environment. We also have monthly meetings as a Marine Biology Section, which provides members with an opportunity to learn about what is going on in the marine environment and the opportunity to go down to the shore with marine experts. As a section we invite other researchers over and also get approached by researchers and students about possible projects to start up or get involved with, to which we always have many ideas. Being an island that is only 9 x 5 miles, the sea is never far away and we have so many different shore types, from sandy bays and rocky shores to caves and gully complexes. This, in combination with the diverse collection of marine species found here, draws many researchers to the island.
In 2017 you won the Insurance Corporation Conservation Award, can you tell us about your research, and it's importance to the management of marine areas?
This award was for the research I started as part of my undergraduate degree and eventually finished the following year after another summer of data collection. I was surveying the maerl beds that I mentioned previously. At the time, these beds were being dredged for scallops, the act of which fragments and smothers the maerl. Being a photosynthetic algae, maerl needs light to survive, so after a dredging event the maerl will likely die. To investigate this, myself and a team of divers went out to survey dredged and un-dredged areas of maerl using quadrats and core samples and compared the diversity between them. Unsurprisingly, the data suggested that areas with good maerl coverage supported more life than areas with poor maerl coverage. This was used as evidence to support the closure of these areas to dredging and a No Mobile Gear Zone (NMGZ) was designated. This now forms the basis of my PhD research along with another offshore reef that has been designated a NMGZ. This is also where the Spot X Squid comes in.
You and your team have been using GoPro cameras in the Spot X Squid live streaming underwater video housing for a few years now. Can you tell us how you use our gear to carry out your research?
I started using the Spot X underwater video system for my research in May 2018, however, it had previously been used by members of the Marine Biology Section to help with subtidal habitat mapping and to work out the extent of one of our maerl beds off the SE coast. I initially used the Squid to work out where my study sites would be and have now built a large tow camera frame around it with underwater lights and lasers to allow for more detailed video of my selected habitats. The surveys consist of 100m tows across the desired habitats to document the fauna and flora living and growing there. I have targeted comparable habitats inside and outside the NMGZs and will repeat the surveys over the same locations over the next two summers to record any change. Some areas are more diverse than others but we have already recorded some great footage of a range of species, from scallops and sponges to spider crabs and stingrays!
What are some of the other "tools of the trade" that you or your colleagues use for your research?
The other tools I will be using over the next few years include experimental pots and BRUVs (Baited Remote Underwater Video). The experimental pots have no escape gap so all the species which fall into the pot stay in the pot and allow for an assessment on the crab and lobster stocks at the offshore reefs. The importance in this being that the crab and lobster fishery is a big source of income for our local fishermen so it is important to monitor any changes in these species now that the NMGZs are in place. BRUVs are metal frames that have a bait box attached to an arm and weights attached to the bottom to keep it on the sea floor. Activity around the bait is recorded by an underwater camera and provides information about what mobile species are using that particular habitat. My last tool of the trade is my dive kit! You have to dive the reef to know the reef.
Where can people follow your work?
My Twitter profile is @sammyblampied (I don’t tweet very often but I’m getting better!). My PhD is part of a wider project being run by the Blue Marine Foundation to work towards more sustainable fisheries and updates about my work can also been found on their Twitter and Facebook accounts.
What Sam says about the Spot X Squid:
The camera is great, it's a really sturdy piece of kit and has even survived several run ins with the odd rock. Great communication and service from you guys too, I really appreciated that you sorted out the delivery to a small island on the other side of the world, thoroughly impressed.