Coastal researchers

Capturing Our Coast

People power became a vital tool in recording marine life thanks to a national project involving the University of Hull.

Capturing Our Coast connects the University of Hull’s longstanding expertise in marine biology and location within striking distance of the sea, with the enthusiasm of volunteers from the community.

The £1.7m Capturing Our Coast project, funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund, is a three-year project designed to build a more accurate picture of the marine life all around the UK. It spans the UK and has trained thousands of volunteers.

The research will help scientists to understand how the marine environment is responding to global climate change and inform future policy and conservation strategies.

The project is a national collaboration involving a number of universities, as well as the Scottish Association for Marine Science, the Marine Biological Association of the UK and the Marine Conservation Society.

It also involves a number of organisations including Earthwatch Institute, the Natural History Museum, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), the Coastal Partnerships Network and the North West Coastal Forum.

Once trained, these citizen scientists conduct surveys to collect baseline data against, which any future changes can be measured. Importantly these data will be publicly available via the National Biodiversity Network.

Since the project began, volunteers have been taking part in BioBlitz projects, including tracking alien invaders around the UK coastline.

For centuries, marine species have moved around either by hitching ride on the hulls of ships or as stowaways in ballast water. In many instances, species have been deliberately introduced for commercial purposes.

The ‘marine invaders’ campaign launched  earlier this year and saw volunteers record non-native species to help map the extent which these species are present to help scientists understand the impact they are having on the coastal environment. Volunteers can still help track the spread of these species by following this link to the Marine Invaders campaign.

Volunteers also took part in CoCoast Unite, a weekend of activities in June around World Ocean’s Day, which saw those attending take part in crab hunt surveys and rockpool rambles to gather vital information about the variety and abundance of intertidal species living on our rocky shores.

The latest campaign, which kicked off in October, saw volunteers monitoring the reproductive timing of lugworm populations on numerous beaches around the UK.

The lugworm is a vital source of food for wading birds and fish, and the species plays an important role in fisheries as a source of bait.

But spending their lives burrowed deep in the sediment, opportunities to find the perfect mate are limited. Instead, the males release sperm which collects in ‘puddles’ on the surface of the sand. When the tide comes in, the sperm is washed down into the burrows of the females and fertilises her eggs.

To help track the timing of these events volunteers were asked to assist in a campaign called ‘Spermwatch’. 

 The CoCoast project is a real ‘hands-on’ experience working on the stunning Yorkshire coastline exploring the diversity of marine species and learning about the key factors regulating their numbers and distribution, not only locally, but feeding in to the bigger UK picture.

Dr Sue Hull, Principal Investigator at the University of Hull

To date, the project has trained over 3000 volunteers nationally and over 1700 baseline transect surveys have been completed by CoCoast citizen scientists.

Dr Nicky Dobson, Capturing Our Coast Project Officer at the University of Hull said: “Public participation is crucial to large scale projects such as this, as citizen scientists are able to provide the necessary geographical coverage and data collection that would not be feasible for a few individual scientists. Over the last two years it has been fantastic to meet, and work together with, our CoCoast citizen scientists - many of which have gone on to advocate for the marine environment within their wider community”.

Delve deeper:

There are still lots of opportunities to get involved with the CoCoast project over the coming year, to get involved or for more information please  visit our project website www.capturingourcoast.co.uk or contact the regional team via email at cocoast@hull.ac.uk or on 07496 477417.

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