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  • Junes DOLPHIN survey was fantastic!

    These are the days we live for! The seal survey on 11 June 2014 was as glorious as it gets! With calm sea conditions and bright sunny skies we setted off at 7:30am.
    All along the coastline were nesting sea birds, many with visible chicks waddling around the nest area. Herring gull chicks occupied many ledges on our journey out to the survey sites.
    There was a lot of commotion at the Kittiwake colony as a juvenile Peregrine falcon moved along the ledges removing chicks from their nests. Adult Kittiwakes flew in all directions squawking loudly as they did so. This Peregrine must have fledged in the last week. This is evident by its fresh and impressive plumage clearly displayed. Whereas the adult birds are currently undergoing their post breed moult.
    The Peregrine flew from the ledge to chase Herring gulls in the air for a moment before returning to the ledges, then flew again above the skyline and landed on the slope of the nearby island in the sun as we left the colony behind us. Despite this predation, the colony seems to be healthy in terms of numbers of occupied nests and growing chicks.
    During the course of the survey we saw lots of Gannets, flying by or circling and diving. We passed a large group of Manx shear waters, a Balearic shear water, 6 Puffins and a storm petrol.
    We were all at the front of the boat when Dave pointed out in front of us towards a pod of Common dolphins. They were heading for our boat so Chris cut back the speed, stopping at first and then maintained a slow and steady course as the pod joined us.
    There were 20 playful dolphins, they surrounded us, breaching into the air, riding the wake and playing at the bow and sides of the boat as another pod of 20 more dolphins joined them to play.
    It got very exciting so we sat higher to get a better view of them leaping out of and twisting underwater sideways, weaving in and out of one another. Then suddenly another 17 dolphins came to our boat and joined the others followed by another 13. By now we were all on cloud nine, pinching each other to check this was real. Never before have we been so totally surrounded by these magical creatures.
    The 70 dolphins were of mixed age, mostly between 1.5 – 2 metres in length. They stayed with us for a total of 37 minutes, continuing the same behaviours as we made our way onto the next survey site, not forgetting we had work to do!
    The dolphins carefully manoeuvred themselves alongside our boat, sometimes there was only a metre from them and us, we could clearly see all the markings and scars on their bodies and their watchful eyes peered up at us as they continued to play.
    I took so many photos that it was hard to choose just a few, so I put some of my favourites into a collage:
    Gradually the dolphins thinned out, leaving the boat in small groups not as large as the original pods that they had arrived in, until there were 4 remaining dolphins swimming at the front of the boat, swaying and weaving rhythmically underwater playing with the two bows of the catamaran as it moved through the water. These 4 common dolphins stayed with us for some distance before suddenly veering sideways and leaving us altogether in awe of the experience we had just had.
    Soon we were at the main seal haul out spot. In this particular survey we only saw 3 seals, which is not unusual given the time of year as the seals will be feeding further offshore. But it is the lowest number of seals we have ever had on a POLPIP survey! Despite the lack of seals all the volunteers agreed we may just have had the best survey ever, and all returned to normality on land with HUGE smiles on our faces :)
    All the survey data we gather is used in marine conservation and has played a huge part in designating the proposed Padstow Bay Marine Conservation Zone. A huge Thank you to Chris at Atlantic Divers, without you our important surveys would not be possible. Also a huge Thank you to all the volunteers who dedicate their time and money to make these surveys happen.


    Swimming with Manta Rays in Coral Bay

    I recently snorkelled with the Manta rays of Coral Bay, Western Australia. These rays are resident to the area all year round. They are a type of Mobula (Devil) ray of which the specific species is unknown to scientists and they have not been sighted in any other part of the world.
    The rays give birth to live young. The females can be followed by up to ten males during breeding but she is fussy with who she chooses to mate with; waiting until only the strongest, most persistent male remains.
    The Mantas I swam with were around 4m from wingtip to wingtip. There were two Manta rays, we think they were female as they both had scars on their left wing tips from where the males bite them to flip them over when mating.
    The Manta rays were so elegant and graceful as they effortlessly moved through the water sweeping up the plankton in lines, back and forth, turning around as they reached the end of each straight line. As they turned you could see inside their cavernous mouth and watch their Remoras follow them perfectly. It was one of the greatest things I have ever done – swimming with the Mantas, it was truly magical and I loved every minute of it. Thank you DJ, this was the best birthday present ever :) Here is my movie:

    To help in the conservation of Manta rays you should snorkel with an eco accredited company and adhere to a code of conduct to protect the Mantas. I snorkelled with Ningaloo Reef Dive, Coral Bay, Western Australia and would highly recommend them to others.
    Sadly, Manta rays are heavily targeted by fisheries in certain parts of the world where their gill raker’s are sold for use in Chinese medicine. This is leading to a rapid decline in population numbers, as the rays reproduce at a slow rate. Follow this link for more information:


    The bottom line is always money. The fishermen sell the gill rakers to earn a living. To help protect the Manta Rays it would help if we could get the message across to the countries where this heavy fishing is taking place, that Manta rays are way more valuable alive and that sustainable eco-tourism would bring more money than selling gill rakers.
    We need to conserve these beautiful creatures for our future.
    Thank you to Chris Zabriskie for the use of the sound track “Cylinders” in my movie.


    Storms Reveal Ancient Forest on Daymer Bay Beach, North Cornwall

    14th March 2014
    All around our coastline there have been huge geomorphological changes that came with the ferocious stormy seas and high winds that we have experienced quite consistently throughout this winter. I wrote a blog recently exposing how the Spring Tides and Storm Swell caused damage in Polzeath .
    However, some of these changes have brought to the surface some fascinating insights to the natural history of our county.
    There have been huge shifts in sand on Daymer Bay in North Cornwall, this has revealed evidence of a 4,400-year-old forest. Between 4000-5000 years ago the coastline at Daymer Bay would have been between 5 and 10 miles further out and this area was covered in extensive forest.
    This stunning piece of preserved history reveals secrets from Cornwall’s past and research is being conducted into it’s climate and environmental conditions of the time.
    Frank Howie, Cornwall Wildlife Trustee and chair of the Geoconservation Group, said around 20 tree stumps have been uncovered on the bay, which grew when the climate was slightly warmer than today.
    “The storms have revealed trunks of pine and oak as well as possibly beach and yew, and as well as several rooted tree stumps, Neolithic shell middens and fossil soils containing snails, some now rare or extinct in Cornwall, have been exposed,” Mr Howie said.
    These submerged forests are evidence of how the sea level has risen. It is said that there are also fossilised frogs, toads, undergrowth and other species associated with vegetation of this kind.
    It is hoped that in time the ancient forests with again be covered with sand. Mr Howie adds, “These sites are all very fragile and it is likely that any further storms and trampling by interested onlookers may damage the deposits.”
    Signs of damage are already visible. Here you can see how chunks of the ancient soil are breaking away:
    Here is an example of how the run off is eroding through the delicate layers:
    There are many other beautiful natural wonders that the storms have uncovered recently such as these stunning sand formations and large boulders with huge quartz crystal veins cracked open by the elements exposing the glittering treasure inside.
    We are very lucky to be given this amazing opportunity to see our past so vividly on our shores.
    For further reading see the article published in the Cornish Guardian – Storms uncover 4,400-year-old forest on Cornwall’s Daymer Bay and the article by the BBC – UK storms: Ancient forest revealed in Mount’s Bay sand. This article details some of the other interesting things that have been uncovered around our coastline.


    Second Ever Winter Survey!

    Survey Date: Saturday 7th december 2013
    This was our second ever winter survey! The sea was slightly rough as was the weather with a north westerly breeze and drizzle for the first hour. Fortunately this did clear which left quite good survey conditions for the rest of the day.
    Throughout the survey there was a large presence of Herring and Black-backed gulls both on ledges and in the air. Gannets were also present throughout the survey.
    Surprisingly we came across one ledge of 23 Guillemots in prime nesting locations at a very early point in the year to be considering nesting behaviour.
    As we made our way towards the Quies, the sea became particularly bumpy and rough, which provoked seasickness in some of the volunteers as we saw a seal nearby in the water.
    Although we didn’t realise it at the time two cheeky little seals followed our boat for a fair stretch of the journey and it was only afterwards when Sue went through the photographs that she realised we had initially counted these several times but this was rectified for the reports and database.
    At around 14:40 we spotted one Harbour porpoise, a very shy creature and although it was only a quick glimpse it was clear that its dorsal fin was more triangular than sickle shaped.
    This survey followed on from and backed up the data from the first winter survey. At the main seal haul out spot we again encountered a mass of hauled out golden brown seals.
    As previously, we held our distance back to prevent any disturbance of the seals. The seals are particularly vulnerable when there are such large numbers hauled out as there could be dangerous consequences and injury if there were to be a big flurry of movement. We watched carefully in our binoculars as Sue took a series of photographs to count from. On this survey we saw 252 seals, of which unfortunately 3 were netted seals.
    On our way back to Padstow Chris jumped out of his seat, sure that he had seen a Bottlenose dolphin swimming fast towards us. Excited we all ran to the front of the boat and peered over the edge and out to sea. There was no sign of it. Usually Bottlenose dolphins would be part of a pod rather than on their own and after a while of watching, became unsure that he had really seen anything so we carried on.
    On a recent Carracks and St Agnes survey Sue had seen seven Bottlenose dolphins, of which managed to identify five and added one young dolphin to the photo ID catalogue.
    The views over the estuary were beautiful in the fading light as we waited for the incoming tide to reach a height allowing us to land at Padstow Harbour and to have a sneeky peek at the Christmas market!
    All the survey data we gather is used in marine conservation and has played a huge part in designating the proposed Padstow Bay Marine Conservation Zone. A huge Thank you to Chris at Atlantic Divers, without you our important winter surveys would not be possible. A huge Thank you also to all the other volunteers who dedicate their time and money to make these surveys happen.


    Successful First Ever Winter Boat Survey on the North Coast of Cornwall

    Survey date: Friday 22nd November 2013
    Following the success of the summer surveys and the enormous amount of data we have been gathering on seals, sea birds and cetaceans we decided to fill the gap in the data and run winter surveys :) We are pleased to have been given the opportunity to run these surveys with Chris from Atlantic Divers, Newquay on board their catamaran whilst Matt’s Cornish Sea Tours RIB is out of the water over the stormy winter months.
    Organising a winter survey was always going to be a challenging feat, with winter swell being so much bigger and wind so much stronger than the summer months. Co-ordinating days to suit our experts and hoping conditions will be right on these days, then finding enough volunteers to fill the boat in what could be testing conditions. However, we did it! We could not have been luckier with the conditions on the water being great and the sun shone its heavenly rays down on us like it was springtime.
    There was a good team of us, Sue from Cornwall Seal Group was photographing the seals for the ID catalogue, with Tina recording data; Derek aka the Camel Birder recording the bird data and myself recording mobile species such as cetaceans with the help of several other volunteers from the Polzeath Marine Conservation Group.
    We set off from the small pontoon by the Harbour masters office in Padstow at around 10am following our usual route along the north Cornish coast surveying the stretch between Padstow and Boscastle and all the islands in between.
    A short distance away near Stepper point we came across our first seals nearby some Shags on the waters surface. On nearby cliff ledges were 25 Fulmars and 8 Kittiwakes. The Fulmars leave the cliffs during September and October, float way, moult and come back again with their new plumage in November.
    On the first of the islands we visited, was perched a Peregrine Falcon on top of the rock stack keeping a vigilant eye. There was also a fair amount of bird activity on the next island along, amongst which we spotted a Purple sandpiper.
    At around mid day we stopped briefly to check the engines. From the back of the boat we were treated with a brief glimpse of 2 – 3 Porpoises moving steadily away from the boat. As they moved further away we got a couple more glimpses before they disappeared into the distance.
    There was a lot of bird activity on the next island along but this time no peregrine. Although we did see three seals at this location for the first time ever!
    Further along we spotted a pod of 4 -5 Common dolphins. Again they were only brief glimpses going into the distance but exciting nonetheless.
    We soon approached the location of the main seal haul out spot. On this survey however, due to the size of our vessel and the sound of the engine we decided we would need to stay back further than previously on the RIB. We approached with caution and passed slowly once. We could view the seals in our binoculars, there were masses of seals unlike the numbers I have previously seen. It was an incredible sight with the usual grey band of stones and boulders impressively replaced by a solid band of golden moulting seals. Sue took a careful series of photographs that she could later count from by marking each seal as she has counted it.
    On our return journey we were passed by a Common Scoter, a type of dark sea duck. Common Scoters can be seen offshore all year round but large numbers arrive from October, leaving again from March.
    As I am writing this blog I am looking through the photos that I took and reminiscing in awe of what a successful and beautiful day we had and how we were so lucky to see hundreds of seals- 436 in fact! This included two netted seals.
    This Herring gull followed us for several miles as the light began to fade.
    Herring Gull
    The gannets dived as we pursued the sunset towards stepper on our journey home, what a beautiful day :)
    All the survey data we gather is used in marine conservation and has played a huge part in designating the proposed Padstow Bay Marine Conservation Zone. A huge Thank you to Chris at Atlantic Divers, without you our important winter surveys would not be possible. A huge Thank you also to all the other volunteers who dedicate their time and money to make these surveys happen.


    Spring Tides and Storm Swell causes damage in Polzeath

    4th January 2014
    Last night and this morning saw tides reaching 7.6 metres and with 29 foot of swell the surges struck with consequences in Polzeath. There is a clip taken by Sky News of one wave wiping a local van off the road as people gathered to watch the high tide, http://news.sky.com/ click on ‘weather causes widespread damage’ on the right. Here is a screenshot for those that can’t access the news article:
    The swell washed past the Polzeath Marine Centre, luckily the centre itself is fine but unfortunately there is a lot of damage elsewhere in Polzeath.
    The beach information sign has been washed away along with half of the bank of sand.
    The RNLI lifeguard hut and Surf Life Saving Club has been quite badly damaged.
    Some of its contents were seen halfway down the beach.
    The surfside cafes decking has been partly swept away along with their vehicle and some of their furniture.
    There have been huge shifts in sand exposing the foundations of the steps and also some strange metal fixings along an old concrete wall that was previously buried.
    Large debris such as nets and lobster pots have washed in.
    Conezones wall was pushed down by the surges.
    At Daymer, much of the sand dunes have been washed away as have the heavy duty steps leading down to the beach.
    Many locals have said that this is the worst storm swells and high tides that they have seen here on the North Cornish coast.


    After the Storm

    4th November 2013
    Just two nights ago the storm was frighteningly close; one strike so mighty it felt as though it had struck my house. The whole world rumbled beneath my bed. All was fine for us on land in Cornwall; however, the coming days showed that life in the oceans has been quite something else.
    The Cornish coasts this week have been storm battered. Huge swells and high winds have stirred up our vast oceans. Huge waves have crashed upon our beautiful coastline and many marine lives have been affected.
    On the strandline a scary reminder of the huge amounts of marine plastic that spends its time swirling around our oceans as tonnes of the stuff came washing in. Yesterday there were two distinct strandlines. In the high strandline were huge amounts of large plastic items. Pictured here are some of the more useful items that were collected.
    washed up beach toys
    The second and much scarier strandline was a huge line of countless nurdles and tiny fragments of plastic, colourful like confetti. Many millions of pieces from microscopic sand sized pieces to bits that were a couple of centimetres across.
    This is not just a localised problem. Marine plastic is washing up on every beach in every country, is suffocating every stream, river, lake and ocean in the world. The plastic will never go away; it will just break down into smaller and smaller fragments, which then finds its way into the food chain taking with it all the toxins that it has absorbed during its time in the water.
    Every creature in our oceans is being poisoned this way. It becomes more obvious in the top predators and larger marine mammals, as the toxins build up in their systems.
    The fierce conditions out to sea have caused numerous strandings around our coastline; this Harbour Porpoise is sadly one of two that have washed up in the last week in Polzeath.
    If you discover a stranded marine creature the best thing to do is to contact the Marine Strandings Network 24 hour hotline on 0345 201 2626. All reported strandings are investigated by a team of dedicated volunteers. This gives us important insights into the health of our marine life and oceans, valuable information can be obtained from these strandings without intervening with live animals.
    Any live strandings should be reported to the BDMLR which is an organisation dedicated to the rescue and well-being of all marine animals in distress around the UK. The rescue hotline is 01825 765546 during office hours and 07787 433412 out of office hours.
    After a storm you will also find some interesting things that you would not normally see wash in, pictured below is a wooden pallet that had clearly spent some time floating in the ocean and had become encrusted in Goose Barnacles.
    goose barnacle-washed-in
    I had hoped that the winds would have died down enough this week to conduct a boat survey along our coastline of seals, sea birds and cetaceans to try and fill a gap in the data. Conditions had been predicted borderline for the coming days but unfortunately the high winds are forecasted for a while longer. So we will have to watch and wait for better conditions. In the meantime with winter swells and continuing storms life in the oceans will continue precariously…
    For more information on some of the ways marine life is interacting with plastic the following blog is also useful: Mermaids Purses and Marine Plastic. And the following for information on pre-production plastic pellets in the marine environment: Nurdles.


    Swimming with the Fishes at Fortaleza


    Here is the full movie I filmed and edited of the dive at Fortaleza,Caleta de Fuste, Feurteventura back in April. We entered at Barranco off the boat and drift dived with the wall to our right. It was a simply serene dive with unbelievable numbers of fish. At one point I drifted over a Moray eel deep in it’s crevice. There were also starfish, Parrot fish, Wrasse, huge zebra fish, small Groupers, Box fish, Trigger fish, Damsels and lots more.
    Sequence 01small
    Thank you to Buddy Rich and Divemaster Tyler from Deep Blue Dive.
    Sequence 01-12small
    The soundtrack comes from “Ray – A Life Underwater” by Tony Higgins. Thank you to Tony Higgins and the Free Music Archive for the use of this music.
    Sequence 01-22small
    I hope you enjoy the video :)
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    Common Dolphins come to Play on the September Survey

    Survey Date: 6th September 2013
    Our September survey marks the end of the planned surveys for the year, and what better way to end than this day, it was perfect. The sun shone down on us as we kitted up and boarded the RIB, leaving the pontoon at around 11:00am.
    With Sue from the Cornwall Seal Group taking the photos for the seal ID catalogue, Abby from Cornwall Wildlife Trust recording seal data and myself recording sea bird data in Dereks’ absence along with Cetacean sightings.
    The day began with a peleathera of sea bird sightings, some beautiful Cormorants in the air above us, Shags on nearby ledges and Black-backed gulls on the waters surface. We surveyed the same spots as in our previous surveys for continuity of data, although, on this trip we changed the route and order we would visit each site to work around the low tide times.
    As we expected at the Kittiwake colony all was very quiet, now that the breeding and nesting season have come to an end. We recorded only four perched birds and three in flight compared with 340 Kittiwakes recorded on the June survey.
    As we passed Mother Ivys beach a Raven alongside us put on an aerial display of skill and wonder, diving and aerobatic rolling almost as if it were trying to impress our group.
    At the first seal haul out site were ten seals hauled onto the rocks and another one in the water, with numerous birds also on the rocks and a Fulmar flying overhead.
    As we moved onto the next haul out location a Razorbill flew past us.
    We started to make our way across a stretch of water to the next survey site as we saw seven circling Gannets. Every now and again one would dive elegantly and accurately into the sea, folding their wings back at the very last moment before entering the water.
    Whilst in awe of the diving Gannets we were approached by a small pod of curious Common dolphins! Here is a video that I have filmed and edited of our encounter with the dolphins:

    If you cannot see the above video, try this link.
    There were between twelve and sixteen Common dolphins, mostly juvenile and they swam alongside our boat for around ten minutes whilst we maintained a slow and steady course. It was simply AMAZING! We were all so happy to see the dolphins, and it’s lovely to feel that they also seemed happy to see us.
    The youngest dolphins seemed the most curious, approaching within a couple of metres to our boat. Soon, the magic was over and the dolphins continued their journey without us.
    Sequence 01
    As we approached one of the islands we survey, two Puffins flew over us as we took a count of the Shags and Cormorants. Soon we reached the main seal haul out locations, a large number of the seals were hauled out making them easier to spot and to photograph for the ID catalogue, a large number of these seals were juveniles. They also seemed to be more curious today than on previous surveys. We kept our usual safe distance but there were a few seals that left their rocks in an attempt to get a better look at us. Others simply put their heads up to see us over their rocky resting places.
    The weather had been predicted to rain quite heavily for most of the duration of our survey. Luckily the storm clouds didn’t unleash the forces of nature until well into the last hour of our trip.
    On our way back into the estuary after a particularly exciting day the icing on the cake were four Arctic Turns gracefully flying over the estuary in front of us.
    On this survey we saw forty-five seals most of which were hauled out onto the rocks. This is suggestive that the seals are transitioning from foraging and they are preparing for the looming pupping season. It would be useful for the data to carry out a mid-winter survey, something that we have not done before. We would expect to see an even higher number of hauled out seals, possibly even be lucky enough to see some seal pups!
    All the survey data we gathered is used in marine conservation, and has played a huge part in designating the proposed Padstow Bay Marine Conservation Zone. A huge Thank you to Matt and Ben at Cornish Sea Tours, without you our important surveys would not be possible.
    Thank you to all the volunteers who dedicate their time and money to make these surveys happen.
    For more information on the seals around our coastline or about the work of Cornwall Seal Group, visit their website here. If you would like more information on the Polzeath Marine Conservation Group including future events or how to volunteer, visit their website here. For more information on Seaquest Southwest, a marine recording project run jointly by Cornwall and Devon Wildlife Trusts which collects sightings of all marine creatures from the public click here. For more information on the bird life along the beautiful Camel Estuary visit the Camel Birders website here.


    Hedgehogs in your garden?

    8th September 2013
    Earlier this year I was really lucky and won a HandyKam Trail Camera in a competition. The camera works by way of a motion detection sensor, so you only record the footage or take the photos you want rather than filling the memory card with hours of nothing. This battery saving technique means that you could leave the camera set up over a period of months to film and even has a time-lapse feature.
    I have been setting the camera up with the children in different locations to try and capture glimpses of wildlife. We have filmed various birds on feeders, repeat visits from a cheeky squirrel on the same feeders and Common Pipistrelle bats flying over our garden.
    Only the other day I found a poo in the garden that I hoped might be a hedgehogs. The size looked about right and although our garden is quite new and we’d never seen visiting Hedgehogs before it is a very hedgehog-friendly place.
    That evening I set up the trail cam excitedly and left it for a few days.
    Here is what we saw when we watched the footage:

    :) We were very happy :)
    Help our Hedgehogs!
    Hedgehogs are one of our national treasures and worryingly they are in rapid decline. I remember some evenings as a child when I would gaze out of the window and see up to five happy Hedgehogs feasting on my lazy cats dinner! Sadly until today, I hadn’t seen a Hedgehog for many years.
    There is something we can all do to try and help, here is a short list:
    -Stop using slug pellets, border your flowers and veggie patch with eggshells instead. The sharp shells will stop the slugs from eating your plants.
    -Make small gaps in the base of your fences. And ask your neighbours to do the same; Hedgehogs wander up to 4km per night, with so many closed gardens more hedgehogs are wandering onto dangerous roads and have insufficient space to forage.
    -Check bonfire stacks before lighting them, there might be a nesting Hedgehog inside.
    -Wildlife ponds are great places for nature but make sure that yours is creature friendly with gently sloping sides and escape routes for any creatures that fall in – do not use a pump if you want to attract maximum wildlife!
    -You can feed your visiting hedgehogs. They like cat or dog food but please do not be tempted to give them bread or milk as this will give them upset tummies leading to weight loss. A skinny hedgehog going into hibernation will not make it through the winter.
    -Create a wild space in your garden – this can be long grass with wildflowers (also good for our declining Bee populations), log or leaf piles; these provide for excellent Hedgehog foraging and potential nesting sites.
    -Build a hedgehog house. Click here for a good example of how to make one.
    If you are lucky enough to see them in your garden, enjoy your prickly visitors. A trail camera is not expensive and will give you hours of pleasure setting it up to capture these magical images of these beautiful animals in your garden. Go to the HandyKam website for more information.
    For more information on conservation projects in Cornwall see Cornwall Wildlife Trusts website.
    For ways that you can support Cornwall Wildlife Trust including becoming a member and volunteering visit here.