Eight young people signed up for two days of training and marine fun, with the aim of gaining snorkel skills and learning about our fantastic marine life.
Day one was about snorkel skills and an introduction to marine life. Martyn from the Zone gave a lively talk about water and air pressure and the importance of equalizing the pressure in the inner ear when diving down to avoid ear damage. When we had finished in the classroom, we went upstairs to chat around the aquarium tanks that overlook Plymouth Sound. We had a close look at different types of wrasse, examined a venomous weever fish and looked at the differences between species of crab including a spider crab and a harbour crab. Matt, the MBA’s seagoing technician then gave a fantastic tour of the creatures in the seawater hall, in particular the small spotted catsharks and cuttlefish; his knowledge of fish and enthusiasm seem to be endless.
In the afternoon, we crossed the road to Tinside Lido. Thanks to Sally the Lido manager, we were able to use part of the pool to practise our snorkelling skills. The warmth and clear water helped the training along greatly and despite never having snorkelled before, the young people were soon familiar with their kit. By the end of the afternoon they were all diving down and equalising the pressure in their inner ear like seasoned professionals.
Day two dawned still and sultry. Barely a breeze ruffled the clear blue waters of Stoke beach as the Zone’s battered but trusty minibus, driven by the battered but trusty John rolled into the car park. A few quiet words from the girls saw Frazer – the youngest member of the group struggling down to the beach with three weight belts.
Kitted up and ready, we entered the water. After a few murky metres close to the beach, the visibility improved and soon we were diving in beautiful clear blue water over clean sand and between mighty rock outcrops covered in swaying kelp. A pair of compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella ) pulsated over the sand, long stinging tentacles streaming out behind. We watched and dived around them for some minutes, fascinated by their grace and beauty. Soon after, a spider crab strolling across the sand was brought to the surface for inspection. Some large ballan wrasse were spotted sculling around the rocks, and amongst the kelp we saw some huge snakelocks anemones, grey/greenish tentacles streaming in the current.
The training the day before really paid off with everyone comfortable and competent using their kit. The group dived in buddy pairs sticking to the ‘one-up, one-down’ rule. We were in deeper water now, the seabed 5 or 6 metres away and a little hazy. A long, gunmetal grey shape half covered in weed was on the seabed; was it a nurse hound? (a small shark). I dived down but as I got closer I saw the body was much thicker and smoother than a nurse hound. Then I saw the long tail with the dorsal fin running all the way to the tip and I knew I was looking at a good-sized conger eel.
By now some of the group were beginning to get cold. We moved inshore for a closer look at the kelp and to dive in gullies. Although Jay was clearly interested in marine life, this was partly because he wanted to eat it and he collected some seaweed (sugar kelp and dulse) for some kitchen experimentation later on.
A large spider crab and a nurse hound egg attached to some seaweed entertained us as we neared the beach and all too soon it was over. Several members of the group wanted to go in a second time, but time was not on our side.
We had a good discussion in the minibus on the way back, recalling what we had seen and sharing impressions of the dive. I recorded the marine life we saw and after checking it will be entered into databases and placed online alongside other volunteer records – a small but important addition to our knowledge of marine biodiversity.
All in all, two very enjoyable days were had by all. It was a real pleasure to introduce young people to their marine life at a great spot in perfect conditions. The feedback was excellent and we look forward to the next summer mix on 15th August.
See some pictures from the course, and of other marine-related fun at http://www.flickr.com/photos/bluesound/
If you would like to learn to snorkel or learn more about the UK’s marine life, contact the Blue Sound Project via www.bluesound.org