By Josh Tate
JNCC is back out on survey aboard the Cefas Endeavour!
This latest survey, to Dogger Bank Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the North Sea, forms part of the work being undertaken through Defra’s marine Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (mNCEA) programme. Through the programme, a team of JNCC and Cefas scientists will be carrying out a range of sampling in the North Sea to collect data for a number of projects.
What is the mNCEA programme?
In April 2022, the UK Government launched its Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (NCEA) programme, a flagship three-year Research and Development programme which is pioneering new ways of working to map the condition of England’s ecosystems and to transform decision-making for our land, coast and sea.
The marine arm of the NCEA programme (mNCEA) is leading the way in supporting Government ambition to integrate natural capital approaches into decision making for the marine environment and is a partnership across Defra and five of its arm’s length bodies (ALBs: Cefas, the Environment Agency, JNCC, the Marine Management Organisation, and Natural England), in addition to building cross-government, private sector and non-profit collaborations.
Across this partnership, the programme aims to deliver a number of elements, including:
- a comprehensive monitoring programme to transform our marine evidence base, supported by data sharing and evaluation capability;
- analytical and decision-making tools to transform the way we make decisions about our marine environment; and
- best-practice guidance and case studies to promote the application of natural capital approaches.
What are we up to on this survey?
During this survey, running for approximately three weeks across May and June, we are collecting data from the Dogger Bank Marine Protected Area (MPA), to improve our understanding of the site, following fisheries management measures which were implemented here in 2022. The work will help us understand how the area and its habitats and species contribute to wider ecosystem services, such as nutrient cycling and carbon storage.
Dogger Bank is the largest sandbank in UK waters, and extends into Dutch and German waters, although only the English portion is covered by the UK MPA. The MPA covers an area of 12,331 km2, approximately five times the size of the Lake District. The site is protected due to the presence of the Annex I habitat 'Sandbanks which are slightly covered by seawater all the time'; water depths at the site range between 13 m and 58 m below sea level.
A range of species live both on and in the sandy sediments found here, from crabs and flatfish that live on top of the sandbank; to small polychaete worms and clams which burrow into the sediment. Despite the sandbank name, in some parts of the site coarser sediments can be seen, with species such as ‘Dead Mans Fingers’, a type of soft coral colonising the gravelly seabed.
In order to identify the biological communities that live here, and the sediment types they are inhabiting we will mainly be using a grab sampler. Known as a Hamon grab, this uses a scooping action to take a ‘bite’ of the seabed, usually between 5 and 8 litres which we can than process for further analysis back on land.
Photo 1: Mixed Sediments from Dogger Bank MPA with Alcyonium digitatum (Dead man’s fingers) growing on rocks (© JNCC/Cefas).
Photo 2: Sandy Sediments from Dogger Bank MPA (© JNCC/Cefas)
We are also collecting samples from a number of other areas across the North Sea to inform other mNCEA projects which are aiming to explore and identify the variability in ecosystem provision across the North Sea. These samples will be obtained from various depths, between approximately 20 m and 100 m, and will be collected using a variety of equipment, including corers, water samplers, and a sediment profile imaging camera, to investigate both the sediment and the water above.