Skip to Content

All aboard the Marine Research Vessel Scotia!

Case Study 2019

All aboard the Marine Research Vessel Scotia!

Since 2003, JNCC has been commissioning and collaborating on seabed surveys in UK offshore waters. We have dedicated survey teams working on the collation of existing survey data and co-ordinating and running new surveys to provide the high-quality evidence needed to support the work of all marine teams within our organisation. This evidence is used to support the identification and designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs); to develop and implement monitoring for protected habitats and species both within and outside MPAs; and to assess the condition of the seabed to inform its future management. This all contributes to our goal of supporting sustainable economic growth through a healthy environment in the UK’s offshore marine waters.

To achieve these aims as cost-effectively as possible, and benefit from shared knowledge and expertise, JNCC works collaboratively with partners from a range of organisations. One such regular survey partner is Marine Scotland Science (MSS) with whom we run a ship-based survey every year to monitor changes to designated features of Scottish offshore MPAs.

In 2018, we worked with MSS to use the survey slot to conduct scientific fishing by day, and seabed monitoring by night, allowing us to extend the survey slot for our sampling and to extract maximum value from the time spent at sea.


JNCC/Marine Scotland 2018 survey

The 2018 JNCC/Marine Scotland Science survey (Survey 1218S) took place over 28 days from August to September, aboard the Marine Research Vessel Scotia. The survey covered three MPA offshore sites that were priority areas for JNCC and MSS from an MPA monitoring perspective, and for MSS fisheries’ scientists in terms of fisheries’ management.

In the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area (NCMPA) and the Rosemary Bank Seamount NCMPA, protected features include deep-sea sponge aggregations and their associated biological communities. At the Wyville Thomson Ridge Special Area of Conservation (SAC), the designated reef habitat protects features including vulnerable cold-water corals. JNCC worked with MSS to design the survey and sampling plan for each site on the basis of the conservation objectives that are in place for each one, taking into account existing evidence from previous research and survey work.

At the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt and Wyville Thomson Ridge, the main purpose of the survey work was to gather baseline evidence to assess the rate and direction of change in the condition of its designated features over time. At Rosemary Bank Seamount, the main aim was to gather evidence to better characterise the site’s designated features.  At all three sites, this involved enhancing our knowledge of the extent and distribution of the designated features and gaining an understanding of the environmental conditions and natural supporting processes present.

A large part of the survey data collected is photographic and video evidence. This was obtained by deploying digital still cameras and video cameras in underwater housings which were secured to a variety of job-specific frames lowered from the vessel to the seabed. To achieve as much coverage of each MPA as possible, video imagery was obtained from a chariot-towed camera, travelling at 2 knots along selected transects. For detailed video and still images, a drop camera was used, moving at a speed of less than 1 knot. Sensors were also attached to the camera systems to allow for collection of environmental data. Grab sampling, using two sizes of grab, was used to collect samples of sediment and marine species living beneath the surface of the seabed, for use in quantitative assessments of the seabed habitats and sediment grain size analysis.

Once back on shore, the survey data is processed by specialist laboratories (e.g. to identify the species collected), and is put through a robust quality assurance process, and then it is ready for thorough analysis and reporting by JNCC staff. Specimens are then sent to experts at the National Museum of Scotland, where the samples are retained for future reference purposes. Once all the survey data have been analysed, and the output products quality assured, they will form a crucial part of a dataset that will be used by JNCC to monitor how these diverse habitats change over time and to advise on their future management.

The new datasets will be made publicly available through reports and interactive maps on JNCC’s website and the Marine Recorder benthic database, and will be submitted/added  to the National Biodiversity Network Atlas . JNCC’s data from offshore seabed surveys are archived according to the Marine Environment Data and Information Network (MEDIN) data standards and are sent to Data Archive Centres (DAC).


Ongoing work

Survey 1218S is part of programme of annual surveys which build on each other to create an ever more detailed picture of the protected features within the MPAs in the UK’s offshore waters.

JNCC works collaboratively on marine survey work with a large number of organisations (including the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, the British Geological Survey, University of Plymouth, the National Oceanography Centre, Heriott-Watt University, and the Country Nature Conservation Bodies). JNCC welcomes expressions of interest in new collaborations to share expertise and resources.


Team:  Marine Monitoring & Evidence

Back to top