An incredible sighting of 70 adult basking sharks 3 miles north of Guernsey as well as early leatherback turtle sightings in Cornwall suggests that 2004 will be a great year for spotting spectacular marine wildlife in our seas. The Marine Conservation Society's (MCS) Basking Shark Watch and Turtle watch sightings schemes, encourage the general public, especially sea users, to record their encounters with these animals. Joana Doyle, MCS Biodiversity Projects Officer, explains why we need you to keep your eyes open this summer! The Basking Shark, reaching 11m (36 feet) in length and weighing up to 7 tonnes is the largest fish in the North-east Atlantic. Their colossal size allows them to be easily identified as they glide through the surface waters filtering up to 2000 cubic metres (that's equivalent to an Olympic sized swimming pool) of seawater per hour feeding on the minute plankton. The critically endangered leatherback is the largest of the marine turtles reaching a length of 2.9m (12 feet) and is the most commonly recorded marine turtle in our waters. Very little is known about the life history and ecology of these spectacular animals, so it is vital that we continue to collect information on their numbers and distribution to aid management and to provide recommendations for their protection in Irish waters.
MCS has been promoting public participation in Basking Shark Watch since 1987, and as a result we have received over 17,000 shark reports from the general public. This has led to the identification of 'hotspots' for shark spotting- Southwest England, the Isle of Man, the Firth of Clyde and possibly Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland. Turtle Watch was launched more recently in 2001, but since then over 150 turtle sightings have been reported to the national database of turtle sightings. But it's not just the giant sea creatures that MCS is interested in. Last year we launched our National Jellyfish Survey with the aim of creating a national picture of the seasonal and geographical distribution of jellyfish. Hopefully the results will allow us to predict where foraging leatherbacks might occur when they visit our seas.
We are appealing to you to report your encounters with marine wildlife and jellyfish swarms in order to help us increase awareness and knowledge of these extraordinary creatures of the ocean. Please call us for copies of our Basking Shark Watch recording cards, the UK Turtle Code or the MCS Jellyfish ID Guide. Alternatively, basking shark and turtle sightings can be reported online at www.mcsuk.org and turtles can also be reported to Marine Environmental Monitoring on 01348 8750000.
Joana Doyle Tel: 01989 561 591 Biodiversity Projects Officer Fax: 01989 567815 Marine Conservation Society E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Unit 3, Wolf Business Park www.mcsuk.org Alton Rd, Ross on Wye, HR9 5NB