Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Very large protected areas... and paper parks? Suggested read.

Marine Conservation News: Protecting the Pacific Marine Monuments: In 2009, President George W. Bush designated three marine monuments in the central Pacific - totaling over 193,000 square miles...


A couple of weeks ago I did a seminar presentation (group..) on very large protected areas and the benefits and drawbacks of them. Generally, they are great, they cover a very large area and have the ability to protect as much life as possible. Key drawback? Paper parks. I'm not saying that all vLPAs are 'paper parks' but maybe there is a large degree of "hey, we'll stick this here, it'll look good, people'll like us and voila!"

Under the Bush administration he set to protect a fair few marine habitats (classifying them as marine national monuments). Fine on paper and looks great from a political viewpoint but if there is a lack of compliance amongst stakeholders/people involved then any rules or regulations set for these MNMs are not going to be instigated. For example, the blog post I have just linked you to is from the Marine Conservation Institute stating that despite three years passing since the designation of three MNMs, fishing is still not prohibited and the Coastal Guard will not enforce it.

Sort it out!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Teesmouth & Cleveland Coast EMS: Bird disturbance surveys with Natural England.

I know it hasn't been long since my last update but I should really talk about my trip to Redcar before I get too busy (or maybe I am just using this as a useful procrastination tool... who knows?) Anyway, I have mentioned it before in a previous post but alas I shall repeat myself (hey, it beats reading a rather dry paper about IUU fishing... I need to find a better one) - As part of my MSc in Marine Environmental Management I have to undertake a 8-10 week project placement (not work experience per se, but a project) where I do research and subsequently write it up into a 5000 word report (essentially another dissertation). Well, I was in a little bit of a predicament with what I should go for and in the end I decided to go with Natural England (and INCA) and do a project assessing the impacts of recreational activities on the overwintering and migratory birds at the Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast European Marine Site (EMS). This would mainly be through the use of spatial analysis (ArcGIS) and statistical analysis (oh joy ~ I can use either SPSS or, if I feel confident in doing so, 'R'). Well, after contacting the current EMS project officer, Katherine (who is sadly leaving at the start of next month) we decided on a date to go over some of the methodology and meet with some of the team, mainly to introduce myself and get some direction for my actual placement.

So, Tuesday morning I got up bright and early, jumped in the shower and made myself look quite respectable (I opted for practicality, comfort and a little bit of style if that's what you'd call it). I wasn't at all sure of the weather (come on, it's England, we can have all seasons in an hour) so boots and leather jacket it was. I wolfed down some breakfast (thank you lifesaver of a boyfriend), grabbed my Kindle for some light reading on the train (Little Women) shoved this and that into my bag and proceeded to train station with about 10-15 minutes to go. Note: This was during rush hour in York, i.e. very very busy indeed, particularly coming through one of the main roads into York... Still, I made it with about 5 minutes to spare (another big thank you to boyfriend who played taxis that morning) and flopped on the train for an hour and 5.

I met with Katherine at Middlesbrough station and we made our way to Redcar Rocks or Redcar 'Scars' as it is commonly known. We took a walk down the beach and set up just before the development of flood defence structures and just before the actual rocks.

Redcar Scars - flood defence development to the right

Behind where we took the bird surveys from - vertical pier, coastal area regeneration.

The scope was set up, binoculars were at hand and survey sheets were out - Katherine showed me how the methodology was actually done for the two hour survey (in summer, just one hour in winter was sufficient). It was important to do a bird count (species present and abundances of each) before the survey started. Species we were looking for included: cormorant, curlew, dunlin, knot, oystercatcher, purple sandpiper, redshank, ringed plover, sanderling, turnstone and then we could mark down other species. During the actual surveying of bird disturbances, we had to record the number of humans in and around the area, what they were doing (i.e. dog walking, angling, diving, bait digging, horse riding etc) and whether their activities disturbed any of the birds and to what extent. It was quite interesting anyway.
Redcar Scars - beautiful beach.
In the middle of our survey Catherine and Martin joined us from Natural England and I briefly introduced myself and we had a bit of a chat about the project. We then had a quick drive to another site where we could see the Corus Steelworks. They were pretty magnificent I have to admit. I didn't manage to get a photo of the whole site (or maybe I did, I'll have a root through my phone) but the whole of the area was covered (and I mean covered) in grass from the sand dunes. It was remarkable that a whole ecosystem, a stable ecosystem had successfully established on the waste products of such industry.

Redcar Corus Steelworks and the South Gare (I think?) sand dunes, an ecosystem built on the slag (waste products) from the industry.
We had a bit of a walk down Coatham Sands, Bran Sands and South Gare (it was extremely windy but pretty tranquil and the weather was perfect) and I really was in awe with the scenery. Unfortunately we arrived at this site at mid-tide so it was neither high or low tide. We couldn't actually do a survey due to this, however we did spot several hundred oystercatcher roosting on an exposed area of rock.

Once we had finished having a look around this site, we quickly piled in the car and head towards one of the booked rooms where we could meet Mike (also from Natural England), do the formal introductions to him and the rest of the team and discuss which direction I could take my placement. I still need to have a proper think about this but I have plenty of time. I then sat through their meeting reviewing the methodology and assessing whether aspects of it needed changing (simplification, replicates, further investigations etc). We then discussed my project and what I need out of it regarding the MSc assignment (I said I didn't know, Rach just forgot to check the VLE didn't she? Silly thing!) and I sat through their discussion of Katherine's Code of Conduct (CoC) that she had formulated - it looked great! It was a voluntary CoC for all recreational users of the beach, highlighting the problems of their activity, recommendations for where they should do it (i.e. further up the beach, away from feeding birds etc) and other considerations. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it even if I did go a little quiet when it came to discussing improvements. Still, it was a great experience for me to sit through a typical EMS meeting like that.

I'm currently in the process of penning an e-mail to those I met on Tuesday thanking them for the day and giving them a little more information on what my project requires and although it states that this is not work experience I would definitely like to get some work experience alongside doing my project. I mean, hey, I might not get a chance like this again!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Capenwray; our first two open water dives!

I'm currently in the middle of my second 'reading week' at the University of York and I feel like I've done very little work thus far... okay, scratch that I've actually done nothing this week. I have been fairly busy mind you, so I guess it can be excused just this once.

Last Friday night I had another pool session in Yearsley for my Open Water diving qualification, this time it was for 'dry suit orientation' since none of us had actually put on a dry suit, and buoyancy control in one is very different from if you were in just a wetsuit and a BCD. Anyway, once assembling the gear as we did every week (oxygen cylinder to the BCD, regulators attached to the cylinder etc) we struggled to get on our dry suits... well, I did, mainly because it was a little small getting over my bum - still, it was a hilarious struggle and everyone had a laugh at the same time! That's one of the main things I've learnt about diving (asides from "never hold your breath"), that it isn't the most glamorous of activities and yes, you will look a little bit like a stumbling Michelin Man but no body cares. Also, there may come a time where you really are struggling to get into either drysuit or BCD and there will be a number of hands over your body trying to either a) tuck you in or b) get the bloody things to fit right! Anyway, the pool session went well - we learnt to control our buoyancy using the actual drysuits (and cuff dumps to release air) and only use the BCD at the surface.

I drove back to my home town on Saturday night with my man so that it was much easier for me to drive to Capenwray in the morning (we had to meet at 9am and it would have been a 2+ hour drive from York... just over 1 hour from Warrington). I got up bright and early (and nervous) on Sunday, packed everything up, stuck on my million (+1) layers to brave the cold and set off (forgetting my lunch, typical). I arrived at Capenwray Diving Centre after a bit of a struggle finding Jackdaw Quarry, paid my £19 entry fee (+ trainer's fee) and met with the rest of the crew before getting ready for our first two OW dives.  We were given thermal underlayers to put on (unfortunately they had no 'small' so I was shoved into some medium/large thermals - not like I was bothered, it gave me a little more padding) and instructed to get into our drysuits up to the waist. I tried one on which was a size larger than the one I had tried on Friday and it first perfectly, albeit a little long in the arm and leg but at the end of the day as long as the cuffs were well and truly watertight it didn't much matter. We were given the usual safety briefing and site orientation which was interesting... we found out the water was a mere 4°C but visibility was fantastic as we could see from overhead.

Time for dive number one! We head back to the van to kit up, pile on the 18kg of weight (no wonder I was sore the next day) and made our way to the quarry. Before we left I did manage to get a cheeky photo in (without fins, mask, hood or gloves unfortunately) to which I think I look absolutely hilarious but it's all part of the fun...

My BCD, cylinder, weights, fins...

Miss Michelin Man 2012 ;)

Dive one was quite simple. All we needed to do was essentially swim around for the 20 minutes to get used to a) the cold and b) drysuits! It was freezing. I don't think I've ever been so uncomfortable in my life upon first getting in the water - I had a really bad head rush/brain freeze and I was contemplating signalling to our dive master and instructor that I wanted to get out. I stayed in and braved it to see whether it would ease off and it did so... all was well. We got to about 6m deep and swam around, over a sunken boat and towards one of Blackpool Pleasure Beach's carousel horses. That was funny. I was first in line and had to jump on its back (which is quite funny when you're still trying to get used to the buoyancy control. I think I rolled all over the place).

20 minutes were up and we got out of the water, stripped down to the thermal layer and changed into different tops for the next dive as well as donning a fair few jumpers, hats, scarves and gloves to warm up. A few hours later and after a quick briefing of the skills we would be doing for this dive we kitted up and headed back down to the quarry for dive number two.

Getting in a second time was just as cold if not colder but that's what you get for diving in the UK over Winter. We had to do more skills this time; fin pivots, half mask flood and full mask flood (both fine in warm pool water, not so much in cold temps), reg recover, share air with a buddy and share air with a buddy and ascend - I panicked a little when I had to purge the secondary reg (where I was breathing from my buddy's air supply) because my hands were that cold and numb I just couldn't press the purge valve so I could breathe! Instead I had to hammer it with my first, allowing me to purge it, allowing me to breathe and allowing us to ascend  These were all fine and once we were done and the 20 minutes were up we could get out and warm up.

Before heading back to Warrington to devour the most delicious lamb roast dinner (hey! I'd been diving, I was tired and hungry) I took a few photos of the dive site with my iPhone - what a beautiful place:

Sunday, 12 February 2012

'R' Statistical Environment - Scatterplot Matrix

Currently attempting to do my stats assignment using 'R' statistical environment. I really do wish I understood it, but I don't, in fact I am so far behind I think I'd like to cry right about now... Anyway. I'm currently in the middle of assessing the intercorrelation between variables and removing those which are intercorrelated since they can obviously affect the outcome. I need to do this by looking at the correlation coefficients of all variables and looking at the VIF (Variance Inflation Factors). That's fine, except according to Zuur et al. (2010) (I think?) we should be removing all with a VIF score > 5 (and a Pearson's Coeff of > 0.7) - at the moment, there ARE no variables with a VIF score of < 5 so that scares me a little. Of course, once I start removing the really large VIF-score variables the others should come down... We shall see.

I find the large scatterplot matrix pretty scary to look at - there's just so much going on!

Scatterplot matrix produced in 'R'

Success, just removed the first thing... Groupers... since it is my response variable and VIF scores have decreased a lot. Just need to do the rest now...