An Underwater Ecosystem & Flowers of the Sea Forest

To view the stunningly beautiful world beneath the waves as shown in the film below enter the password sea cucumber (music not yet cleared) The film shares the findings from Sea Change’s June 2018 Sea bed survey working with SCFF, and many many others, as the story shows)

John McIntyre found a wonderful quote from 1376 complaining about chains being dragged over the seabed.

‘the great and long iron of the wondryechaun runs so heavily and hardly over the ground when fishing that it destroys the flowers of the land below water there, and also spat of oysters, mussels and other fish upon which the great fish are accustomed to be fed and nourished’.

What has changed with regards to metal scrapping the seabed? However a lot must have changed in the sea if one considers what it might have been like before the industrial age.  Because of the shifting baselines from generation to generation few of us can even imagine the abundance in the seas that our grandparents or great grandparents would have known. Then imagine further back. What we have lost is hinted at by the quote,  for where are the native oyster beds now? Where are the ‘great fish’ accustomed to be fed and nourished by them? 

The great fish like our west coast Orca are so toxic they are thought to be infertile. The humpback and many other whale species were hunted to extinction.  The other big fish like cod are largely fished out. However what we do have is enough left in pockets to be able to glimpse this incredible ecosystem with its underwater flowers and great sea forests. It is not often understood that in places Scotland can offer the recreational diver as much beauty as any world famous dive destinations – with the exception of places like the incomparable Great Barrier Reef.

Sea Forests and Flowers of the Seabed 

As an analogy I’d like to think what we have underneath the shimmering surface of the sea is the underwater equivalent of a rain forest ecosystem. Like the rain forest it is a fragile habitat which we are damaging and cutting down to ‘feed the planet’ (humans) yet unlike the rain forest and the hills now denuded of forests, it is invisible to the eye. 

Dredgers and salmon farms and bottom trawling and other industrialised methods of extraction are causing the same kind of impact as if we cut down a rain forest for soy beans or beef cattle to support a multinational chain. Whilst providing some jobs the resource is slowly lost to the indigenous or resident community as a food resource and a source of fishing and jobs. It also undermines the natural asset which attracts people to it.  City office dwellers distant from the reality might like to chew on that when they munch into a Omega 3 packed farmed salmon sandwich, wrapped in plastic from M&S or Waitrose – or a dredged scallop supper. Not only has it damaged the ecosystem in Scotland but in the case of farmed salmon the Omega 3 may come from krill stolen from whales or anchovies from other big fish or indigenous populations in South America.  These small crustaceans and fish are the building blocks of all life in the ocean we remove them at our peril.  Recent research also shows small creatures of the seabed are being disturbed by toxins in microplastic.  The journal Biology Letters,  looked at the common periwinkle which grazes on algae but is eaten by crabs. Its central role in the food chain makes it a keystone species on beaches. Toxins in microplastics are inhibiting their reflex to hide from predators.  If the periwinkles are not able to sense and escape from the predator, they are more likely to disappear and then to disturb the whole food chain. 

There are so many pressures on our marine environment that it makes the recovery of marine protected areas all the more precious to protect to create resilience and pockets to reseed the seas from. 

No Christmas farmed salmon for me, nor dredged scallops or for that matter trawled prawns either – particularly wrapped in plastic!  The price of that mouthful is way too high.