Fishermen in South Devon, UK, have turned their boats into “massive data platforms” for a citizen science study. They have become the first commercial fishers to gather data for the Secchi Disk Study, which is gathering data on the state of the oceans’ phytoplankton. To date, there is little scientific information on the health of the tiny marine plants that form the basis of global food chains. The data will also help fishermen manage stocks.
“It’s very important to the fishing industry that we know the abundance of phytoplankton in the water because it determined the productivity right the way up through the whole food chain,” explains Richard Kirby, founder and lead scientist of the Secchi Disk Project. “They determine the amount of fish in the sea, the amount of crabs or lobsters on the seabed, even up to the number of polar bears on the ice.”
Launched in 2014, the project allows sailors and fishermen to download an app to their smartphone that allows them to upload readings taken from their Secchi Disk. The white disk measures 30cm (1ft) in diameter and is lowered into the water on the end of a tape measure. When it is no longer visible from the surface, the reading – known as the Secchi depth – is recorded. Marine biologists have been using the Secchi disk method to measure the abundance of phytoplankton for 150 years.
“We set up the project to answer a very big question. In 2010, three Canadian scientists conducted a study and produce some results that suggested that the amount of phytoplankton in the world’s oceans had declined by 40% over the past 50 years. If we remember that phytoplankton affects the abundance of life in the sea so that means there will be less life in the sea if the results are true.”
BBC brings you more on the bearing of phytoplankton presence on marine stocks here.