MSC Marine Life Identification Course – June 2014

Friday 5 June saw me in the car with Sarah, Carl & Thea on our way to Swanage so that Thea and I could do the Marine Conservation Society Marine Identification course over the weekend.  The aim was to refresh my memory (I did the course in 2002) and enable Thea (with her better young memory!) to be able to help me out on future dives!!

The theory takes place as Leeson House Field Centre in Langton Matravers (about 8 mins from Swanage) so at 9.00 on Saturday morning we were trying to get our brains in gear to learn all sorts of interesting stuff – the unlimited coffee and biscuits helped me a little bit!  We found out that often what appears to be a plant is actually a colony of animals, and that some jellyfish are not jellyfish (did you know that the Portuguese Man-O-War jellyfish is actually a hydroid not a medusa???).  Also a jelly fish is really just an upside down anemone (or vice versa) that moves!

Anyway, with our brains buzzing at lunchtime we went back to Swanage, picked up something to eat and then went to dive under Swanage Pier to collect specimens to identify.  Let’s just say that visibility was not very good – we surfaced to discuss the situation, decided to surface swim a bit further down the pier and try again.  The viz had marginally improved so we collected our bag of goodies – I signed to Thea that she couldn’t put the velvet swimming crab in her bag – and returned to the steps to exit.  Quick shower & hair wash (essential for a teenager!) and we returned to Leeson House for more coffee to help us identify our collections.  It was amazing what we had found – a baby sea hare, ghost shrimps, sea spiders, sponges, sea squirts, algae, bryozoans, hydroids, anemones, small crabs and various snails, a flatworm, shells and nudibranch eggs.  All this in what appeared to be a bag of weed in some sea water!  Actually naming them was really difficult but it helped that sometimes Paul & Gerry who were taking the course weren’t always absolutely sure! 

Thea wanted to try out her new camera (not underwater!):

So day 1 was over and a wander around Swanage, some food and drink, a sleep to refresh the brain and we were set for Sunday morning.

On Sunday we moved up to the larger, more familiar species – starfish, crabs, lobsters, fish.  Again the variety and trying to work out whether a flatfish is left or right eyed flummoxed some of us.  We were then told we had a quiz (coffee and biscuit time again!!) where we were given photos and asked to put them under the correct phylum heading.  The instructors appeared to be impressed that we didn’t make too many mistakes – and we all blamed someone else in our group if there was something wrong. 

A lot to take in, but it jogged a few memory cells so hopefully I will be able to identify more accurately some of my photos in the future.  I’m sure that Thea will put me right if I give the wrong name.

Only downside to the weekend was being initiated into the Conway yellow car game on the journey  – don’t ask!!

Report by Jenny Hubbard




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