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Why Dr Judith can only just see the seashells on the sea shore

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St Helena has a wealth of marine life - and not all of it swims
St Helena has a wealth of marine life – and not all of it swims

Two high-power microscopes have arrived on St Helena – and they’re going to be needed to examine some of the marine life found by scientists.

Some molluscs discovered hiding in sand are only four millimetres long.

Dr Judith Brown and her team have been searching the sea – and the archives – to try to build a picture of the kind of marine life that doesn’t swim around the island.

“To date 168 different molluscs have been entered on to the St Helena marine species database,” she says in the island’s environmental newsletter.

“The range and variety of molluscs is huge, with some very tiny animals (4mm) only found by sifting through sand to other larger animals which are common around the shoreline.

“Two new high precision microscopes have also just arrived on island for the new marine laboratory which will greatly help in the identification of all the species we find.”

Judith arrived on St Helena in 2012 from the Falkland Islands. As manager of the Darwin Marine Habitat Project, she is leading a team trying to create a list of all the marine species around the island.

She explored the waters around the Falklands, South Georgia and Ascension before arriving on St Helena.

In December 2012 she carried out her thousandth dive off the island, at Bennett Point, where she was excited by the discovery of a side-gilled sea slug – “a brown blob”. The species had never been recorded in the island’s waters before.

Not all of the exploration has been underwater. “Much time has been spent wading through pages of literature from as far back as 1890 to see which seashells have previously been recorded from around the island.”

One problem is that the names given 100 years ago may not be the ones used today. 

Images also have to be gathered – from drawings, from the team’s own finds, and even from the internet, to help divers carry out surveys.

Once a thorough database has been compiled, a marine management plan will be drawn up for the island. Scientists will be able to survey habitats and conduct counts to find out whether species are declining or thriving.

  • Dr Judith Brown’s background is in commercial fisheries. She conducted her doctoral thesis on the Patagonian toothfish and has spent many months at sea on commercial fishing boats. She was a key member of the Shallow Marine Surveys Group, which investigated undersea life around Ascension Island in 2012, as reported here.

Read more:  Environmental Management newsletter, March 2013

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