Study of Bird and Mammal Behavior in the Sound of Islay

The University of Aberdeen is running a study on the feeding behaviour of seabirds and marine mammals in the Sound of Islay for the month of June. We are doing so as a baseline study for several reasons. First to determine the range and abundance of species which may frequent the Sound. Secondly we will collect information in great detail about where and when each species spends its time actively feeding. Both of these objectives are connected to the Islay Community Tidal Energy Project, which the Island Energy Trust is running and which is considering the Sound as a likely place to locate Tidal Stream Energy Generators. The reason we are conducting this research is because the environmental impacts of tidal stream energy extraction are not yet understood. The placement of any marine structural development may affect the ecology of the marine environment in both positive and negative ways. In particular the placement of tidal devices may have possible direct and indirect ecological effects on the entire food chain, ranging from phytoplankton (small algae) to large mobile predators (such as seabirds, seals and cetaceans).

What do we mean by direct effects? Tidal mixing, especially areas of strong tidal mixing, such as the Sound of Islay, create regions with a high degree of turbulent upwelling properties that forces water up to the surface. These patches of upwelled water are what many marine animals rely on to capture their prey. Therefore the possible direct effects of placing tidal renewable devices are those that may impinge on the success of feeding by animals such as seabirds, seals and dolphins as it has been shown that they use strong tidal steams to help corral fish or simply to pick fish off the surface in locations with strong upward tidal motions. The indirect effects are possible changes to mixing properties of the water column which can strongly affect the primary producers at the bottom of the food chain. Primary production being the marine ecological equivalent of grass as the bottom of the food chain in terrestrial systems. These indirect effects can be felt many kilometers away from the actual device placement and may have knock-on effects to a wide array of marine animals. It is essential that we understand more about how marine animals actually use their environment and that marine engineers appreciate the important ecological factors that their devices may influence, even in the early planning stages of development. Continue reading.....Dr. Beth Scott, University of Aberdeen and Dr. Alan Owen, Robert Gordon University have collaborated on this issue in the past and will continue to do so for the Islay Community Tidal Energy Project. Researchers at both institutions agree that by working together, the subsequent interactive flow of knowledge both ways between ecologist and engineer, will beneficially influence and ease the implementation of marine renewable energy devices. Local bird expert, Fiona MacGillivray and Aberdeen University graduate, Helen Chance will be conducting the survey. Fiona will be covering the Sound on the coastline of Islay while Helen, based at Feolin Ferry House courtesy of Inver Farms, will cover the Sound from the Jura side.

We would like to thank all peoples of Islay and Jura that have made the set up of this project both efficient and enjoyable. We especially would like to express our appreciation to the Estates and land owners for allowing the researchers easy assess to the observation sites. We hope this will be a good month for observations and if anyone would like to report any interesting sightings of seabird or marine mammal activity during June please contact Beth Scott with the details of what, where, when, at b.e.scott@abdn.ac.uk or phone 01224 273257.

The Ileach visited project team member Helen Chance at Feolin Ferry, to learn about the survey plans. The survey area in the Sound of Islay runs approximately south from Port Askaig/Feolin to near MacArthur’s Head, and the same distance north from Port. The survey will involve 250 hours of visual observation with telescopes from the shores of Jura and Islay at various times of day and night and states of the tides, with additional surveys from a charter boat planned later in the month. Also, later in the month Beth and team will study the water columns within the Sound at varying states of the tides. At the completion of this study, the team hope to be able to compile some generic information which may be useful in assessing other similar sites, rather than exclusively specific information for the immediate area.

This article was published with kind permission of the Ileach local newspaper.

Tag: sound of islay wildlife study

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