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Communities invited to help better understand rare shark species in Wales

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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People of all ages can dive into marine conservation and learn about the extraordinary sharks, skates and rays living in Welsh coastal waters, in a new project which gives diverse local communities the chance to be part of a ‘green recovery’ in Wales.

Launched on 23 February 2022 by the Zoological Society London (ZSL) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW), Project SIARC is enlisting the help of fishers, schoolchildren, researchers and citizen scientists from across Wales to better understand some of the more unusual coastal species, such as the angelshark (Squatina squatina) and common stingray (Dasyatis pastinaca), listed as Critically Endangered and Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species respectively.

The project has received a £390,000 grant from the Welsh Government’s Nature Networks Fund which was delivered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, as well as a £180,997 National Lottery grant from National Lottery Heritage Fund and £40,000 grant from On the Edge.

The Welsh coast is home to a range of marine life, including 26 species of sharks, skates and rays – a group known as elasmobranchs. Elasmobranchs are an important part of Wales’ natural heritage, with significant conservation and cultural importance. Despite this, little is known about their biology and ecology.

Although community engagement and research will be focused at two Special Areas of Conservation (SAC): ‘Pen Llŷn a’r Sarnau’ and ‘Carmarthen Bay and Estuaries’, Project SIARC offers a wide range of free in-person and online opportunities, from learning how to identify elasmobranch eggcases, to helping detect sharks in underwater video footage, and scouring archives for historical information. In addition, Project SIARC will identify opportunities and break down barriers to ensure a wider range of people from diverse backgrounds are able to access and get involved in marine conservation.

This engagement will be complemented by research led by Project SIARC scientists in the SACs, which includes taking water samples to detect elasmobranch DNA, deploying underwater cameras to assess what elasmobranchs and habitats are present, and working closely with fishers to gather information on the focal species.

Joanna Barker, Project SIARC Senior Project Manager, ZSL said: “We are delighted to launch Project SIARC with our partner organisations to showcase the incredible elasmobranchs found in Wales. Project SIARC combines biological and social sciences to address critical data gaps for elasmobranchs in Wales whilst generating a new appreciation for the underwater marine environment. Currently, few people in Wales can witness these amazing species first-hand, but we hope that the Project SIARC citizen science opportunities, school engagement programme and outreach will bring the underwater world to your doorstep and enable a wider range of people to be involved in marine conservation in Wales.”

Several organisations are helping to deliver Project SIARC, including Bangor University, Blue Abacus, North Wales Wildlife Trust, Swansea University and The Shark Trust. It is also supported by an additional nine organisations that sit on the Project SIARC Steering Group.
Project SIARC is an expansion of Angel Shark Project: Wales, which was set up in 2018. Data gathered as part of Angel Shark Project: Wales evidenced the importance of the Welsh coast for angelsharks and was used to develop the Wales Angelshark Action Plan.

Jake Davies, Project SIARC Coordinator, NRW said: “Project SIARC grew from people’s input and enthusiasm for Angel Shark Project: Wales. Communities started sharing exciting information about all sorts of sharks, skates and rays, which provided new insights on the ecology of these little-studied species. That meant we could develop Project SIARC – their input was incredible. For Project SIARC, we will use similar techniques to better understand how angelshark, common stingray, spurdog and tope use Welsh waters and how they interact with habitats protected by two of Wales’ largest SACs.”

School children are also encouraged to get involved. Project SIARC will scale up the success of online “meet the scientist” sessions from Angel Shark Project: Wales, to reach thirty schools across Wales. The project will also work with ten schools around Carmarthen Bay to try their hand at 3D printing shark models, which will be used to educate the next generation about elasmobranchs.

Mr Griffiths, Headteacher at Ysgol Gynradd Nantgaredig said: “We are very excited to get involved in Project SIARC, it will be extremely valuable for our year five class to learn about sharks, skates and rays living off our local beaches. We are particularly keen about the prospect of introducing industrial digital technologies, such as 3D printing, as a tool to reinforce teaching on sustainability, biodiversity and art. It will enable the children to really connect with the environment around them and understand how much we all rely on the natural world.”

Ben Wray, NRW Project SIARC Manager & Marine Ecologist added: “Co-led by ZSL and NRW, Project SIARC is part of a wider integrated approach in Wales driven by the Well-being of Future Generations and Environment Acts. This recognises that resilient ecosystems are fundamental to the well-being of people in Wales. By re-connecting people with nature, we can support improvements in mental health and well-being as well as encourage better stewardship of our seas and reverse the decline in biodiversity. It also highlights the interconnections of global environmental issues, such as the climate and nature emergencies.”

Anyone currently living or residing in Wales can get involved with Project SIARC by visiting www.projectsiarc.com or following the work on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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New North Wales dive boat for 2023 season

UK DTA Team

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Duttons Divers, the North Wales based Scuba diving company, have been going from strength to strength with the expansion of a new dive centre last year, and now the addition of a second dive boat.

Duttons already offer guided shore and boat dives around the North Wales area, with their current dive boat, Little Viv, taking divers around the Llyn Peninsula. The area offers an array of marine life and variety of dive sites, including wrecks, caverns, scenic wall dives and of course their colony of curious seals at the Tudwals Islands.

The new hard boat has a diver capacity of 10, which can be booked as a single diver or as a group charter booking. The boat has toilet facilities, a kitchen for refreshments between dives and dedicated storage areas for kit.

Clare Dutton says: “We are extremely excited for the addition of the new boat. Little Viv is a great asset to our activities, but now being able to offer dive space only trips too for divers to explore the stunning area around here will make it even better.

The dive sites within this location offer something for all level of diver interest, from shallow interactions with the seals to deeper wrecks with tonnes of history. We are all very excited for the 2023 season!”

Duttons are now taking bookings for the 2023 season. Follow the link for more information: www.duttonsdivers.com/dive-boat

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Palaemon Divers to open new dive centre in Warrington

UK DTA Team

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Hugely popular scuba dive centre in the North West, Palaemon Divers have expanded and are opening their second dive centre, this time in Warrington!

Spreading across two floors, the new dive centre will become the only scuba centre in Warrington, with an in house compressor to provide air fills to both members and the public, classroom, workshop and fully stocked retail scuba floor.

With the new site opening, also comes a second pool night for those new to the sport and experienced divers to jump in and try it out or practice skills. With a pool night already on a Wednesday in Speke, and the second pool night starting on a Tuesday in the Warrington area it will allow easy access to training nights.

The existing 5 Star PADI dive centre in Liverpool offers training and scuba experiences within the dock itself along with a scuba club in which the divers take monthly litter pick dips and regular trips around the UK and abroad, and try dive experiences available for beginners all the way through to professional level courses.

After opening the site in Princes Dock in January 2022, the site has trained and introduced 100s of new divers from Merseyside to the sport, ran regular scuba kids clubs (aged 8+) in the pool and the Docks and numerous team building exercises for companies in and around Merseyside and is looking to introduce Warrington to the same!

Director Leanne Clowes said:

“We are really excited to open our second dive centre after the huge success of our Princes Dock site in Liverpool, and can not wait to introduce the Warrington community to the amazing sport that is scuba diving!

We have been looking for a while where our second site would open, and we have had are minds set on Warrington the entire time so really happy to find our perfect second centre at Evans House Business Centre, Norman Street WA2 in a previously converted micro brewery site!

Palaemon Divers Warrington will be open fully from January 2023, however we are available now to get in touch with for queries regarding courses starting in the new year. For further information on our open day please check out our socials!”

David (Director of Evans House Business Centre) says:

“We can’t wait to have Palaemon Divers on board, they will be joining an impressive number diverse companies that call Evans House Business Centre their base from an Escape Room, to specialist fitness suites, craft workshops and a number of trades. Evans House Business Centre really is an excellent facility to visit!”

Whether you have always wanted to see what scuba is like or you are a certified diver looking to join in all over the UK and abroad on sociable dive trips – get in touch, Palaemon Divers would love to have a chat!

To contact the Palaemon Divers team or find out more:

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