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Marine Bird Surveys

The Marine Awareness Programme for seabird monitoring is an ongoing partnership between CalMac Ferries and Marine Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, with support from various conservation charities including MarineLIFE and ORCA BTO and the RSPB.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) were keen to survey as many routes as possible throughout the year, however were limited by a lack of qualified members of staff to undertake the surveys.  As a result of this JNCC and SNH recognised the opportunity to utilise citizen scientists to provide the survey effort.  However, citizen science had never previously been used to undertake European Seabirds at Sea surveys.

JNCC then developed a mentoring scheme to train citizen scientists to the required standard to undertake an ESAS survey.  The scheme consisted of a group of experienced citizen scientists undertaking training and an examination to gain ESAS qualification.  This group of qualified volunteers then acted as mentors to less experienced citizen scientists, providing training and the opportunity to develop the ESAS skills during citizen science surveys.

During 2018, pilot surveys were undertaken on 3 CalMac Ferry routes using small groups of citizen scientists. During the pilots the mentoring scheme was judged and was deemed a success and suitable for ongoing citizen science surveys under the Marine Awareness Programme. Therefore, the first ever European Seabirds at Sea standard citizen science program could commence. The pilots also aimed to identify the most suitable routes and vessels to obtain the most useful data.

The data collected allows the distribution of observations to be mapped, and species numbers within the surveyed area to be calculated. Over time, this will allow trends in the abundance and distribution of species present to be monitored, as well as highlighting areas that are consistently used by large numbers of birds and cetaceans.

The data represents the only ESAS standard data being collected on seabirds at sea in UK waters, and the only regular surveys of seabirds at sea in Scottish waters.  The data also represents the only ESAS data collected anywhere in the world by citizen scientists.

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