Taking to Lulworth Cove like a duck to water

Our team, hailing from the Natural History Museum (NHM), Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and University of Bristol, recently took a trip to Lulworth Cove, Dorset on a filming and data gathering mission. The aim of the trip was two-part, to build on existing information for our on-going kelp monitoring project and to gather footage for a short documentary film for the NHM.

The main goal of our excursion was to gather data for an on-going project: piloting novel methods of rapid assessment of kelp distribution and abundance using sonar technology. Multi-beam sonar data had previously been obtained for Lulworth Cove from the UK Hydrographic Office. However, to corroborate information obtained from the multi-beam data, single-beam sonar and ground-truth (video) data are needed.

Lead by Professor Juliet Brodie of the NHM, our team set out on the road on Monday afternoon (15th May 2017) towards our destination on the Dorset coast.

20170516_125333Kelp (Laminaria digitata) washed up on the beach at Lulworth Cove

After initially tackling busy London traffic, followed by a long drive through the British countryside, we arrived to our hotel in Weymouth on Monday evening. Our first port of call after getting settled was finding somewhere to get a bite to eat, before heading to bed, in anticipation of a long day of data gathering and filming.

Bright and early the next morning, we readied ourselves and set off to Lulworth Cove. We met Dr Gary Barker of Bristol University at Lulworth and, once we’d sorted out the lay of the land, went straight to work. First, we began our day with a trial run close to the shore on the northern side of the cove, to test and calibrate our equipment. After a successful trial, we were able to continue transects, zig-zagging across the cove, gathering video footage of the seafloor and sonar data as we went.

Soon it became time to switch tasks and the next segment of our day, until lunch, was dedicated to filming. Sally Weale and Callum Muir of the NHM media department swung into action and began directing and shooting some of the footage they needed.

During our midday lunch break, we quickly became encircled by many of the local residents. I’m referring of course to the resident ducks of Lulworth Cove. Visitors who flock to Lulworth Cove (pun intended), come to view the historical and unique geomorphology of the cove, on the ‘Jurassic coast’. These visitors, who, on the most part are families, tend to bring with them packed lunches, which quickly become lunch for the ducks. This has resulted in some of the most inquisitive and fearless ducks I’ve ever come across, who soon became a surprising source of entertainment and companionship while we carried out our work.

20170516_120934Juliet chatting with some of the ‘locals’ about our work

After lunch, Gary and I headed back out into the cove in the kayaks to continue transects, while Sally and Callum headed up the steep hills surrounding the secluded cove, to gather some aerial footage of the kayaks. We finished up for the day just in time for the rain start pouring. Upon arriving back to the hotel, the GoPro footage could be briefly assessed and some issues were detected (largely related to visibility). Luckily, we had one more day in Lulworth Cove to gather any more data we needed.

We woke on our final day on the Dorset coast to a wet and miserable morning. However, the dreary and damp weather did nothing to dampen our spirits (see below). We set out quickly, taking advantage of high tide, for another day of data-gathering inside the cove. A few more shots were needed by Sally and Callum and after a short interview from Juliet we were able to call time.

20170516_124256Sally and Callum gathering footage of Juliet and Gary kayaking in Lulworth Cove

After one last costume change out of our wetsuits, our trip to Lulworth Cove had come to a close. There was only time for a quick lunch and an investigation of the local fudge and fossil gift shop before setting off, in a bid to beat the London traffic.

20170517_131228High spirits (despite the weather) on the final day in Lulworth Cove

Despite the weather, the trip ended on a high and smiles all round, a successful few days in the ‘chocolate box’ town of Lulworth Cove. Now that the fun part is over, the data processing/analyses can begin.

Initial look at data from Lulworth Cove

Upon arriving back to the office, collected data could be assessed. After a preliminary inspection of the ground-truth GoPro footage and sonar data, the trip appears to have been a resounding success (see below). We were able to gather all necessary data to move the project forward to the next stage; assessing kelp distribution and abundance in Lulworth Cove and corroborating results with single-beam and ground-truth data.

kelp2Top: Single-beam data gathered using a Lowrance Fishfinder showing areas on the sea floor with and without kelp. Bottom: GoPro footage of the sea floor from the corresponding site, showing presence and absence of kelp

What next?

Hinging on the success of the assessment of Kelp distribution and abundance in Lulworth Cove, we are hoping to conduct another assessment in different location along the UK coast. This will largely depend on the information gained from our Lulworth Cove data, but all going well, it won’t be too long until we don our wetsuits once again and brave some more quintessentially British weather.

20_editedGary and I after taking our last waypoint on our final day in Lulworth Cove

Matthew Bennion

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