Keep Cold and Carry On – Battling the Beast from the East in the Solent

April 4, 2018 by Jacob Kean Hammerson

The last thing one expects when the monthly Solent oyster monitoring comes around is to be battling a Siberian weather front, but that is exactly what we faced last month. Over 25 brilliant volunteers braved the freezing conditions to help me tend to thousands of oysters.

Phil from Open Seas marvels at one huge oyster

As temperatures started to plummet on Saturday morning, I arrived at Hamble Point marina to meet with ambassadors from Action for Conservation, a charity founded in 2015 to move and empower young people to protect the natural world. Some had come from as far as Manchester to get their hands on some oysters. The session started with a talk about the project, and I was left astounded when one of the ambassadors gave a perfect description of denitrification that I couldn’t have hoped to better. Perhaps they had a few things to teach me…

All hands on deck to get the oysters in their new housing

Down on the pontoons we pulled the cages up and, as usual, a plethora of marine life came with them. Ambassadors were tasked with counting and identifying the flora and fauna. Among the species found were tompot blennies, snake pipefish and a LOT of sea squirts. Each team diligently counted their cages and were awarded points based on the number they counted. I can officially announce that ‘Oyster Funerals Ltd.’ were the highest scorers. Happily, that was the only thing their business was successful in, as monthly mortality was encouragingly low.

As we got back into the warm and the day drew to a close, my mind couldn’t help but turn to the week ahead and how we were going to cope with the forecast.

As Monday dawned I was pleased to see blue skies and sun instead of the forecast snow. My relief was short-lived, however, as when I stepped out of my front door the cold washed over me. Despite the cold, I arrived at Land Rover BAR HQ to see six excited but freezing volunteers patiently waiting to get started. Not wanting to waste time, we quickly gloved up, put on our lifejackets and headed to the pontoon. The hard work and dedication of all volunteers on the project will never cease to amaze me. In just 3 hours we had checked over 1,000 oysters, made cages for a further 200, packed and tidied up after ourselves. No mean feat in minus-five conditions.

Oysters at Land Rover BAR safely return to water

Tuesday presented a much sterner test at Sparkes marina, Hayling Island. With only three of us we had to make new housings for over 1,000 oysters and the snow had started to fall. The sheer grit and determination of Ludo and Catherine was superb as snow began to settle on their heads and shoulders. There were times I feared that we would not finish in time, but I should never have doubted the team. By the end of the day, with little feeling left in our fingers and covered in mud, we had achieved what we set out to. As a warm shower and a cup of tea were drawing ever closer I reflected that the ‘Beast from the East’ had proved no match for the Solent Oyster Restoration Project.

Catherine battles with the cold at Sparkes Marina, Hayling Island

On Wednesday we were visited by Nick Underwood and Phil Taylor from Open Seas, a Scottish based charity who promote sustainable alternatives to damaging fishing. Despite being hardy Scots, they were astonished at how cold it was, but they got stuck in none the less. Another long and hard day on the pontoons, another couple of thousand oysters were checked and returned safe and sound to the freezing water.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank Peter, Ting, Ludo, Catherine, Amy, Amanda, Cameron, Andy, Nick, Phil, Land Rover BAR, MDL Marinas and everyone from Action for Conservation for your help. I would never have been able to manage without you, you all deserve a very warm cup of tea!

The next week, we got news that makes all the hard work worthwhile: the first evidence of oysters spawned from our cages settling on the sea bed. PhD student Luke Helmer found a baby 5mm oyster attached to plate set out to help detect the oyster settlement. Here’s to millions more!

The first oyster spat

If you are interested in volunteering on the project, please send me an email at jacob@bluemarinefoundation.com!