In recent years, we have noted increased dolphin and seabird sightings during our fishing and sightseeing boat trips aboard Snapper Charters. As a result, we have become increasingly interested in conservation and attended a number of courses to improve our knowledge and boat handling around the species we encounter.

Over the past year we have become WiSE accredited and attended a Marine Life Dolphin, Whales and Seabird Identification Course. Most recently, one of the Snapper Charters team completed the necessary training to become a Volunteer Seabirds at Sea Surveyor (VSAS).

What is VSAS?

The Volunteer Seabird at Sea Surveyor course is organised by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and aims to teach attendees the skills needed to collect high quality and standardised data. Once trained, volunteers can attend surveys aboard vessels and ferries to collect data on seabird numbers and distribution. This data can then be used to guide conservation efforts.

Up until this year, the course has only been delivered in Scotland. The JNCC have recently partnered with Marine Life to increase participation in England and make use of the relationships the charity has with shipping and ferry companies in the UK. Marine Life regularly have surveyors on voyages from Penzance to Isle of Scilly and aboard MS Oldenburg from Ilfracombe to Lundy.

Bird Survey Course, Weymouth

The VSAS training team ran two courses over a week in November – one was aimed at newcomers and the other was geared towards experienced surveyors looking to take the next step to become a survey mentor. On surveys mentors are paired with less experienced bird watchers to help them record and input data correctly.

Both courses comprised of a classroom session followed by 1/2 days on the water putting learning into practice. The land-based session was necessary to teach attendees the skills needed conduct surveys in a standardised way.

Classroom learning

Course leader, Emily hosted the presentation, which explained the various methods that are utilised during surveys. We learned how to use the specially designed data entry app and how to make a range finder to help judge the distance of birds from the boat. These are vessel specific and take the vessel height, surveyors height and arm length into consideration!

Seabird survey onboard Snapper Charters

Snapper was chartered for the boat survey section of the course, so that course attendees could practice their new found skills in the field. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on our side, so we were unable to venture offshore as planned and had to stay within the confines of Portland Harbour.

The team were pleased to have this back up option and were surprised at the abundance of birdlife to record. A variety of species were spotted over the 3 sea days, including guillemots, shags, cormorants, herring gulls. The highlight was a Great Northern Diver and a surprise appearance from resident bottlenose dolphins, Honey and Whippersnapper.

All course attendees had a great time and left with an excellent understanding of how to collect and enter data to Marine Life and JNCC standards. They are now permitted to join surveys on routes across the UK.

The Snapper Charters team were delighted to attend and facilitate the VSAS bird survey course from Weymouth. It was great to be a part of the conservation efforts and learn new skills that we can put into practice during our own fishing and sightseeing trips.

We hope to be involved with more conservation efforts in the future.