Friday, 24 July 2020

The Big Seaweed Search - helping out during lockdown

Here at MCS, we really appreciate all the help and support that our volunteers can give us. This year has been a bit different, but there are still ways that volunteers can help support our work. Sea Champion Sally tells us how she has been involved with validating data for the Big Seaweed Search.

Hi there! I’m Sally, a Sea Champion, (fair-weather) Seasearch diver and a marine biology placement year student working with the Marine Conservation Society and the Natural History Museum for the Big Seaweed Search project. (Yes, that is my seaweed-ing suit for anyone who’s wondering!)

So, a bit of background to me and why I get to tell you about the Big Seaweed Search. I became a member of the MCS in 2017 having spoken to volunteers at their stand at the ExCel dive show, but I only really got involved with MCS when I got to Plymouth University. There I met lots of brilliant and likeminded people, whereby I got roped in (in a good way) to become a Seasearch diver, something I had wanted to get into as soon as I moved down to the coast!

It was around that time that I met up with Jules, the (brilliant) Sea Champion coordinator for the South West, as she was recruiting Sea Champions to work with the University. As we were talking she mentioned the Big Seaweed Search project, something I hadn’t heard about before. Although not my primary focus of studies, seaweed is immensely interesting (well to me at least!), so I asked if there was anything I could do to get involved. Yes, was the short answer!

Jules set up a dialog between me and (the wonderful) Professor Juliet Brodie, who pretty much runs the project, to discuss what I could do to help out with it. Turns out they were looking for someone to volunteer and do some data analysis of the collected data from the past four years. To me this sounded like the perfect placement opportunity during this pandemic and a great way to improve my data skills, so I asked if I would be suitable? Well, I must have said something right as I’m now on the team and doing my placement with them!

“But Sally,” I hear you ask. “What is the Big Seaweed Search and how can I get involved?” The Big Seaweed Search is a citizen science project, so it relies on citizen scientists (that’s you!) to go out to the coast and take a survey of the seaweed that’s there. All the information can be found on the BSS website (, including a guide for how to run your survey, what 14 species of seaweed you will be looking out for and how to identify them. There’s also a printable recording form, so you don’t have to memorise every species you see.

My job now is to look through all the past surveys that have been done, making sure that the data entries are correct by verifying photos that are sent in with the survey. Then analysing the data against three environmental changes: sea temperature rise, ocean acidification and the spread of non-native species, to see if they are having an impact on our seaweed habitats.

This analysis will hopefully garner some interesting results that we hope will be able to be published in a paper. It will be a great show for all the hard work the surveyors have put into the project already!

If you’re a Sea Champion already, in the July E-Bulletin for the South West there’s an article about News, Feedback and a Data Request for the BSS, asking that if you have taken part in a survey before, check that you uploaded your photos, as this is the only way we (…well I) can verify the seaweeds that you’ve recorded!

If you’re now just really eager to get out to your local beach and do some citizen science (which I hope you are!), then all you need to do is go onto the Big Seaweed Search website (, download (and print) the guide and recording form, grab a pencil and your camera and/or smartphone, get down to the beach and have fun!

Happy recording everyone!


  1. What a wonderful way to spend your summer. I wish I could be there to help!

  2. Hi Sally, hope to meet you some time - have just tweeted re your post , linking to this blog. But wanted to say hi. I am curating the 'Isle Martin Seaweed Festival' which will now run in 2021. We intend doing 2 Surveys on the island , During our recci we have found 6 of the seaweeds on the list but many more that are not on the list - especially the different types of
    'kelp' do you want us to note any of these in the surveying ? Thanks Julia

    1. Hi Julia, thanks for your message! That sounds like a brilliant event, and I'm so glad to hear you'll be doing some surveys! The Big Seaweed Search is only looking at the 14 species in the guide so you don't need to take note of any of the other species you find. All the best, Sally :)