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Beachgoers are being asked to become scientists this summer to help gather important data about British seaweeds.
The Museum has partnered with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) to launch phase two of the Big Seaweed Search.
The citizen science project is recruiting people to go out onto Britain's beaches to study the distribution of seaweeds around our coastlines, and the impact of environmental change.
Professor Juliet Brodie, a seaweed researcher at the Museum, says, 'It’s easy to take them for granted, but seaweeds are fascinating. They provide shelter and food for an immense variety of marine wildlife, and are of enormous use to humanity.'
Britain is a special place for seaweeds, home to a particularly high diversity of species.
These seaweeds support marine ecosystems, creating shelter and food for other organisms.
They are also economically significant, because they provide habitat and food sources important for commercial fisheries, and are a key ingredient in many food, pharmaceutical and industrial products.
Britain's kelp forests are vital to the functioning of the oceans, protecting shorelines by dispersing waves and reducing coastal erosion.
But seaweed distribution and abundance around our coasts is changing. To investigate why this is happening, the Big Seaweed Search is aiming to establish what is affecting seaweeds on British coasts.
Prof Brodie says, 'People are unaware that our daily lives are affected by seaweeds in many ways, from foods and medicines to buffering the effects of rough seas on our vulnerable coastlines - it's time they get the attention they deserve.'
The seashores and shallow seas around Britain support more than 650 species of seaweed, making them globally significant and an important component of British biodiversity.
The project will build on an earlier phase of the Big Seaweed Search, which first launched in 2009. Hundreds of people took part and the data gathered, alongside other research, show that the distribution of seaweeds around the UK is changing.
Focussing on 14 species, the Big Seaweed Search now aims to increase our knowledge of how increasing sea temperatures are affecting the distribution of different species.
It will also look at the impacts of non-native species, and the increasing acidity of the oceans.
One of the alien species included in the study is wireweed, Sargassum muticum. This brown seaweed was first recorded on the south coast of England in 1973 and has spread very rapidly since then.
Eight species of wrack seaweed have also been selected, including bladder wrack, Fucus vesiculosus, which has bladders that resemble bubble-wrap that pop underfoot. Observations from the public will help scientists to track whether these cold-adapted species are being affected by warming sea surface temperatures.
Justine Millard, MCS Head of Education and Outreach, says the study will establish whether any of these seaweeds are changing in their range, or becoming more or less widespread.
She adds, 'Anyone can be a citizen scientist. We'll provide simple instructions and an identification guide so that everyone can make a valuable contribution to our knowledge of this important and underappreciated group.'
Getting involved in the Big Seaweed Search is easy.
Register to take part and you'll be sent an instruction booklet including an identification guide, and a recording form. Alternatively, copies are available for you to download and print at home.
Lucy Robinson, Citizen Science Programme Manager at the Museum, says, 'We would love people all over the UK to join us in studying and protecting the amazing diversity of life in British seas.
'All you need is a camera and a guide. Anyone can take part in the survey and all observations are useful for the research.'