MSc Marine Biology Fieldcourse to Millport, Cumbrae, West of Scotland

by Mary Kate Bolger

As part of our course we went on a 5 day fieldtrip to Millport in the Isle of Cumbrae, Scotland.  We were apprehensive before we set out as warnings about storm Doris increased.  Sure enough when we landed in Edinburgh it was freezing.  As we continued on, the amount of snow on the ground increased, but luckily it had mostly subsided by the time we got to the seaside town of Largs.

After a short ferry ride to the Isle of Cumbrae, we settled into the Marine Station, and not long after that, we set out on our first mission – to count barnacles on the Butterlump shore.  For this task we broke up into 3 teams.  In each team, different people counted the different barnacle species.  One person counted Semibalanus balanoides, another counted Chthamalus montagui, and another counted, the rather exotic, Austrominius modestus.  We also counted the dog whelks.  After that we decided to have an early night… and then ten minutes later decided that a few “diet cokes” were needed down in the pub.

The next morning, we braved the not so rough seas.  It was rather cold, but after considerable warning about the weather prior to the trip, we were prepared.  We were all highly excited to see the countless worm species in our grab samples… but that all went out the window as soon as a Common Dolphin appeared.  According to the crew aboard the RV Actinia the dolphin was affectionately known as Kylie.  We were briefly distracted but then got down to business.  We took 18 grab samples in total. For each sample, we took a granulometry sample and then sieved all the sediment away so that we could identify the biota.  Finally, we did a beam trawl.  We then headed back to the lab and spent the afternoon and evening identifying different species.

On Saturday, we spent the morning identifying the rest of the species from the grab samples.  In the afternoon, a group headed out to continue with the barnacle counting, while the other group stayed in the lab to analyse the data from the boat trip.  For the next few days we alternated between report writing, data analysis, barnacle counting, and barnacle dissecting to see if there were any parasites.

On our last day, we went to the highest point in the island, and we all agreed it was one of the most beautiful places we had ever been.  We then drove down and ate our lunches by the waterfront and watched the seals frolic in the high tide.  After we finished our report, we headed down for one last “diet coke”, and a game of Charades, where driving was misinterpreted as milking (when I saw we’re a cultured bunch, I really mean we’re culchies) and Rob was highly unimpressed at our inability to impersonate William Shatner.  We had an absolutely fantastic time and would like to thank Rob, Ruth, and Mary Catherine for all their help and encouragement during the entire trip.


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