The Lyme Bay coastline has been a part of Dr Adam Rees’ life since he was a child. Growing up, family trips to the seaside were spent on the beaches and in the small communities that line its shores. It goes without saying, therefore, that his research looking at ways to conserve it for the future, while protecting the livelihood of its small fishermen, is something very close to his heart.
After completing his A levels, Adam came to the University of Plymouth in 2008 to study Marine Biology. Towards the end of his first year, he enquired about the possibility of getting involved with research over the summer and was pointed in the direction of the Lyme Bay Project.
At the time, it was still very much in its infancy. But almost a decade later has become a national beacon of how science and the community can combine. It was also featured in the 25-year Environment Plan, the Government’s long-term vision for protecting the environment for future generations.
“When I started out, I knew Lyme Bay was a key fishing port but did not know many of the wider issues,” says Adam, who has recently completed his PhD at the University. “But once I realised what was going on, and that I could have a role in helping out, it grew in importance to me and became the subject of my research.”
The project involves going out with the fishermen and deploying underwater cameras, which are then used to assess the abundance and diversity of different species and plants living on the seabed. For his dissertation, Adam analysed a year of this footage, and that – and his subsequent work as a Research Assistant – has helped build a picture of changes in the marine environment caused by a combination of fishing practices and conservation measures.
He has also worked closely with fishermen in the community, and says winning them over was in many cases more challenging than the scientific elements of the project.
“The static fishermen who work in Lyme Bay were quite sceptical of us when we first started,” he says. “They had never worked with researchers in this way before and thought the work we were doing might threaten their livelihoods. In some cases, it took five or six years to win them round. But now they feel part of the research and recognise that we are trying to conserve them as much as the environment they work in.”
Adam is now the Research Officer involved in new research being led by the Blue Marine Foundation and the University of Plymouth. This research will build on the existing project in Lyme Bay, for which the two organisations worked together, and see if some of the lessons learned there can be applied elsewhere around the UK. He adds:
“Small fishermen all over the country are facing serious challenges to their livelihood. But they also appreciate the importance of conserving the environments in which they are fishing. In Lyme Bay, we have shown that we can work together to tackle these challenges and while we’re not saying all of that will work elsewhere, we hope to find solutions that will support them now and in the future.”