Marine Life Identification Course

Held at the Mount Batten Centre, Plymouth – 29th Sept. – 1st Oct. 2000: Course organized and run by: Peter Messenger and Keith Hiscock


Seven of our club members recently attended a BSAC Marine Life Identification course held at the Mount Batten Centre, Plymouth, with diving kindly hosted by Plymouth Sound Sub Aqua Club. The course was expertly organized and run by Peter Messenger and Keith Hiscock, ably assisted by many of their friends and colleagues from the marine biology and diving worlds.

This course did much to answer many questions and fill in many blanks in our knowledge of the sea and the creatures and plants that live in and around it. However it has left me with one burning question, ‘Why didn’t I attend the course years ago?’.

It was such an eye opener and so compliments our hobby. Not only were the lectures, field studies and lab sessions both instructional and interesting, but also when it came to the dive on the Sunday I was amazed at how much more I saw and appreciated. Dare I say it, in some cases I was even able to recognize a few more of the things to be found.

Think small. Slow down. Get close up – then look closer again! Look under things. Light things up with your torch – even in bright daylight. It’s amazing just what is there to be seen if you take the time and trouble to look.

We spend a lot of time, money and effort for what is a comparatively very short time actually under the water. Maximize on it – go on a Marine Life ID course and trust me, you will get more out of your diving.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to perform miracles and turn you into a Marine Biologist over night, you know, like ‘Sparky’ who woke up one day to find he could suddenly play the piano (if you are old enough to know what I’m on about). Nor are you going to be able to impress your friends by reeling off the scientific names for all and sundry. Well, you can practice a couple just to show off!

What it will give you is some basic knowledge and appreciation of the biological groupings, the biodiversity, the habitats (biotopes), and the effect mankind can and does have on them. It will start to train your eye and your mind to see things you previously may have missed. It will tell you where to look for more information to help you identify things you see. It will tell you of schemes and initiatives and organizations you can get involved in if you want to do or know more. And importantly – if it is like the course we attended, it will be a lot of fun too!

Tim Clouter. October 2000

Pages from Racheals’ Diary

Friday 29th September (pm): Setting off on a cold and wet Friday afternoon. Surprisingly when we arrived the weather was actually quite warm and good enough to pitch a tent in.Once we’d arrived it was time to do the rounds with the mobile, but alas, no one’s phones were on – conclusion – what is the point of having a phone in the first place? For those of you who have been away with Matt, you’ll know what I mean.Starting to get a bit peckish – mmm, camp site fish and chip shop smells good.A fish and chip shop with no fish? I ask you – last day of the season.We praised her chips and were rewarded with another free bag. Feeling a bit sick afterwards though.By this time Jo and Steve had arrived. They pitched Steve’s tent and off we went to meet our classmates at the Mount Batten Centre.The classroom was already buzzing – tanks full of sea creatures and magnifying apparatus – looking very much like a school biology lab. All I could think of was, “Ah, that’s cruel, has that fish got enough water?” I don’t think I’d make a good marine biologist.  Tim was off, someone mentioned computers and ‘SmartGroups’ zzzzz  Ah, time for a beer, and it did go down well.  Remainder of the group concluded we must be mad – camping.  “We’re rufty tufty divers” we replied.It was some time during our 2nd pint that Matt phoned through to tell us they were still in Taunton.  Leanne’s’ poor car had boiled over and they were waiting for the AA.  It was during our 3rd pint we heard they were on their way home to Bristol.  In Tim’s tent I shared a bedroom with Jo, and did she snore? (only joking – that was Tim). Having a double li-lo meant that every time one got up the other was nearly thrown out of the tent!  That happened rather a lot during the night as we both had weak bladders.Good night!.

Saturday, 30th September: Breakfast was to be at Sainsburys. Tim was supplied with weekend fix of Fisherman’s Friends, which was just as well as we all had the sniffles.Matt, Lee and Leanne arrived part way into the first lecture (having left Bristol, this time in Matt’s car, at 6am – not bad considering they hadn’t got home until 2am). The first lecture was sitting and listening – learning about classifications – which creatures belonged in which groups, i.e. crustaceans. You’d be surprised – but you’ll have to go on the course if you want to find out.Lunchtime arrived and we were supplied with a lovely packed lunch and off we set to the beach to find our specimens to bring back – under rocks – up and down dale. Taking our finds back to the lab to be magnified and identified. A little dogfish was born, an anemone was born, and I missed it all.Well the time had arrived. It was dive time. Everyone was paired up and off we went. The route in was a bit rough. Clambering over big rocks to get to the sea.I buddied up with Matt and Lee. Lee doing his regimental buddy checks.It was time to dive, dive, dive. Vis was really bad – the best bit was holding hands, with Matt sandwiched in the middle. I had a good excuse to abort my dive (pain in sinuses) and leave Matt and Lee to the murky bad vis.Back for a well deserved shower – and was it good!Time for dinner – our poor waitress. The men were being boys as usual, arguing over size…… of the profiterols. Tim was that desperate he even licked a bit of escaped chocolate sauce off the waitresses’ arm – yuck.After dinner tutors giving us a quiz to see how much we had listened too. I have to say he was quite impressed with all his little studentsGood nite!

Sunday, 1st October: We left the tent up so it would dry during the day and off we set for breakfast. Arrived at Sainsburys for our usual – but alas it was a ghost town – we had forgotten it was Sunday – oops
Luckily the Mount Batten Centre was still serving, mmm it was good and of course, I had to get my moneys worth.  Lee had to embarrass us by burning the toast and setting off the fire alarms. What was worse, he didn’t even own up – how honest!  Time to dive again – the Mewstone was the chosen site and off they all went. I excused myself, sinuses still bunged up, and Jo just couldn’t be bothered.  Jo and I visited the Plymouth Aquarium – using our new marine ID skills to view and find things. Very interesting.
Meanwhile the others had a good dive, even seeing a Basking Shark. Jo and I were gutted. Matt didn’t enjoy the ride though and decided to feed the fish. All divers bringing back more specimens for everyone to examine.
Tim must have had withdrawal symptoms as he had to find an unusual specimen just so he could record it on the Internet. He was like the cat who got the cream. It was a Gaping File Shell.
Alas it was time to say goodbye and we set off for our long trip home. The weather had taken a turn for the worst. Tim and I found ourselves taking the tent down in a wet hurricane. So instead of a slightly damp tent we had a soaking wet one and the rest to go with it – including us!
Anyway, a good time had by all.  Thanks for arranging it for us Tim.  I advise people to go on the course next time it comes round.

The BSAC Marine Life Identification Course is no longer run but the Marine Life Appreciation course details are available here

It may strike you as strange a page devoted to a Marine Life Identification Course does not itself have any photographs of any marine life on it. I agree – it is. But the fact was, we were all so busy enjoying the course that none of us took any photos!

So the only way we could include some pictures here would be to break the copyright laws and nick someone else’s. Instead of that, if it’s marine life pictures you want, check out some or all of the links below.

Further information and links:

The Marine Life Information Network for Britain and Ireland can be viewed at

The Marine Conservation Society pages can be viewed at

The National Marine Aquarium pages can be viewed at

Many thanks to Peter Messenger and Keith Hiscock for organizing such an excellent course.

Page created and maintained by Tim Clouter
Last updated on: 21-November-2000
Copyright © 2000, 2008 Bristol Aerospace Sub-Aqua Club

Photo by mag3737


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