Meet the expert...

JNCC's Offshore Data & Survey Manager ©Neil Golding

This issue we focus on Neil Golding, Offshore Data Survey Manager, who has worked for JNCC since 2001 when he joined the organisation's Marine Information Team, working on JNCCs Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland. Upon completion of this project, Neil worked on the Irish Sea Pilot and the Mapping European Seabed Habitats project. Moving across to the Offshore Natura team, Neil then led on the collection of evidence to underpin the Offshore SAC site selection process. The offshore team's current priorities are MCZs, Scottish MPAs and the development of management and monitoring of offshore Natura sites.


What prompted your interest in the marine environment?

As a kid, I was always fascinated by rockpools. I'd spend ages searching for new and exciting creatures whenever we went to the Isle of Wight on holiday. I liked identifying what I'd recovered...even though it normally ended up being your everyday shore crab. Scuba diving was a natural progression so I jumped at the opportunity of learning to dive at univeristy during my marine biology degree.


What has been your involvement in marine surveys at JNCC?

I started at JNCC working on the marine habitat classification. Planning a survey for the Irish Sea Pilot project as well as leading the survey of a deepwater canyon system in the SW Approaches gave me my first taste of offshore survey during the EU-funded Mapping European Seabed Habitats (MESH) project. I then moved into the Sites and Survey Manager role working on the offshore Natura project before this evolved into the wider Offshore Survey manager role as the requirement for offshore seabed evidence increased through JNCC's work on marine protected areas. In my current role I lead two to three offshore surveys each year.


Why are the surveys so important?

It's difficult to protect habitats of conservation importance if you don't know where they are or what lives in/on them. Whether it's for site identification or subsequent management, we need to go out and collect evidence on the presence, extent and state of these seabed habitats. We also have the added challenge compared to our terrestrial colleagues of needing to peer through the (sometimes murky) depths to see what is there; in the case of Anton Dohrn seamount, we're talking up to 2,000m water depth!


What has been your most significant survey discovery?

It would have to be our deepwater survey off the west coast of Scotland in 2009 over Anton Dohrn seamount. On a month-long expedition, we discovered previously unknown coral gardens and cold-water coral reefs on the submerged volcano which went on to be recommended to Scottish Government to become a Marine Protected Area. Our discovery was reported in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper, the Telegraph and was amusingly christened "Barrier McReef" in the Sunday Mirror!


Looking at the future of the marine environment in the UK, what concerns you most?

Humans, and the fact that for many people, our seas around the UK are "out of sight, out of mind". Even down in the deepest depths on the edge of the UK continental shelf, I always find the amount of rubbish and plastic we see on the underwater camera tows footage quite staggering.


If you had to choose a favourite creature from the deep, what would it be and why?

A tricky one, I've seen many amazing undersea creatures on the surveys I've been on. The most unusual would have to be the deep sea pycnogonids. I've seen a few of these large bright red sea spiders on our deepwater trips; they grow up to 75cm across and look like they've walked straight off the set of an Aliens movie!

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