The cen­tre for deep think­ing

The Oban Times - - News - MARTIN LAING mlaing@oban­

DUN­STAFFNAGE may be a sleepy back­wa­ter but it is home to an or­gan­i­sa­tion that is re­ally mak­ing waves glob­ally, as well as lo­cally.

The pi­o­neer­ing work be­ing car­ried out by the Scot­tish As­so­ci­a­tion for Marine Sci­ence (SAMS) is rip­pling out across the world and, par­tic­u­larly, its oceans. But it is also hav­ing a huge im­pact on the Oban area en­vi­ron­ment.

SAMS has been in its cur­rent build­ing since 2004 but traces its ge­n­e­sis back to around 130 years ago, hav­ing started life in Ed­in­burgh and hav­ing been based in var­i­ous lo­ca­tions down the years, in­clud­ing Ayr­shire.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion moved its base per­ma­nently to Dun­staffnage in the late 1960s when it was lit­tle more than a small hy­dro­graphic sta­tion used for re­search.

The trans­fer was made for a num­ber of rea­sons, in­clud­ing recruitment and re­ten­tion of staff, and, more im­por­tantly, be­cause of its marine en­vi­ron­ment and di­ver­sity.

Head of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at SAMS, Anuschka Miller, is de­lighted at the way the or­gan­i­sa­tion has grown and the pos­i­tive im­pact it has had lo­cally in help­ing to keep some of the Oban area’s bright­est young peo­ple on home turf.

Dr Miller said: ‘For the Oban area, we are prob­a­bly one of the more im­por­tant places. Over the years Oban has suf­fered a lot with the vast ma­jor­ity of those young­sters who are clever and en­er­getic leav­ing when they fin­ish at high school. They all dis­ap­pear off to Glas­gow or Ed­in­burgh or Dundee or wher­ever to study and gain skills.

‘ We might not be in a po­si­tion lo­cally to pro­vide peo­ple with a whole spec­trum of work but we have about 130 stu­dents here. We’ve also got a pretty in­ter­na­tional work­force here and we of­fer what are the bet­ter paid kind of jobs.

‘High­lands and Is­lands En­ter­prise has iden­ti­fied us as a kind of seed corn for eco­nomic devel­op­ment of the area around life sciences and we are al­low­ing the small com­pa­nies we have here to grow and be able to stay in the area.

‘ We have the po­ten­tial to grow into a big busi­ness over the years ahead and we have plan­ning con­sent for more build­ings if we need them.

‘That said, we have grown hugely in re­cent years. In 2001, there were only about 70 staff and there was no un­der­grad­u­ate teach­ing be­ing done. Now we are three or four times big­ger than that and, in 2013, we added the sec­ond build­ing.’

Dr Miller stresses that the work done by the team at SAMS ben­e­fits from its lo­ca­tion, say­ing: ‘ We have very clean wa­ters here and we have good ac­cess to very deep wa­ters from here. That makes it at­trac­tive also for other marine in­sti­tu­tions.’

SAMS has a num­ber of small boats that are vi­tal to its re­search work but for big­ger ex­pe­di­tions, it hires larger ves­sels.

The Dun­staffnage fa­cil­ity is also home to what Dr Miller calls ‘the na­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties’. One is the na­tional fa­cil­ity for sci­en­tific div­ing. She said: ‘All sci­en­tific divers are trained from here and our divers sup­port sci­ence in all the dis­ci­plines. They are funded by the govern­ment. We have, as a con­se­quence, a re­com­pres­sion cham­ber here which is also used by the NHS. So all the div­ing ac­ci­dents on the West Coast come here and we have to main­tain staffing for that 24/ 7. We prob­a­bly have 10 or so ac­ci­dents each year.

‘Our other na­tional ca­pa­bil­ity is our cul­ture col­lec­tion of al­gae and pro­to­zoa. It’s a lit­tle bit like a botanic gar­den or a zoo, but for mi­cro­scopic crea­tures. They are in held in many fridges. This is ac­tu­ally the most di­verse col­lec­tion of its kind in the world.

‘We sell the cul­tures and we cu­rate the cul­tures. We are also a de­pos­i­tory, so if you have a busi­ness that cre­ates an an­tibi­otic that is made from a marine alga, you might want to have a strain liv­ing some­where else as a back-up and we can pro­vide that. Peo­ple can give us their liv­ing crea­tures and we will host them.

‘ We re­ally work in­ter­na­tion­ally and have blogs that show our re­search from the Antarc­tic to the Arc­tic – es­pe­cially in the Arc­tic. We do an aw­ful lot of work in the Arc­tic: we have stu­dents who spend a full year in the Arc­tic as part of their un­der­grad­u­ate course. There is a course on marine sci­ence with Arc­tic stud­ies.’

SAMS looks set to con­tinue to make a splash glob­ally as well as lo­cally.

Karen Wil­son and Colin Aber­nethy as­sess data from the Breda.

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