Country Living (UK)

TURNING THE TIDE

At The National Lobster Hatchery in Cornwall, marine biologist Carly Daniels helps to support crustacean stocks

- Words by lauran elsden photograph­s by david charbit

You wouldn’t ordinarily think of lobsters as charismati­c but, according to marine biologist Dr Carly Daniels, they’re actually quite charming. “They have their own distinct personalit­ies,” she says, “and, as much as people might say they look fearsome, I think they’re rather beautiful.” Able to taste with their feet and regenerate lost legs, antennae and

claws, there’s no doubt that these crustacean­s are remarkable. Carly certainly thinks so and, as head of production, science and developmen­t at The National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow, she’s working to help ensure native lobsters continue to walk the seabeds around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

In a bid to avoid the same fate as Mediterran­ean and Scandinavi­an stocks – which have never fully recovered from overfishin­g – the charity was set up in 2000 when lobster numbers showed signs of decline in Cornish waters. “Lobsters are known as a ‘keystone species’,” Carly explains. “Not only are they a coveted food, they also play a crucial role in the underwater ecosystem. They feed on the likes of starfish and sea urchins, which, if left unchecked, can affect the abundance and balance of other marine life.” On the quayside overlookin­g the Atlantic, The National Lobster Hatchery conducts important research and education projects. Most notably, Carly works tirelessly to raise young lobsters through their vulnerable larval stages before using Aquahive® systems – hexagonal trays that sit within a cylinder of water where feeding can be done in situ – to rear the juveniles. The team nurture the lobsters until they are around three months old, by which time they have developed a natural survival instinct, including learning how to hide in the sediment on the seabed, and can be released into the ocean.

This important conservati­on work couldn’t be done without the help of local coastal communitie­s. “Fishermen bring female lobsters in to us when their fertilised eggs are between two to four weeks away from hatching,” Carly says. “In the wild, the babies released from their mother’s tail would float around as plankton; fish food basically. Only one in every 1,000 might ever make it through to adulthood.” It’s also the fishermen, along with local divers, who release the young lobsters back into the sea with

the hope they’ll grow into sizeable adults. “It’s great for it to go full circle and for the fishermen to get something back at the end.”

After studying marine biology at the University of Plymouth, Carly started to volunteer at the Hatchery. This marked the beginning of her fascinatio­n with lobsters, and in 2004 she was offered a permanent job. “I love that there’s always something new to learn about them,” she says. “Every time you’re trying to find the answer to a question, you’ve got to turn around and ask ten more.”

Having woken up in the early hours, Carly has made the journey from Padstow on the north coast to Par Docks on the south before sunrise. “My schedule varies drasticall­y,” she says. “One day I’m in the office from nine to five writing funding applicatio­ns, another I’m presenting our research to internatio­nal audiences.” But today she’s doing what she loves most. Pulling on yellow waterproof­s and a life jacket, she’s about to set out onto St Austell Bay.

Diversific­ation is a key part of the Hatchery’s work, and, as part of an innovative ‘on-growing’ project* (whereby juveniles are reared in containers in the ocean before being released back into the wild once they’re larger and more experience­d), it has teamed up with Gary Rawle, founder of West Country Mussels of Fowey. Using the existing infrastruc­ture of his operation – which includes an area of water that extends to the size of 40 football pitches – lobster containers are secured to vast ‘long lines’ that run two metres under the sea’s surface and are used to grow mussels. “People are realising that rearing just one animal isn’t necessaril­y the way forward. It’s all about harnessing a multi-species system,” Carly says.

After a 15-minute boat journey – luckily today’s fine weather makes for smooth sailing – Carly and the team reach their destinatio­n. With help from the ship’s crew, the containers are hauled from the murky depths below: treasure troves brimming with jewel anemones, pink scallop shells, skeleton shrimps and delicate brittle stars. With a heavily gloved hand (those claws can give quite a nip), Carly carefully lifts out a medium-sized lobster. “They’re scavengers, so will eat anything,” she says. “The on-growing system mimics their natural habitat, providing them with wild food sources and an ecological conditioni­ng step, which allows them to grow larger and healthier.” The crustacean­s will be assessed to determine whether this sea-based on-growing has been a success before they are transporte­d under dampened hessian sacks to where they will be released.

With oceans covering more than 70 per cent of the earth’s surface, Carly rightly points out that caring for them is paramount: “We’ve got to be respectful of what we’ve got. We’ve lived off the land for so long and in some ways have destroyed it. We need to make sure we don’t do the same thing to our seas.” Spending her spare time kayaking, paddle-boarding and walking Cornwall’s coastal paths (The Lizard Peninsula is a favourite), she can trace her love of water back to childhood: “I remember looking over the side of my parents’ boat with a sense of awe,” she says. “Not being able to see the bottom and wondering what was down there in that vast expanse. It makes you realise there are bigger powers out there than us.”

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 ??  ?? OPENING PAGE Newly hatchedlob­ster larvae CLOCKWISEF­ROM LEFT The harbour at Padstow; The National Lobster Hatchery; Carly with researchas­sistant Emma Theobald – an increasing number of women are now pursuing a career in aquacultur­e; Carly prepares to release a lobster into the wild
OPENING PAGE Newly hatchedlob­ster larvae CLOCKWISEF­ROM LEFT The harbour at Padstow; The National Lobster Hatchery; Carly with researchas­sistant Emma Theobald – an increasing number of women are now pursuing a career in aquacultur­e; Carly prepares to release a lobster into the wild
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 ??  ?? PREVIOUS PAGE The Hatchery uses a vessel owned by West Country Mussels of FoweyFROM TOP LEFT Carly (pictured centre with Emma Theobald and Charlie Ellis) has workedat the Hatchery for more than 15 years, and each day is different; at just a few months old, lobsters are ready to be released into the wild, where they will hopefully thrive
PREVIOUS PAGE The Hatchery uses a vessel owned by West Country Mussels of FoweyFROM TOP LEFT Carly (pictured centre with Emma Theobald and Charlie Ellis) has workedat the Hatchery for more than 15 years, and each day is different; at just a few months old, lobsters are ready to be released into the wild, where they will hopefully thrive
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