Cornish scuba diver Matt Slater has had his impressive marine-life recording achievements recognised in a national awards ceremony.
The marine-conservation officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trust (CWT) has just won the 2022 National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Award for marine wildlife recording, with CWT marine-project volunteer Kate Williams runner-up in the same category.
The NBN Trust is the UK’s biggest partnership for nature, bringing together more than 200 bodies committed to sharing UK wildlife data using the NBN Atlas. Its annual awards recognise outstanding contributions to wildlife recording and data-sharing, and the ceremony was held at London’s Natural History Museum on 9 November during its conference.
“I have been fascinated with marine life all my life, and recording is something that comes naturally,” says Slater, who has worked for CWT since 2012. “I love how every dive, snorkel or rock-pooling session still yields animals and seaweeds that I haven’t seen before, despite having been doing this for so many years!”
The diver is Seasearch co-ordinator for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The Marine Conservation Society-led initiative was set up to train recreational divers and snorkellers to record the marine life and habitats they encounter.
Slater has not only overseen the collection of more than 30,000 records, all submitted to the Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly (ERCCIS), but has contributed more than 5,000 records to the database himself.
Cornish data is considered particularly valuable for climate-change research, because the area is that often first encountered by species moving north from warmer waters.
In 2019 Slater pioneered on behalf of CWT the national #HandsOffOurCrawfish campaign, calling on scuba divers to pledge not to catch the crawfish or European spiny lobsters that were staging a comeback following their overfishing in the 1960s and 70s.
Slater also runs Shoresearch Cornwall, which has carried out hundreds of rockpool surveys and trained more than 200 volunteers in 10 years, and the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide.
Kate Williams was honoured for her outstanding contribution to Seaquest Southwest, a land-based citizen-science project that records marine megafauna such as dolphins and whales. She had carried out more than 400 surveys for the project since 2013, accounting for more than half of all the records in the project’s database.
Her records of a rare inshore pod of bottlenose dolphins enabled CWT to build a picture of their population status and key breeding and feeding sites in the South-west. Williams is also a key volunteer and photo ID co-ordinator with the Seal Research Trust.
Describing Slater and Williams’ achievements, NBN Trust CEO Lisa Chilton said: “They have both made a huge contribution to our knowledge of UK marine species and we are delighted to be recognising their exceptional work with these awards.”