Ship Ahoy!

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Rain or shine, getting out on the River Mersey is always a fun trip and Curator of Botany, Geraldine Reid, has taken part in one of this year's Mersey Ferry Discovery Cruises. Here she is to tell us more about them...

Woman looking through a microscope

Looking at plankton aboard a Mersey ferry. Image courtesy of Jennifer Welch.

Last Friday, with staff from the Clore Natural History Centre and aquarium, I took part in my first Mersey Ferry Discovery Cruise. It was with some trepidation of what to expect on the high seas of the Mersey that I ventured out. The day started over at Seacombe with us getting the plankton nets out and throwing them over the side of the ferry (attached to a long line) to get samples of the water so that we could demonstrate why the estuary is such a haven for birds. These are very fine nets which we pull through the water to catch the microscopic animals (zooplankton) and plants (phytoplankton) that it contains. These tiny organisms are indicators of the health of the estuary. Plankton essentially is anything that cannot swim against the current.

As the ferry headed over to the pier head to pick up the next passengers we got the microscopes set up. We got out specimens from the World Museum's collection of marine life that had been washed ashore along the shore of the Mersey. These included dolphin and porpoise skulls, a bone from a whale, seaweed, shells and lots more.  The deck also had colourful displays from the RSPB and the Environment Agency. The water samples we’d collected earlier were a great hit, they where teeming with life all brought to light by the video link on the microscope to a computer-screen. The water was full with lots of beautiful plankton - diatoms floating in chains past our eyes with the sudden excitement of barnacle naupli and copepods dashing past the screen followed by the gentle pulsating of sea-gooseberries gliding past.  

In our spare moments we saw a whole array of birds from a peregrine falcon to arctic skua and a whole variety of gulls. There was also a running commentary by the RSBC spotter on what to look out for and in which direction. We even saw a cheeky seal having a nap on a sandbank. The view from the ferry gave you a really unique view of the shoreline along the Mersey out to Formby. It was a great day out for all the family young and old.

The next cruise takes place on Tuesday 18 August 2009 and looks to be another action packed day.

The cruise will pick up passengers from; Seacombe at 11am, Pier Head (Liverpool) at 11.10am and Woodside at 11.20am. The trip will last about three hours. Tickets cost £10 for adults, £5 for children.

For more details, or to book, contact Mersey Ferries on 0151 330 1444 or visit their website.