10 year anniversary for the Sir John Murray

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Sir John Murray

Named after the Scots-Canadian who is widely considered the founder of modern oceanography, our flagship vessel the Sir John Murray celebrated a decade in operation on 1 October 2014. And what a decade it’s been for this state-of-the-art survey boat.

Travelling thousands of miles around the Scottish coastline each year, the role played by our survey vessel, the Sir John Murray, in monitoring Scotland’s marine environment cannot be underestimated.

In addition to our regulatory work to protect and improve Scotland’s water environment, SEPA has an extensive nationwide monitoring programme – taking, analysing and reporting on more than 50,000 samples taken from the water environment every year. The Sir John Murray, launched in 2004, allows us to investigate marine water quality, even in difficult to reach places. It carries technical equipment of the highest specification, which is invaluable for our staff to carry out sampling and research, including the analysis of water quality, biological communities and the seabed, and the measurement of coastal and estuarine currents.

Sir John Murray in OrkneyOver the last ten years the distance covered and the amount of work carried out by the Sir John Murray has significantly increased, partly as a result of the monitoring required under the Water Framework Directive, but also due to increased sampling efficiency. The boat carries out a three year rolling programme of survey work in three main geographical areas – the south west, the south east and Orkney, and the north west and Cromarty Firth. Each of these areas is monitored for a one year period, which ensures each area of coast is monitored intensively once every three. During its service it has visited the islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides, and carried out surveys as far north as Orkney. The state-of-the-art equipment and monitoring techniques used on the Sir John Murray have significantly reduced sampling time, in some cases by as much as 50%. And with increased partnership working and sharing of resources with other organisations, the Sir John Murray provides a versatile and efficient scientific monitoring and research service for Scotland.

More about the boat and its work

Built in Scotland at the Miller Methil shipyard in Fife, the Sir John Murray is a purpose built steel hulled twin-engine vessel. Measuring 24 metres in length, she is designed to operate all year round and has cabins available for eight staff but can accommodate a crew of 10 on shorter voyages. During routine survey work there is usually a crew of four on-board. The Sir John Murray is the largest boat in SEPA’s fleet and, although smaller than some of the other vessels in the Scottish science fleet, she punches extraordinarily far above her weight in terms of the capability offered to study the marine environment. Her modest size means that the boat ‘just’ fits through the Caledonian Canal for a quick switch between west and east coast.

On board there are two laboratories with a local computer network linked to navigational aids, an inbuilt Doppler profiler, a hydraulic A-frame and crane, and several different types of winch for deploying sampling equipment. The crew of the also have access to equipment such as underwater camera systems and an automated water sampling system that measures and logs a sample of water every six minutes. This allows us to collect precise and exact information about the quality of water around the Scottish coast.

Grab sampleThe scope of the work undertaken by the Sir John Murray and the efficiency with which it operates is startling. Our staff can collect and analyse water samples for a full range of physical parameters including contaminants, plankton and nutrients; electronic sensors can be towed to assess water quality or detect and record water movement; fish samples can be collected to measure contaminants and population data; and the sediment and biology of the seabed can be investigated using grabs, corers, dredges and underwater cameras. The results feed into statutory reporting and inform the licencing of marine fish farms and coastal and estuarine discharges.

The work of the Sir John Murray and her crew over the last ten years has taken SEPA’s work in the marine environment to a new level, extending the range of our operations to parts of Scotland that were previously inaccessible, and will help ensure Scotland’s water environment is protected and continues to improve, now and into the future.

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