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Environment / Salmon farm ‘FlowCam’ helping to monitor Clickimin Loch

The Clickimin Loch. Photo: Arwed Wenger

A SALMON farm company is offering its help to a local group concerned about the water quality at the Clickimin Loch in Lerwick.

Scottish Sea Farms’ (SSF) Shetland laboratory is analysing water samples monthly using a fluid imaging microscope called FlowCam, which is usually used to assess plankton levels on the company’s sites.

The Friends of the Clickimin Loch group was set up in the past couple of years amid concern over an apparent decline in wildlife as well as an increase in algae.

After the collaboration with SSF, the company’s laboratory supervisor Hannah Bloomer has compiled a report on the species found in the loch and regularly checks samples for changes in their presence and abundance.

It is hoped the information will allow the Clickimin Loch group to continue to learn more about the health of the loch and monitor any changes.

Bloomer said: “The FlowCam is the only tool of its kind in Shetland, and in the company, and plays a key part in analysing the water quality samples taken daily at each of our farms in the region.

“It is much faster than counting things manually on a microscope and not only rapidly enumerates, classifies and measures particles but also creates pictures which can then be kept as a record.

“After reading a news article, I approached the Friends of Clickimin Loch Group to offer our lab services and phytoplankton identification expertise.

“Some of the species identified are different to what we normally see on our marine sites because the loch water is brackish. In other words, higher salinity than freshwater but not quite as high as the sea.

“We’re testing at high and low tide, from the north and south side, which is connected to the sea via a culvert underneath the road.

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“I can tell the group about any new plankton species and whether they are harmful or not, helping raise awareness of potential problems.”

Group chair Arwed Wenger said: “Our group is small and the challenges around the water quality of the Clickimin Loch are massive and very complex.

“So, when Hannah got in touch, offering Scottish Sea Farms lab services for free, it was like a dream come true.

“Now that we have an understanding of what’s possible in terms of analysis, we can develop a plan to get the most from the results.

Monitoring is also crucial to managing fish health, said Scottish Sea Farms’ Shetland fish health and welfare manager Rhanna Turberville.

“We can have up to 19 farms in operation in Shetland, which is a lot of samples to analyse, but with FlowCam we can get a report out by lunchtime.

“We can then make important decisions about feeding and treatments based on the results. The aim is to increase understanding of how plankton and jellyfish affect the gill health of salmon because that’s one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced in our farming regions in the past couple of years.”

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