MOST of us would agree that one of the biggest advantages we have in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight is easy access to beaches, which is particularly special during the summer months.

While we can enjoy these lazy days by the sea, our marine life needs more protection – it is under threat and it is vital that we take steps to conserve it.

Other than conserving our natural ecosystem, protecting marine life is economically beneficial as it supports the natural processes we rely on, such as flood management, cleaning our water, storing carbon and regenerating urban areas. Management of marine conservation sites provides jobs and the tourists they attract can boost local economies. Further benefits to people include recreational opportunities, with studies consistently showing that access to nature improves health and wellbeing.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust runs a project called Shoresearch which allows the public to learn about marine life while assisting with research of local beaches.

Shoresearch is supported by the Interreg European Regional Development Fund through its links to a project called Panache, which aims to better protect and manage the marine environment.

Through this project, the trust trains volunteers to identify and record species found on the Hampshire and Isle of Wight coastline in order to build a database of information about our marine life.

Shoresearch has been running since 2006 and has played an important part in highlighting that our seas are worth protecting for the amazing range of species and habitats they support.

Shoresearch runs from March to September each year and is carried out at several locations throughout the Hampshire and Isle of Wight region.

The sites include a range of habitats including sandy beaches, rocky outcrops, shingle and gravel, as well as some man-made structures.

Abbi Scott, assistant marine officer at the trust, organises the surveys and is always looking for more volunteers to join in.

She said: “People like the fact that they are learning about local coastal life and also making a worthwhile contribution to the trust’s work.

“Volunteers gain marine biological knowledge and a better understanding of the species and habitats found on our shore, as well as contribute to records which help build up a picture of our coasts.”

As well as looking at coastal areas, the trust is also surveying life living below our coastline and is looking for experienced divers to contribute to Shoresearch’s sister project, Seasearch, which also received funding from Interreg. Seasearch has had a strong track record of collecting important data for the trust’s lobbying work. Seasearch dives run from April to October and seven dive days are scheduled each year, with boats taking 10-12 divers, who usually complete two survey dives each day.

Abbi Scott said: ”just last October our divers discovered a four stalked jellyfish in a seagrass bed off the Isle of Wight.

“This was very significant because it provided evidence in support of designating the site as a Marine Conservation Zone – a new type of marine protected area.

“Until this was found the Government had decided that there was not sufficient evidence for the presence of stalked jellyfish at this site, casting doubt on whether the area should be protected.”

The remaining Shoresearch surveys this year are on July 12 at Colwell Bay, July 13 at Royal Victoria (Netley), August 9 at Compton, August 14 at Thorness Bay, September 8 at Hayling Island and September 9 at Keyhaven.