Chaired by Dr Jen Harland, Zooarchaeologist & Trustee of Stromness Museum



Orkney Story Stack short films screening

A second chance to see the films made by Youth Café participants responding to Stromness Museum artefacts.



Below the Flow: marine life on the wrecks and ‘blue carbon’ habitats


International Centre for Island Technology, Heriot Watt University

Scapa Flow has seen some dramatic changes over the centuries, perhaps none so great as the events of the two World Wars. From the perspective of our local marine life, major changes abruptly occurred on that fateful morning in June 1919 when the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet began. These wrecks, and subsequent salvaging operations, have greatly modified the seabed biological community. Large artificial ‘footprints’ now occupied previously natural seabed habitats but provided a new substrate for the settlement of diverse marine life and created refuges for fish, crustaceans, and octopus. Only a generation after the great scuttling, the marine life of Scapa Flow was again impacted by the wars raging across Europe: new wrecks joined the sunken fleet, none more solemn than the Royal Oak; and the tides of the Flow were radically altered by the construction of the Churchill Barriers.

Prior to WW1 Scapa Flow existed as a natural deep water harbour, with considerable water flowing through and between islands at both the western entrance (Hoy Sound) and across on the east side (Lambs Holm, Glimps Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay). Since the inclusion of first block ships and then later on the Churchill Barriers, the current flow strength and direction has certainly changed in Scapa Flow, with some areas that were previously high energy, in the present day now being much lower in energy. Consequently, the marine communities will also have adapted and changed in response. 

On and around the remaining German wrecks, an interesting array of life has developed over the past 100 years. It is worth considering then, how the presence of the wrecks on the seabed in Scapa Flow now plays such a different role to that for which they were designed. Created as weapons of destruction these wrecks now allow a proliferation of marine life and provide opportunities to divers and scientists to observe and learn more about these organisms. 

And so the importance of the Scapa Flow wrecks continue into the future as we recognise the value of Blue Carbon habitats as mitigation measures to tackle climatic change. 



A Window on Underwater Orkney

PENNY MARTIN – Diver & photographer

This presentation will explore a comparison of the marine life that live on the exposed Orkney cliffs with species that have colonised the artificial reefs created by the wrecks and those that live on the muddy sea bottom of Scapa Flow.

Seasearch observer and surveyor courses have helped her identify the surprising variety of colourful cnidarians, squirts, crustaceans, echinoderms, sponges, sea slugs and fishes seen through her lens in Orkney waters. This talk will highlight the different species, their habitat and behaviours, through underwater photography.

15:30-15:55pm Refreshment Break



Ghost Fishing in Scapa Flow

DR RICHARD WALKER – Chair, Ghost Fishing UK

Over 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear are lost into the sea every year. This gear can continue to catch crustaceans, fish and large marine animals for a long period of time after its loss. Apart from needless loss of animal life, the lost fishing gear will impact local fisheries stock in an unknown and unpredictable way.

The Ghost Fishing foundation was set up to remove lost fishing gear from the seas. The project began in the Netherlands, and a chapter of the organisation is now established in the UK.

Between 2015 and 2018, Ghost Fishing UK carried out 4 week-long projects in Scapa Flow and removed a significant amount of lost fishing gear from the local wrecks and other sites. The project resulted the recovery of some 250 pots and creels, several scallop dredges and nets, many kilometers of rope and a wide variety of other debris. At the end of the 2018 week, Ghost Fishing UK was unable to find any more lost fishing gear, and as such, Scapa Flow was declared free of any active lost fishing gear.



The influence of the wrecks on the future management of Scapa Flow

DR GARETH DAVIES – Managing Director, Aquatera Ltd.

The presence of German fleet wrecks in Scapa Flow has resulted in a number of interesting case studies that influence the past, present and future management of the Flow.

The anchoring of so many vessels, and their subsequent sinking, would today be considered a major environmental hazard or disaster.  Questions arise as to how the overwintering and breeding birds, seals and cetaceans reacted to so much activity?  However, today’s wildlife populations have withstood these disturbances and pollution, are we therefore, too precautionary about managing areas today where evidence perhaps suggest that vibrant populations can be maintained despite such events?

Another legacy of the wrecks lies with the sea space that they occupy.  Activities such as fishing, fish farming and anchoring of ships are not possible close to the wrecks.  This may reduce the potential for these activities or displace them to other areas, thus increasing pressure elsewhere.  

Further insights can arise from how the wrecks have been colonised and degraded by sea life and how surrounding seabed communities may be influenced.  This knowledge can help improve understanding of biofouling of structures and consideration of use of manmade obstacles in wider sea-use management activities.

The wrecks therefore provide a number of physical constraints, philosophical challenges and learning opportunities that are very pertinent to the future sea use management of Scapa Flow.


17:30-17:40 CLOSING REMARKS from Chair Dr JEN HARLAND

images: Stromness Museum artefacts – Rebecca Marr, Stromness Museum / Archive images – Orkney Library & Archive / Underwater photography- Penny Martin