Words can't explain how important Chesil Beach is where the issue is environment. Both this 18 mile beach and the Fleet are part of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are many wrecks along the beach which is made up of a shingle bank leading straight into deep water. It's global attraction to anglers reflects the abundance of fish life in those depths. But Chesil's inhabitants are not just fish. From the rocks covered in kelp forests to the thousands of pieces of wreckage and gullies, the beach offers shelter to various kinds of diverse marine life.
Project Baseline Portland is an initiative of Underwater Explorers depending on activities and reports from volunteers. Anyone, diver or not, can help the project by joining our activities or contributing observations. Chesil Beach/Cove is the most important part of our project and subject to constant monitoring.
The Chesil leg of our project primarily involves monitoring the most southerly part of the beach: Chesil Cove.
The first objective to start gathering data (dive logs, photos, videos) on a regular basis was achieved in no time. This is now an ongoing process with volunteer divers -- it's initial results to be seen on our Online Log, the Chesil Photo Album and the Project Videos. Our next immediate target is to divide the Cove into survey grids using shore based bearings and in-water GPS markings (of notable sites) and collecting this data into a survey chart through Google Earth's tools. This early stage of the project looks to identify and *mark* a series of underwater survey locations that will reflect the diverse nature of Chesil. These 'permanent stations' will then give future divers markers around which to work.
The Next Step:
On Chesil Beach we will be monitoring changing conditions and sea life. The overall plan is to monitor Chesil Cove on a more structured regular basis while also documenting any changes, notable fauna and flora throughout the seasons. This also encompasses the monitoring of water or land based pollution. The Chesil Cove side of our project involves close cooperation with non-diving locals, environmental groups and land-based activities (beach cleanups, recording and documenting litter, pollution etc.)
Through the above we hope to be able to produce an underwater record of logs and images that will raise public awareness in environmental issues while providing first-hand feedback for a range of other projects and studies. The divers involved in the Chesil Beach monitoring are the ears and eyes of the public as well as citizen scientists doing what they can in an (underwater) environment not accessible to everyone.
Chesil Cove is the most southerly point of Chesil Beach and part of the Jurassic Coast. The shingle beach is 18 miles long, some 200 metres wide and 15 metres high. The beach on this side provides shelter from prevailing winds and waves for the village of Chiswell (Portland underhill) and the nearby town of Weymouth. Although Chesil is open only into the English Channel, it is heavily under the 'Atlantic influence' when it comes to weather, wind and waves. A continuous long-shore drift and the regular storms have shaped Chesil in such a way that it's said fishermen landing on shore on a pitch black night would roughly know where they are from the size of the pebbles. Very small and sandy grain to the West end of the beach pebbles grow in size towards the South/East until Chesil gets it's new nickname around the Cove: Pebble beach. Waves and currents have also shaped most of the beach line - creating the steep and sharply shelving profile of Chesil. The Cove itself is not uniform underwater and consists of sand beds, kelp forests, rocks and boulders and gullies with pieces of wreckage to be found almost everywhere.
Chesil Beach can be regarded a medium risk dive with all risks associated to shore diving applicable. Special care is required to dive with a surface marker against any boat traffic (though it is not an area of heavy traffic it is subject to smaller fishing boats and the occasional anchoring yachts) and to carry a cutting tool in case of entanglement on the hundreds of fishing lines lost and left behind by shore anglers. The most genuine risk on Chesil Beach though are conditions encountered by divers during entry and exit. The steep and sharply shelving structure of the beach is bad enough without millions of loose, wet and sometimes slippery pebbles moving under the feet. This can make the downward entry dangerous and the upward exit extremely difficult where there is swell. Chesil's "rule of thumb" is not to dive if there is a 2'+ swell or an undertow due to long shore drift can be observed. If a dive has already commenced and such conditions are encountered, a tug-rope extended by surface cover on the beach can be used. Alternatively, divers prefer to 'crawl' up the first shelf on their knees where they de-kit before the haul up to the road.
Please remember Project Baseline Portland UK is an ongoing project and our pages are being constantly updated. We will soon have information here regarding the gridded dive sites for Chesil, permanent monitoring locations, entry and exit methods together with details on local facilities and access points. In the meantime we are always here to help you and give advice if you are coming to Portland or diving Chesil Beach. We can also give you updates on underwater conditions for your upcoming trip to make it more enjoyable. If you are coming to dive soon, don't forget to take a look at our Online Log.
For more information you can also look at the following online articles from Diver Magazine's Divernet:
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