Seasearch was devised by Dr. Bob Earll (then Head of Conservation at the Marine Conservation Society) and Dr. Roger Mitchell (then Head of the Marine Science Branch of the Nature Conservancy Council) in the mid-1980s. Both of them realised that there was a great deal of enthusiasm and knowledge amongst the growing number of non-professional divers, which could be harnessed and put to good use. It also drew on previous volunteer recording projects which had been pioneered by the Marine Conservation Society.
The project was run during the 1990's by the Marine Conservation Society on behalf of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the government agency based in Peterborough as part of their Marine Nature Conservation Review. This culminated in the production of the Coastal Directories Project (Coast and Seas of the United Kingdom). Dr. Bob Foster-Smith at Newcastle University developed the project further and wrote an introductory booklet which was published by Scottish Natural Heritage.
During this time much of the recording was done on Seasearch expeditions, many of which were in the West of Scotland. There were active local projects too in Wales, Sussex and Dorset.
In 1999, a National Seasearch Steering Group was formed with the aim of expanding the project on a national basis. The Steering Group is comprised of statutory conservation bodies, NGO's including MCS, diver training associations and independent experts (see Who is Involved).
In 2001 and 2002 we piloted new recording forms and a training programme with Seasearchers old and new.
Seasearch had a big boost in 2003. With new funding from The Heritage Lottery Fund and other supporters we were able to appoint a National Co-ordinator and the project rapidly expanded. The Official Launch of the new Seasearch Project for 2003 was on Wednesday 4th June in London.
In 2004 and 2005 we established a network of local co-ordinators all around the UK. As a result there are many more training courses, dives and other events taking place each year than ever before.
Seasearch has produced four new identification guides to British and Irish marine life, Sea anemones and corals in 2005 (with a Second Edition in 2013), a general guide in 2007, a guide to seaweeds in 2010 and a guide to Bryozoans and Hydroids in 2010. Additional guides are planned..
2009 and 2010 have been the most successful years for Seasearch with the highest number of records received in 2010 and the highest number of training courses in 2009.
Seasearch expanded further in 2009 with the Irish Underwater Council promoting Seasearch recording in the Republic of Ireland for the first time.
In 2010 Seasearch data was an important contributor to the identification of sites as Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in England under the Marine and Coastal Access Act. Seasearch data has also been used in Scotland in formulating new Marine Protected Areas and in Northern Ireland Seasearch prosed two additional MCZs in the pre-consulation process during 2014.
In 2012 we targeted surveys in England at the 127 recommended MCSs, We produced 13 reports of sruveys which were submitted as a part of the consultation process. This process was repeated in 2014 with a further 17 MCZ survey reports, many of them for sites to be included in the 2nd tranche of MCZs.
By the end of 2014 the Seasearch dataset consisted of over 450,000 habitat and species records, all of which are publicy available through the National Biodiversity Network.