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The Diver's Diary

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Lewis Mackenzie, diver, seaweed expert, and Sugar Kelp harvester.

Every drop of Isle of Harris Gin has been given a helping hand by our friend, diver, and Sugar Kelp harvester Lewis Mackenzie. Each month we'll be catching up with him to learn more about his work and the natural world above and below the waves here in the Outer Hebrides. Over to you Lewis...


" The seas around the Isle of Harris are warming, with temperatures rising from a chilly 9 degrees centigrade to a more comfortable 15 degrees.

In the shallow seas of the west coast, beaches like Seilebost are even warmer as the warm sand heats the incoming tide to an almost balmy (for the Outer Hebrides at least!) 18 degrees.

The Great Skua aka the 'bonxie', in full flight. Image © Lewis Mackenzie

A lovely Kittiwake caught in the moment. Image © Lewis Mackenzie

The birds known locally as ‘bonxies’ or Great Skuas arrived on our shores in early May along with a host of other migratory seabirds like Common Terns, Puffins, Fulmars and Kittiwakes.

Sadly, a highly infectious strain of avian influenza virus has reached us with an unprecedented spread in wild seabirds. The Great Skua seems to be hardest hit at their colonies at St Kilda.

Life continues in the face of this worrying news, and many local seabirds are now nesting. The beautiful White Tailed Eagles, Herons, and Ravens are usually the first to hatch their chicks, followed closely by the Greylag Geese.

Seals and their young are easily spotted at sea this time of year. Image © Lewis Mackenzie

A Risso's dolphin at play in the warming waters of the Outer Hebrides. Image © Lewis Mackenzie.

Young Common Seals are now more visible in the island’s sea lochs as they become more independent and start exploring the wider underwater world, which is now their Outer Hebridean home.

Great shoals of flashing silver mackerel have arrived in our inner seas, and Minke whales, Risso’s Dolphins, Common Dolphins and Porpoises make the most of this fresh feast of delicious fish.

Swarms of jellyfish mature and rise to the surface, and on the sea bed lobsters are on the move, feeding in the warm water and providing bumper time for the creel fishermen.

Lobster and mackerel abound in summer providing good food for all. Image © Lewis Mackenzie

Sugar Kelp reaches maturity bringing our annual harvest to a close. Image © Lewis Mackenzie

Edible seaweed species such as Pepper Dulse and Red Dulse are now out of season as the summer sun bleaches them dry. It’s now the turn of Sea Spaghetti and Mermaids Lace, which have been growing quickly and are prime for harvesting.

The key botanical in Isle of Harris Gin, Sugar Kelp, has reached maturity after its seasonal cold water growth spurt, so the sustainable harvest ends here too.

The gold-green fronds are left to do their other job, namely to host a wide variety of sea life such as Winkles, Lumpsucker fish, Sticklebacks, Lobsters and Velvet crabs, which take refuge in their safe underwater forests.

Ropes ready to go to sea for seeding at the new seaweed farm. Image © Lewis Mackenzie

Sugar Kelp growing well on the ropes at sea. Image © Lewis Mackenzie

I’ve also been working behind the scenes on a special long-term project, an experimental new seaweed farm, and ropes were deployed in the same sea lochs we harvested wild Sugar Kelp back in November.

These ropes are naturally seeded as the wild spores drift in the tide and attach to them. The fronds then grow rapidly from January to May, but I’ll need to wait until they are two years old before harvesting.

But life, as the distillery team like to say, takes time and so, until next month, enjoy the gin and slàinte mhath! "
- Lewis Mackenzie, 8th June 2022.

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