A GROUND-BREAKING underwater video project has revealed the parenting secrets of one of Britain’s most iconic sea fish species.

The research carried out along the Poole and Purbeck coastline has won scuba diver Dr Matt Doggett the Duke of Edinburgh’s Sub-Aqua prize.

His team’s rare underwater camera footage proved male black bream are vital to protecting the nests of their young. The stills and video were taken by laying hidden cameras carefully among black bream nests.

The findings have been so significant that some within the sea angling community along the south coast are already adapting their fishing practices by returning male fish to the water during the important nesting season.

Dr Doggett, a self-employed marine ecologist and wildlife photographer, is an independent member of the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC), which is the UK governing body for scuba diving.

The gong, which was presented at Buckingham Palace by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, is awarded annually to the best underwater scientific and archaeological projects carried out following grants from the BSAC’s Jubilee Trust.

The Black Bream Project, led by Dr Doggett and fellow BSAC divers, husband and wife team Martin and Sheilah Openshaw, got underway in April 2015 when the black bream first arrived on the southern coast for the breeding season.

Planting remote video and specially-modified cameras on the seabed, the divers recorded never before seen courtship and nesting behaviour from the notoriously shy species including the way in which the male fish ferociously guard the nest from predators 24 hours a day, and the meticulous lengths they go to clean and prime a nest ready to attract a female.

One sample of footage shows a male defending the eggs against a Ballan wrasse and dog whelk while another shows males fighting over nest territory.

“The study is the first observation of wild black bream in the UK, possibly beyond. All the previous knowledge of nesting and courtship comes from aquarium observations in the 1950s,” Dr Doggett said.

“What we found was novel. There was a collective feeling that once the eggs hatched they leave the site, but we’ve shown they spawn several times which means the breeding season is longer than originally thought."

Dr Doggett, who lives with his wife Polly Whyte, also a BSAC diver, concentrated the research on a small 50m stretch of Dorset coast but quickly discovered the bream nests went on for hundreds of metres at that one site alone.

“They completely change the landscape of the seabed for a few months,” he said.