THERE is a squall rolling its way across the Sound of Jura, turning the sky to a forbidding dark grey and chasing away the few lingering memories of warm summer sunshine. 

The scenery from the shore may be dramatic, yet as Lottie Goodlet waits for the shower to hit the western fringes of the Taynish peninsula, it’s not the dramatic sky or the rolling hills that loom above the water’s surface that interest her. 

Instead, in a wetsuit to provide protection from water that is barely 10˚c and with a snorkel to help her to dive 12ft to the seabed, she prepares to hunt out the slippery, slightly creepy weeds that most other swimmers typically shy away from. 

“Normally people avoid seaweed because it’s slimy and a bit scary, but I go and look for it now,” she says. “It’s gaspingly beautiful. 

“In UK waters there are more than 650 species of seaweed and I would say that most of them are in Sound in Jura. It’s alive.”

She points out that below the black surface of the water is a vibrant world of emerald green, lush red and cheerful pink sea meadows, underwater forests of rich brown kelp that wave slippery fronds as she swims by, and strangely named plants that conjure vivid images of life on the seabed: slender-beaded coral weed, false eyelash and crofters’ wig weed. 

There are little groups of northern tooth weed with their faded purple-red spiky fronds, wispy chipolata weed, sea beech and sea oak that resemble tiny trees and sea lettuce which when stuck to rocks at the seaside may seem greasy and nasty but underwater sways gently to the rhythm of the tides. 

It was, she explains, a world that fascinated Victorian ladies who, stuck at home while ‘gentlemen scientists’ travelled the world seeking out new species, entertained themselves by hunting the seashore for seaweed and creating beautiful botanical books that brought the seabed to the surface to be enjoyed time and again. 

It’s also a world which, inspired both by the beauty of the deep and the pressed seaweed the Victorians’ treasured, Lottie is now recreating. 

As she explores the Sound of Jura seabed, she harvests individual seaweed specimens which she takes back to her artist’s studio in the tiny settlement of Carsaig. There she carefully presses each one onto thick watercolour paper using the same techniques that Victorian ladies perfected. 

What emerges from weeks of being pressed beneath layers of paper are fascinating impressions of a brightly coloured underwater garden which only the toughest swimmer might ever see. 

However, they also offer a glimpse of a seabed which Lottie, 56, believes to be under increasing threat from climate change, the threat of commercial harvesting and pollution.

“It is soul-destroying,” she says. “The Sound of Jura - like everywhere else - is really affected by plastic. Unfortunately, a lot of it is fishing gear, bits of string that comes from nets. 

“But there is also stuff that has probably blown off landfill, like plastic flowerpots, huge numbers of plastic drinks bottles, lots of scattered bits of plastic along the shoreline.  It’s everywhere. 

“During winter I get my kayak and gather piles of rubbish but I know it’s just going to come back.”

Climate change is also affecting the fragile sea meadows, encouraging the growth of vicious invasive species which multiply rapidly and smother native seaweeds. 

One determined variety – sargassum muticum, or Japanese wireweed – has crossed the Pacific, made its way from the Isle of Scilly up the west coast. Like an underwater version of the gardeners’ dreaded giant hogweed, is taking root in the clear waters of the Sound of Jura and systematically choking the native species. 

Even kelp, growing in vast forests below the waves, has faced risk from commercial harvesting for use as organic fertilisers, by pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies, food production and biofuel. 

“I’ve come to appreciate the importance of kelp,” adds Lottie. “It turns a beautiful green colour in the pressing process but apart from that it is the keystone organism that has a vital role - without it, the eco-system would collapse. 

“The kelp forests absorb carbon dioxide but are under threat from climate change, and the threat of commercial exploitation by harvesting.

“They should be left alone to do their own thing and we can’t lose that amazing biodiversity.”

She first ventured into the icy cold waters of the Sound of Jura 20 years ago after leaving her London office job working for overseas aid agencies. 

A keen outdoor swimmer in the south east of England, it barely prepared her for the chill of entering west coast waters that drops to little above 8˚c at times. 

A prescription mask overcame her short-sightedness enabled her to see what lay on the seabed and revealed a dazzling world of unexpected colours.

“I stopped avoiding seaweed when I was swimming, I was amazed by what I could see,” she says. “In late winter and early spring when the water warms up, the colours come out and there are stunning meadows of pink and red seaweed.

“I had read about Victorian ladies who used to press seaweed and made amazing albums of pressed seaweed. Even Queen Victoria had a seaweed scrapbook.”

They gave seaweed quaint names such as peacock’s tail, rosy dewdrop and cock’s comb, and seaweed hunting – on the beach as opposed to snorkel diving - became an acceptable past-time.

While their art faded as time passed, Lottie’s seaweed artworks inspired by their pioneering collections are set to reach more people than ever with the launch of a new art and culture-inspired route, Wander Argyll.

Unveiled this summer, it highlights the art galleries, cultural and historical spots of the region often overlooked as visitors make their way to the islands. 

Created by CHARTS, Argyll and the Isles’ Culture, Heritage and Arts Assembly, it directs visitors to over 60 highlights of the region, including the work of artists and craft makers who take their inspiration from the coasts, rivers, islands, lochs and mountains. 

Lottie says her seaweed prints often take visitors to her workshop by surprise. 

“People are astonished by the colours,” she adds. “They think they are watercolours and I have to explain these are the real colours and I don’t do anything to them.  I feel through this artwork I can help bring thoughtfulness and stewardship of an organism that is of such great importance.”