Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A trip down memory lane with Cheshire Wildlife Trust.

In the Summer of 1987 I moved to Hoylake, on the Wirral, at the age of 9. It was a big move - we (my mother and 3 of my brothers) arrived from Kent full of excitement and nerves for our move to live beside the sea and for all the, hopefully, exciting opportunities that might lie ahead. We had gone from a busy town road in Tunbridge wells to a house not 50 metres from the beach. My mother had, on the occasion, taken us to Brighton, Hastings and other Kentish coastal spots but this was our first experience of the wild North Sea.

The very first thing that I became aware of were the huge tides at Hoylake. We would walk for what seemed like hours towards the shore over an ever expansive sandy beach. Our dogs "Gentle" and "Gates" went crazy with excitement for the chance to run in any direction and the slightly odd pleasure of rolling about on dead birds, jellyfish and any other detritus they seemed to find. We all felt incredibly free. Once there we would occasionally see Grey Seals bobbing their heads up for a closer inspection of this motley crew of 2 and 4 legged creatures, the smallest (me) waving crazily at them!

We would return home and later in the evening, for the last dog walk of the day, be blown away by the tide having made its way to the promenade wall - a good 2km in distance. This was my first very real experiences of tide and it was here that I became aware that I was a tiny part of a great big huge world that had forces exerted upon it by things you would never believe - the moon in the sky thousands of miles away.

I also soon realised, thanks to my science teaching mum, that the tides would offer us great days out - for free! On the right tidal times, we would make our way from Hoylake along the beach to West Kirby, "mud skating" on the way wherever possible. Once near West Kirby we could make our way out to "Little Eye", over to "Middle Eye" and to our final destination - Hilbre Island. If we had gauged the tide times right - we could stay over there over high tide and watch these mammoth tides engulf the shores of this small island.

Once we reached the shores of this trio of islands we would explore the rockpools and find beautiful little shells - one of which my mother informed me shared my name (almost) "Mya". We'd find crabs, mussels and cockles desperately trying to dig their way in to the sandy substrate with their "foot" before me and my brother Will would, innocently, try to grab them tight with their foot still extended.

On the main island we would walk up the slipway to find houses, a small lighthouse and a path to the most exciting Northward point of the island. We would make our way to this tip which was still surrounded by sea. Once here we would expectantly look to the sea for any sightings of the seals which we often saw from the shore to the North of where we now stood. Soon if not immediately we would see the slopey heads of the grey seal - pop up and I was sure, in my small mind, that they recognised me. If I looked towards the Welsh coast I could see the sand bank which supported a small colony of a couple of hundred lounging seals.

This was my first experience of the sea and it was from those memories and experiences that I developed a love for the sea. I wanted to know so much more about this watery world and I was determined to do just that. Fourteen years later I found myself being invited to lead a guided walk to Hilbre Island for Cheshire Wildlife Trust. It was such an exciting opportunity to go full circle and revisit the birth place of my love of the sea. So I found myself talking to children about the creatures that we were finding on Hilbre Island. There was one girl who had aspirations to be a marine biologist and it was wonderful to see her enthusiasm for all things marine!

One of the things that really struck me is that sometimes it is easy to forget as a "grown up" what inspires children. When in Devon, on my rockpool rambles we see wonderful creatures and such a huge variety of species. The water is clear and the chances for inspiration from snorkeling through crystal clear waters, surfing on crisp, clean waves are pretty vast. But I often forget what simple things can and do engage children.

Hilbre is an incredibly beautiful place with a fantastic array of sea birds and waders and seals. There was a moment when I looked at the rockpools and thought to myself, "there isn't much here". I had to stop myself from going down that adult thought process and remind myself of my 8 year old self - how excited I was to see mussels, crabs and cockles. The fact was that I had an inspirational lady (my mother) to show me all the wonderful creatures and explain them to me and the reality and power of nature are a very mind blowing thing for a small child. For a moment, I might have thought my Devonshire rockpools were more interesting but in reality they are no less inspiring than any other coastal spots no matter what their condition.

Honeycombe Reef at Hilbre Island - a BAP priority species, Mussels and Sea Lettuce.

The steps up from the seal look out point at the tip of the island.

3 young children get inspired & spot seals!

River Dee at Sunset
It was fantastic to meet the families from the Wirral and to meet the Cheshire Wildlife Trust crew and see all the fantastic work that they are doing both on Hilbre and Wigg Island in Runcorn. It was also a great opportunity to remind myself what inspires children...and return to Hilbre once again.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Wear Blue, Tell Two on June 8th

Wear Blue Tell TwoJune 8th is World Ocean Day. This is a day to reflect on all that is marine and be thankful for all that the ocean offers. It's also an opportunity to look like a smurf or just wear a stylish HRH Kate Middleton-esque blue frock...whatever rocks your boat on World Ocean Day. http://worldoceansday.org/?page_id=36

The key to the "wear blue, tell two" is to spread the word that is "ocean". There are so many things that we owe to the sea and so many reasons why we have to protect it. As well as being the source of all life - it's enchanting, it's a source of minerals & our climate and much of our global protein. I am pretty obsessed with the sea - it provides me with everything I need in life and more. It may seem like another world but you are in contact with the seas and oceans with every life giving breath you take.

Here's a few facts for you:
  1. Over 70% of global atmospheric oxygen is produced by plankton - the phytoplankton.
  2. Plankton is the primary source of life in our oceans.
  3. Plankton created the White Cliffs of Dover.
  4. As plankton decomposes over time and pressure it creates oil (to it's own demise)
  5. The ocean absorbs Carbon dioxide as well as produces Oxygen
  6. If we lose saltmarshes, seagrass beds we reduce the potential for absorption of CO2
  7. c. 71% of the Earth's surface is ocean
  8. The deepest part of the ocean is the Mariana Trench at c. 11km deep
  9. The Gulf Stream flows 300x faster than the Amazon
  10. c.90% of oceanic life occurs in the first 10m - the photic zone (where sunlight can penetrate easily)
  11. The Blue Whale is larger than any known dinosaur with a heart the size of a car
  12. Fish is the main source of global protein - the only source for many island communities
  13. c. 80% of people live within 60km of the coast
  14. Plastic kills! There are few species exempt from the impact of plastic - up to 1 million sea birds & 100,000 sea mammals.
  15. Barnacles have the largest penis relative to body size in the Animal Kingdom
  16. Once the barnacle has made use of his penis - it falls off.
  17. Crabs moult their shells
  18. Sharks and rays lay eggs called "mermaid's purses" - some are spiral shaped - ouch!! (Horned Shark)
  19. Dog whelks drill holes in to mussels to eat their flesh..
  20. Starfish can lose their arms and regenerate them!
That will do for now as a sample - I've left a variety to choose from - friendly for young, old or twisted. Or look up your own - find some great facts and leave them in the comments. If you wear blue & tell two - take a photo & tweet me! I'd love to see & hear your fishy tales! Spread the word...

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The mystery of the Sailor's Whistle...

Some of you may remember that I spoke about the "Sailor's Whistle" on the Autumnwatch film I presented in in 2010. The "whistle" is made from the bladder of a wrack - egg wrack ideally as they are larger - the bladder wrack produces a totally serviceable whistle but more of a fiddle...

First of all a little marine biology - why do seaweeds have bladders? Well, seaweeds need sunlight to photosynthesise. When the tide is in and the intertidal rocky area turns into a marine forest of swaying seaweed "branches", some seaweeds have evolved to maximise the potential sunlight harvested by making sure it is held high up in the water with these little "bubbles". The gas filled bladders act as a floatation device like a child's armbands!

But, in true human fashion, we found good purpose of these bladders - to make whistles. I had heard that Egg Wrack also had the name, "Sailor's Whistle". So, I diligently collected bladders and tried a variety of holes in a variety of patterns and positions...to no avail. But a lovely lady responded with an email to tell me her Grandfather used to make them!

So the answer is incredibly simple - make one hole in the bladder and blow across it like a flute & voila we have a "Sailor's Whistle". Perhaps there are other versions of "whistle" but I like the simplicity of this version! When I run rockpool sessions & find detached weed, I can now nibble a little hole and produce a little "tweet"...

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Seashore Supper

There is nothing like a meal caught / gathered, prepared and eaten within a 1km radius...simply divine. The added bonus of being able to do this with my daughter is simply perfect. The privilege of showing my daughter what can be eaten straight from the shore and see her hungrily wolf down the curly meat of a periwinkle dipped in garlic butter - is so satisfying. It feels so right to be able to show her what amazing resource we have on our doorstep and therefore why it's so important - without saying a word!

So to start we had periwinkles cooked in a bouillon and then dipped in garlic butter with crispy seaweed - actually seaweed unlike the cabbage you get from your Chinese take away.

We then had a spaghetti marinara with mussels and cockles we'd gathered and some oysters topped with Parmesan and breadcrumbs - simply delicious. The mussels and cockles were collected yesterday so still within months with an R! With every bite you are reminded of the beautiful day out with the family - the energetic walk, the sunshine, the connection with nature and the absolute gratitude of what you can find locally makes it such a very special meal.

I would have had elderflower panacotta if it had turned out better - set from the alginates from boiled seaweed - alas I was impatient and didn't boil it for long enough. As any of you follow me on Twitter will testify - it looked like gelatinous, putrefied baby sick - tasted ok... I'm going back to a simpler recipe - jelly - no milk involved - less to go wrong!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Sea Thrift

On a lighter note - when I went for my run along the coastal path I was very excited to see the Sea Thrift in flower. Obviously being a coastal monkey this has to be my favourite flower - it sets the cliffs alive with colour and texture! It reminds me of the connection of land and sea - living on the edge of both. Surely, the best place to be!

Taken from: http://naturehills.com/images/productimages/seathrift_armadarose_big.jpg

I've just been told about this poem whiich mentions "Sea Pink" aka Sea Thrift.
by John Betjeman
I know so well this turfy mile,
These clumps of sea-pink withered brown,
The breezy cliff, the awkward stile,
The sandy path that takes me down.

To crackling layers of broken slate
Where black and flat sea-woodlice crawl
And isolated rock pools wait
Wash from the highest tides of all.

I know the roughly blasted track
That skirts a small and smelly bay
And over squelching bladderwrack
Leads to the beach at Greenaway.

Down on the shingle safe at last
I hear the slowly dragging roar
As mighty rollers mount to cast
Small coal and seaweed on the shore,

And spurting far as it can reach
The shooting surf comes hissing round
To heave a line along the beach
Of cowries waiting to be found.

Tide after tide by night and day
The breakers battle with the land
And rounded smooth along the bay
The faithful rocks protecting stand.

But in a dream the other night
I saw this coastline from the sea
And felt the breakers plunging white
Their weight of waters over me.

There were the stile, the turf, the shore,
The safety line of shingle beach
With every stroke I struck the more
The backwash sucked me out of reach.

Back into what a water-world
Of waving weed and waiting claws?
Of writhing tentacles uncurled
To drag me to what dreadful jaws?

"Life is pregnant with the potential for change"...

Ok I have to get something off my chest because at the moment it sits like a lead weight in my belly. This is my confused thoughts exorcised...

In 2008 I set up Learn To Sea. Learn To Sea was born out of my desire to encourage marine education and because I felt frustrated working on environmental projects within county council. I was unsure of what contribution they had on our environment and what contribution my daily 2 hour drive to Exeter and back made to climatic change. There was something, probably quite alot, that didn't sit right with me as I alluded to in an earlier blog.

When I set up Learn To Sea my biggest area of confusion was not on content, direction or aim or even the dreaded policies, guidelines and insurance jargon - that was fairly evident that I just had to work through it. I knew I wanted to educate about our seas and had an approximate formula to do so and the drive. I was willing to adapt and evolve the business into whatever worked the best with greatest result. My confusion was over funding issues. The majority, if not all, marine educators are funded projects - they rely on short term funds for specific projects or long term funds from statutory responsible organisations which were always under review every year and always with the potential to diminish or even disappear every / most year/s. This culmination of potentials would mean that you would have to spend a considerable amount of time or staffing on project funding - whether that be searching for funds, filling out quarterly submissions or other arduous forms. They also meant that you had specific milestones to ahieve certain outcomes of your 3 year projects. But it would also mean a salary. As an individual person making my own way I just didn't have the time and I didn't feel it fitted my situation. I wanted to evolve. So I am a business not a charity and on a rare occasion I am disappointed about the assumptions that brings.

As a business I have to make sure I offer a service that provides and others will support through word of mouth. I am representative of my business and what I put into my business - it will benefit our seas and coast. Even if not now then hopefully in the future. It gives me drive that I am solely responsible for the outcomes and successes of my project. It, quite simply has to work well or I won't be able to carry on working doing what I love best and inspiring others to do the same. So I am happy at the scale and function of my little business.

I am sure many funded projects are highly specific and have wonderful quantifiable results and success stories. But for me this is kind of counter my belief system. I like to think life evolves, my journey from childhood has evolved. As I learn from one mistake I learn from another success, as I meet one person who puts up a barrier I meet another who opens a door. I love the lack of definitive projections for my future. I love the fact that next year my life may take a wildly different turn from the previous as I make conclusions from my 33 years of experience in this life in this modern day world in the UK and which step I take next. I love the term synchronicity and that "life is pregnant with the potential for change"...that excites me and means there are some amazing opportunities around the corner for me, my environment and our world.

So when I set out to realise my dream for Learn To Sea, it was a culmination of time in academia and also my life and professional experience which meant I was, in some ways, ready to go. But the thought of not allowing my baby to grow at it's own pace and with formulated guidelines on what it should achieve by what date seemed foolish to me. I was also juggling being a full time Mum to a then 3 year old. I needed flexibility - Learn To Sea needed flexibility and I was working alone. (...this is the making of a lengthy blog)

So I got some initial funding through the good people of Unltd for capital costs for Social Entrepreneurs to help set up the project, something in my financial situation I could have never done. I then let my little baby start it's journey and it's been so varied - few bumps on the head but generally the progression has been foreward. It doesn't make me rich but it reportedly enriches others and therefore enriches my life. And I have a very patient husband who supports my marine madness. We have a subsitance life with little additional costs. It has resulted in small projects, school trips, a personal life changing trip to Midway and the opportunity to talk about & share what I love most on national TV. I feel like it has been a great success - not in conventional business financial terms but in some of it's outcome.

So, the reason I am divulging all this personal experience is that I am often left confused. Despite saying what I said at times I feel like the fool. A short while ago I applied for some funds - £5 000 to do some project work which, in my opinion, would have achieved alot. I was told that the funds were too small - I should have applied for more. My initial work experience in Argentina was of a country whose marine biology institutes were running off one PC, a lot of passion and dedication and very little money. I wanted to achieve and evolve at a pace which was beneficial for me and my business that didn't require masses of money.

I don't want to ask for excessive costs I want to get stuff done. I apply for small funding streams to achieve small worthy projects and hopefully encourage conservation. I then talk to colleagues in the industry who are getting into 10,000s of pounds worth of funding or even millions to run projects. I congratulate them, I am glad that they are able to help reach deprived areas to talk to people about our watery world or achieve brilliant research. But I am concerned about wastage. Why does each project need a new laptop - where did the last one go to for the previous post that sits in the same desk. How many staff members are being supported through those funds and what proportion of those funds are allocated to actual work - actual outreach.

This has been instigated by an appeal for a new project which I was called up about. The project is HLF money and will potentially/possibly train teachers, provide resource boxes to schools and facilitate outdoors education (and maintain job posts where funding has been lost). But my simple questions are - how can schools afford to take their kit and go on a field trip? How can teachers take time off to go to any training days? It's a battle for schools to keep teachers in schools with funding limitations. They are so limited with time and funding. They are so stretched as to what they have to achieve when all they ever wanted to do was teach children...me too!

So why can't all of these funds be given to schools to give them the opportunity to pay for transport, to get outside and learn from experience, to let nature teach them the ways of life and let their learning evolve into something beautiful? Let them make their choices of their own experiences...

But then I hit this point where I think I am diving into Maya's world - where people remind me - "Yes, in an ideal world. But this is second best.." Why do we have to put up with second best? Why can't we do the "ideal" thing - have unrealistic objectives and work towards them. It is not impossible to expect to live in an ideal world - we just have to work on it. The very first step is to recognise our shortcomings and move forward. But maybe I am naive and life still has alot to teach me...I'll keep you posted on that one!

I don't feel I have personally, fully evolved in my understanding of this situation to know if I am correct or not but this is my view at this point of time. Maybe, I am a fool but a happy one. I would love to hear your opinions on the whole funding issue - is it time and money wasted or is there a new alternative?

Now I have exorcised my mind I am off to exercise my body - coastal path run...

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A successful student?

I have just been asked by my University - Plymouth to write about my career and experience from studying marine ecology there. I am so touched that they considered me and am just taking a moment to think about what I have achieved. At times I feel like I am achieving so little when I am banging my head against walls trying to encourage more marine education, eek out small funds for courses, tyring to remember all the vast oceans full of knowledge there is to know about our seas but in my mind if I have inspired one person to follow a career in marine biology or support marine conservation through sustainable living etc then I feel I have achieved what I hoped to. Sorry that sounds really cheesy but it's the truth. This is what I wrote...
"My love of the sea started young - rockpooling and playing on my local beach and with this my fascination of the ecology of our seas grew. I chose to do a course in Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology at Plymouth University because it would help answer many of the unanswered questions I had about our marine environment. I wasn't disappointed! I chose Plymouth because of the quality of the coastline and also the potential of work with many marine institutions in the area. I worked part-time at the National Marine Aquarium during my studies. The best part of the course was the diversity of understanding it gave about our marine environment as a whole. The opportunities for learning on field trips locally and most importantly the inspired knowledge of the lecturers.
I went on from my degree to study for an MSC in Integrated Coastal Zone Management with a work placement in coastal Argentina. Following on from this experience and my new understanding of the marine industry - I then worked in environmental management within the local council which was a really useful and enjoyable start to my career. In 2008 I finally realised my life ambition to set up a marine education facility - Learn to Sea. This has been an amazing experience and incredibly rewarding to offer local people and tourists of all ages an opportunity to share my knowledge and passion for the sea. I really believe that marine education is a fundamental requirement of marine conservation.
My work as director of Learn To Sea has also given me various other incredible opportunities. In 2010 I was asked to be guest presenter for BBC Autumnwatch which was a wonderful opportunity to share my knowledge of the seas with a larger audience. I also was selected to take part in an international marine education leadership course on Midway Atoll, North Western Hawaiian Islands. It was an invaluable experience to draw down for my work within marine education - particularly marine litter. I never expected my career would be so varied and exciting although I obviously hoped for it. Who knows what the future might bring! If you are passionate for the sea and want to follow a career in marine biology I wholeheartedly encourage you!
The course acted as a springboard for my career and a network of contacts for work in the future. It also, through it's diversity, gave me an opportunity to see what aspects of marine ecology I really wanted to follow. My school careers advisor advised me not to follow a career in marine biology for fear of lack of employment, I am glad to say that I have categorically proven him wrong!"
As an old uni friend reminded me don't forget trips to "Jelly Jazz" made you what you are today! And he is absolutely right because my career was established through my learning but my thoughts, understandings and perspectives from an amazing group of  inspirational and wise friends and family that have inspired me along the way...what a journey it is and it's not over yet! Feel so flipping lucky!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Marine conservation...why education is the answer!

Marine conservation what does it mean? Today it means balancing ecology, economy and sociology to maintain biodiversity. But it has slightly different origins - and originates from way back in the 14th Century.

"Latin servāre meant ‘keep, preserve’ (it was not related to servusslave’, source of English serve and servant). Among the compounds formed from it were praeservāreguard in advance’ and, using the intensive prefix com-, conservāre. This passed into English via Old French conserver. Amongst its derivatives are conservation (14th c.), conservative (14th c.) (first used in the modern political sense by J Wilson Croker in 1830), and conservatory (16th c.) (whose French original, conservatoire, was reborrowed in the 18th century in the sense ‘musical academy’)."

The bit I like about this is the translation from "GUARD IN ADVANCE" . But is this really the case with conservation - in many ways modern conservation is thwarted with some of the problems associated with modern medicine - treat the problem not prevent the illness. Marine conservation is so valuable, there is no denying that. We are now recognising that we did very little to protect our ecosystem before degradation set in. Now we know that biodiversity loss, habitat loss, extinctions and ecosystem change is making the world a very different world than the one our ancestors new. This is a common problem - what is the "baseline" which forefathers/mothers should we look at for a description of "healthy ecosystem". Prof. Callum Roberts has written a fantastic book about our seas and how they used to be decades and centuries before us - dolphins blocking harbours, tuna baring caught off Scarborough - things have changed - our seas are pretty empty and our species are small! "The Unnatural History of the Sea, Prof. C. Roberts".

Now, just as we hit crisis point - we are ready to do something but we have to act fast. The Marine Management Organisation is responsible for setting up a network of Marine Protected Areas in UK waters. They are the organisation that will be responsible for legislation, planning and marine protection. They are based in Newcastle - they are a brand new organisation that are finding their feet. I hope they look to some of their older established siblings of NOAA in the USA for some great examples. (They include marine education in their remit.)

When I visited Midway Atoll in the North Western Hawaiian Islands, I was absolutely amazed at the quantity and quality of fish there. It has been a fisheries exclusion zone for over a decade now and boy does it show! The "ulua" or giant trevally are really giants! The ecosystem is recovering because it has this conservation in place and the apex predators ensure it's a healthy ecosystem. It is a fantastic example of brilliant marine conservation in action. It is a paradise and a mecca for marine conservation. In some ways it is an easy area to manage - Honolulu is approx.1200 miles away so the potential for fishing boats to reach this area is small. The enforcement is not such a complex issue. So is Midway protected - have we safeguarded it for the future? No.

The problem lies in our global system being under pressure - ocean acidification if the trajectories are true will have major impact on coral reefs. They will die. The slowly acidifying waters will mean that the function of creatures will be impaired some creatures will be unable to grow their calciferous shells because of the high pH. There is global pollution that will impact the flora and fauna and climate change that pushes creatures into new regions. It can only be protected if our global society decides to protect our land, atmosphere and ultimately seas. Whatever we do to the land is felt in the sea. What we do in sea is invisible to land. It is the seas downfall and also it's beauty which makes conservation of the seas so difficult. We cannot see what is going on below the surface - we have to "Learn To Sea" through better understanding and knowledge.

Here in the UK we will witness  a really positive move forward in our protection of seas. It is positive... there is no denying that. But are we too late? MCZs will protect important nursery grounds for bass, commercial fisheries and important species and habitats for biodiversity. Will we be able to enforce them, will we be able to protect them from those who have greater economic gain from exploiting them than leaving them alone? In today's time of economic limitations, I honestly doubt that.

BUT if we would only recognise that in our modern society that relies on seas and oceans for transport, protein, recreation, oxygen, oil etc etc we as a society know so little about our seas. If you ask the average man/woman/child on the street where oxygen comes from - trees/plants is the answer. This is a massive failing. They don't realise that half of our atmospheric oxygen comes from phytoplankton. The sea is our lungs, it is our heart and without it we will not survive. We must know and understand the value and importance of healthy seas and oceans. If we don't understand this there will be little support for any protected areas whether it be from government officials, fisherman or the general public.

We all need to be educated about our seas. If not we can carry on putting in protected areas but acidification, marine litter, climate change and overfishing will alter our marine ecosystem to such an extent that our seas will be as uninhabitable as our planet. But the biggest killer of seas - IGNORANCE.

Please support marine education and ask for your school, local council etc etc to do the same. It's time that we learn to sea.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

"Talking Ocean" or "Communicating Marine Sustainability"

Fred the monkey calls marine education "talking ocean" (- see soaronhirschi.blogspot.com for details on Fred) I like this - it's simple, it's to the point and you know what I mean, hopefully!

Sometime ago I was asked by the Devon Maritime Forum group to present at their biannual conference. I was asked to talk on, "Communicating marine sustainability."

Whilst I was nervous about talking with Chris Packham and Kate Humble on live TV in front of 3 million people this put the fear of God into me. Crazy really, I know, but somehow it was so much more daunting. Devon Maritime Forum's project officer sits in my old seat at Devon County Council. I used to work there for nearly 3 years back in 2003 - 2005 ish. It was an interesting experience. It was part of a European project on water catchment issues - I loved the transnational learning and being able to use my french and I loved the content of the project but..there's always a but! I am going to be honest here as that is the only way that I can be now. I was less keen working for local government. I felt like a black sheep - I used to walk into my office smile and say, "Good morning". The staff would look at me nervously as they broke from their aggressive typing to smile questioningly. I'm not suggesting they weren't friendly or kind but just the atmosphere dry.

I would go to meetings and the hour (or more) sessions were full of terms and slogans that were wrapped around different content but to me said very little - " we must be transparent" , "we mustn't reinvent the wheel" but it would have been nice if they reinvented the way they communicated if I am brutally honest. People would leave not sure what they were supposed to have learned, done or digested. I am sure things have changed and I am not casting aspersions on all local councils but this was my experience back in the early "naughties".

So the way I talk now - isn't perfect, it's grammatically incorrect, I make typos I'm not very good at saying what I need to say at times but I try and say what I say simply. I had ongoing arguments at university with my lecturers on simplifying scientific papers so we could all learn from them - whether we are scientists or not. So I felt very nervous of what I have become (in conversation) and what felt I had to be when I worked in teh council walls and so too now in front of this audience of councillors and others. Sometimes we throw long words in to make us feel smart to make sure people know we are intelligent and to boost our confidence. I'm not afraid of long words I love to throw in the odd biggy - for dramatic effect, maybe even to prove I can but generally I like to keep it simple.

So I did my talk about the importance of marine education. I spoke about why, in modern society we need to ensure we all have an understanding and love of our oceanic world. We need to understand that it is important to us, to our society and for global health. We all worked in the marine industry because at some time we had formed a relationship with the sea. We all loved the sea. Therefore, we wanted to protect it, look after it and manage it so that we could share those experiences with children and grandchildren.

I introduced Fred the Monkey to the crowd. Fred was an example of how storytelling is so valuable in communicating about the sea. Fred tells his story of his trip to Midway Atoll, his experience of litter and albatross and how he wants to inspire children to conserve the sea. He's so valuable for my workshops - everybody loves Fred (including Tim Maddams - Hugh's right hand chef man from Big Fish Fight, who made us some amazing mackerel buns for lunch)...

He adds a bit of fun, he tells a story - people love stories they love emotions and sentiments that they can relate to. So when I ended up in Midway and had my own story to tell along with Fred of how I peeled back the ribcage of a dead albatross chick to find a lighter with the ironic inscription, "Freedom and Innocence" it was so much more powerful. I was able to translate my very real feelings that are still as powerful today as they were then. I resolved at that point to never give up on my mission to talk about the sea and tell my story of Midway and the rubbish and to help share my knowledge of the sea however I can. You will find people listen to that so much more than regurgitated statistics which do little more than the litter sitting in the stomachs of the albatross chicks. We need to inspire change if we want our seas and oceans protected - legislation and conservation designation are great. They are set up by people who care with great intentions. We need to make sure that everyone else cares and the only way to do this is to avoid ignorance. The answer is and always will be, for me -  marine education.

If we do not understand our seas we will not protect them. If our seas are not protected we have little chance of life on land. But that's not what will inspire you. What will inspire you, I think, is to go to the coast - breathe the salty air, rockpool, surf, walk the coastal paths and with every step and every rock you turn over to be so incredibly humbled by the fact that we owe everything to the sea. That is what makes the sea so magical. That is why marine education is so important. Kate Humble is advocating more countryside visits - I hope this includes the marine environment too for all children.

I love Sylvia Earle's statement that I often repeat,

"No water, no life, no blue, no green."

If the majority of society truly understood this statement perhaps we would not need this legislation.  But I am veering into what my lecturers called, "Maya's World" and what somebody at the conference called, "Maya's version of reality". I am a dreamer and I have aspirations that are at times a little lofty but it's what got me here today. My careers advisor told me, "you live in a dream world, Maya. There are few careers is marine biology. I fear you think you will swim with dolphins - you should consider a career in translation or in personnel management."

Luckily, I do live in a dream world , I've swum with dolphins off Devon and I encourage anyone interested in a career in marine biology - DO IT!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Tri this...

For the past few years now my life has become led by the tides, the daily tidal cycle of highs and lows & the opportunities they offer; the lunar tidal cycles of springs and neaps (next blog will explain all) full and new moons and the annual cycles of the seasons. When you become more aware of the seasonal changes around you, you become those changes and seasons. You learn to take the highs with the lows, the ups with the downs because it is just part of the smaller and larger cycles of life.

In Winter life is slow the veggie patch lies dormant, the chucks keep turning the soil for us - so we might forgive them for the lack of eggs (!), there is little we can do to encourage growth we just path the way for the warmer months and wait for the next season enjoying the calm, the peace and the long dark evenings (until about February!). When March hits it often feels like a frustrating time when you're ready to burst out and recommence a new season of growth but the temperatures and day length isn't quite on your wavelength yet...you have to wait some more. There are tantalising glimpses of Spring and we eagerly anticipate the time to plant the tatties, onions & broad beans.

I have to admit I do hibernate a bit in the Winter, I like to find a little nest (preferably filled with sheepskin) and curl up for a few months, rearing my head on the sunny days or to reach out for a new book and to snuggle down with the family.

But it IS SPRING! Honestly, it is. Today was beach clean on a  glorious sunny day we cooked sausages (locally reared naturally!) on a driftwood fire and I went for an early morning coastal path run. My friend came along with me who is a harsh but brilliant "coach" there's no giving up with her...we run along the coast and she allows a very brief stop on the beach before the return up the coast path, stop at the bench over looking the sea for some press ups & dips..ugh.. for a final 300m sprint at the end...exhilarating but painful in a promising way.

So, I have signed up for my second triathlon. As a lover of the sea it seems only right to make the most of the coastal location and the warmer seasons - running the coast path, swimming in the sea and cycling wherever long, narrow and quite frankly cycle unfriendly Devonshire lanes will take me. As gruelling as it is and demanding of your time to train up it is just so lovely to feel yourself growing stronger as the sun's rays get warmer. When September hits and the Surf triathlon is complete - no doubt I will vow to keep up the training but chances are that I will snuggle down again to enjoy the quieter, cooler seasons and eat cake! :)
Incidentally, in 2009 when I did this tri I won a prize of a holiday in Cornwall as a wooden spoon for coming (proudly) last. I am hoping not to do better :).

Monday, 7 March 2011

My thoughts on fishing...

Our fisheries have been under threat for some time now. Here's a little history for you taken from the Marine Biological Association's website...

"In 1866 a Royal Commission on Sea Fisheries, which included Professor Thomas Huxley as one of its members recommended doing away with existing regulations relating to sea fishing as fears relating to over-exploitation of fish were thought to be unfounded. In one of his most famous comments Huxley, in his inaugural address to the International Fisheries Exhibition in London 1883 stated that "I believe that it may be affirmed with confidence that, in relation to our present modes of fishing, a number of the most important sea fisheries, such as the cod fishery, the herring fishery, and the mackerel fishery, are inexhaustible".

However, Professor Edwin Ray Lankester put forward the views of many who disagreed with Huxley's statement by arguing that man could have a significant impact on fish stocks so that "the natural balance is upset". Lankester went on to propose the formation of a society to answer such questions and Huxley became the first president of the society when it was established in 1884. The main source of funding came from the UK Government who wanted to support the association's activities towards the ends of "conducting research, collecting statistics and advising on legislation". Much support in setting up the MBA was given by the then minister for the Board of Trade (which was then responsible for fisheries) Joseph Chamberlain."

So you see the debate on overfishing has been raging since 1866 and I expect well before that time. If you look at Prof. Callum Roberts' book, it illustrates very different seas. They were, at one time, teeming, rich and I imagine, intimidating places for the proliferation of some of our larger megafauna around our shores. Today tells a different story. Many of our stocks are depleted, many of our species have no baseline to tell us what healthy stocks were. But today we do have so much more knowledge, information and data than we ever had. We are in a progressive position where we have the technological potential and, I think, enough statistical information to make informed decisions and progress into the 21st century with confidence. But something is missing we are not yet achieving sustainability.

Fisheries is such a complex issue which like any other industry supplies economy, jobs and nutrition to our society but has an impact on our environment. We are fortunate on this small island that we are not reliant on fish as a source of protein we have rich soils and pasture for agriculture both arable and dairy. But we are still an island. We have coastal roots - we are aquatic apes - in my opinion. We love seafood - it supplies us with omega oils, nutrients and minerals that keep us healthy and happy memories of coastal holidays that satisfies our souls.

I consider myself so very lucky to live by the coast - it was my dream as a kid (from roots in inland Kent) to have a cottage by the sea, with chickens, a path to the sea and a life of coastal sports and food. I'm here - surprised I got here and not sure how I made it but I have.We catch mackerel, we snorkle for spider crab, we fish for bass, we collect mussels, we net for shrimp - the whole experience makes seafood an incredible luxury - that costs nothing. We have bad seasons where the rain, wind and weather stop us from catching much but we have a veggie patch and chucks that keeps on providing for us - if we put the work in. It's not always an easy option but it feels right. All the energy and effort that goes into providing our food makes us thankful and respectful and committed to conserving land and seas. It is life. Without it we would have nothing. We want our daughter to know why land and seas our important not "stuff".
So I look back at the me of 15 years ago - eating cod fishfingers, not knowing how to gut a fish, buying seafood from the supermarket, pre marine biology studies and knowledge - not considering or knowing the journey of my fish finger to my plate. Did I care? If I had understood - yes I hope I would. I just didn't know or appreciate what got that breadcrumbed fish to my plate. It is this lack of connection to the journey of our food that has got us into this position. We have discards - we now know about this thanks to the programme. We are doing something about it.

Hugh and the crew did an amazing job to tell the story of the fisherman, the industry and the waste that happens before our fish hits our plate. It made us think, it made us ask questions and it made people demand solutions. The solutions are hard to find and hard to reach - the politics, economy and demand is such a long chain of middle men that effective communication is really difficult. Fishermen want to be understood, scientists want to be heard, politicians want an effective economy (apparently). We have to think long term - way out into the future that is hard for our short living species. We didn't realise back in the 19th Century our population would have the potential of consumption that it does today. We have to moderate.

Banning discards is a great solution. We stop wasting bycatch and chucking dead fish back. But what about the methods of fishing - we are of an age where we can put thousands of musicians onto a tiny little metal box stick little plastic pieces in our ears and listen to these musicians play at any time of the day or night. That's pretty astonishing - we have amazing potential. We can and do change the world. We need to invest in research into methods of selectivity.

Now we're looking to sea and starting to think about the journey of the fish to our plate. What about the journey of the fish to the hook/net etc? Well, fish eat and start their lives off as plankton. The sea is rich with plankton - especially in temperate zones. We have phytoplankton and zooplankton the phytoplankton using chlorophyll to capture sunlight - the zooplankton have methods of capture and chase that makes for a really diverse and crazy looking bunch of creatures. They are the primary source of food within our seas and oceans. They are liable to change from the impacts of warming seas, shifting currents and climate change. The cod larva are selective to a type of plankton that helps turn them into the beautiful golden adult fish with flesh so white and juicy. However, global surface sea temperatures are 1C warmer than 150 years ago. Life is changing.

From Richard Kirby's book Ocean Drifters he explains,

"across the whole Northern Atlantic, the abundance of the Arctic copepod Calanus hyperboreus is affected by year-to-year changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)...the NAO effects winds and storms across the North Atlantic, thereby altering air temperature, sea surface temperature, and precipitation....this effects the year-to-year abundance of C.hyperboreus...most abundant copepod in the northern North Atlantic, is a critical food source for fish, birds and whales...In the North Sea the overfishing of cod during the 1980s coincided with a sustained increase in sea temperature...This change..appears to have affected synergistically with overfishing to bring about an abrupt change in the whole ecosystem...surveys have shown that the numbers of decapod [crabs etc] and echinoderm [starfish etc] larvae have increased for the 1980s...while number of phytoplankton have declined to their lowest level since records began."

We must continue to fund, promote and encourage marine knowledge, surveys and education. I am concerned for our fish stocks, I am concerned for our seas. It appears that we fail to recognise or promote the understanding that climate change is effecting our seas (not to mention ocean acidification) and we need to do something about it. I believe we are on the road... but I still think marine ecosystem understanding is not on the public agenda enough - it's not in our schools education system and as a result we may lose our ability to connect and understand the beautiful complexity that is our oceans.

So next time you turn your lights off, recycle and do your bit - give yourself a pat on the back for doing your bit for trees, bees and our seas...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Spring is here, nutrient upwelling, mackerel and marshmallows.

So Spring is finally making a glorious appearance on our woodland floor, our hedgerows and we are starting to feel the warmth of the sun's rays on our needy skin! It is a time of growth by the coast too. The Spring sees an exciting time for our coast around the UK. We are fully aware of what is happening to the land - but what about the sea? Well, finally the waters start warming in April / May time. Already, for surfers, gloves are starting to be peeled off for a bit of freedom for paddling. Although the driving cold on the peripheries is enough to make you think to put them back on again.

Nutrient upwelling is when dense, cool, nutrient rich waters are brought to the surface by wind driven currents driven by the Coriolis effect. This essentially means food! So on the coast as these nutrients make their way to surface waters - the smallest and in my opinion, most beautiful of all creatures start reproducing - plankton! Phytoplankton to be specific. Phyto derives from the Latin for light and so you'd be right to guess that the phytoplankton, like plants, use light and chlorophyll to make energy. They are the source of life in the sea. They are an often overlooked and under appreciated marine group. If there was no plankton there would be no life in the sea, or land - there would be less oxygen - they supply half of our atmospheric oxygen - another reason to love the sea.

So we have these phytoplankton blooms like the one witnessed recently off New Zealand by satellites. Great swathes of misty green water flood our coastline. As a result the zooplankton have, excuse the pun, a whale of a time gobbling up the phytoplankton and so the chain goes on. Which inevitably brings some of our more recognised majestic giants of the sea - the basking sharks and also mackerel and other schooling fish start coming closer to shore.

Then it will be time to get the kayak out - tie some new feathers on to my fishing line, aimlessly drift on the sea and wait for that exciting tug of the line by a mackerel or 2 or even 5 if you're lucky. Once a couple have been caught enough for hubby, me and daughter it will be time to drift back up the estuary on the incoming tide. Maybe, they'll meet me on "The Other Side" as we affectionately call it - gather some driftwood and light a fire. As the sun drops in the night sky we will taste the season's first mackerel - oily, rich and delicious. We don't bother with bread rolls, preferring to put the fish on a flat slate and pick at the flesh with our fingers. Occasionally, my daughter might perform a little dissection and pop an eye ball out. We might end with a marshmallow session - dropping them in the fire occasionally. But we all aim for that moment of perfection when the skin is crisp , brown and bubbly which when broken into reveals a gooey, runny centre.

It's time for Spring - I'm ready.