Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Salt Water Sandals and their #saltiebeachclean

This week at MCS it's beach clean crazy in the run up to our Great British Beach Clean this weekend (15th - 19th September). To get you in the beach cleaning mood we thought you might like to hear how one of our partners Salt-Water Sandals got on at a recent clean they attended. 

Here at Salt-Water Sandals we have always had a very strong relationship with The Marine Conservation Society (MCS). We have been working together for a few years now; from collaborative competitions, to designing special edition sandals with a seaside theme. This year we decided to name our Turquoise Original as the official MCS Sandal with 10% of all proceeds going directly to MCS.

To help out in person, this August we decided to put our feet first and step onto the MCS’s turf in way of a Beach Clean. All our families were invited and off we went to Birling Gap for a day out of the office. With the help & guidance of the lovely Kate Whitton from MCS we were ready to go! Well after dipping our Salties in the water and a quick ice cream stop…

We were met by Kate in a café where she gave us a bit of background about MCS, their work and their beach cleans AKA Beachwatch. We were upset to learn that only 1% of the UK seas are protected and that only 10,000 people volunteer to help clean the UK’s beaches every year. We were very excited to get our day started and try and help as much as we could.

Off we went with bin bags and litter pickers – on first look at the beautiful coast we wondered whether we would even find anything to clean. It was picturesque and seemed to be in good nick… It didn’t take long for us to be proven wrong. We were shocked by the amount (and variety) of litter on this seemingly ‘clean’ coastline. From plastic, to batteries, to rope, to a pair of pants!

In just under an hour, on a strip of 100m of the beach, our small but mighty team collected 538 items (and these were just the easily identifiable items!)

Once we had completed our day of cleaning we went back to the café to compare litter notes and create a ‘litter timeline’ with everyday objects found on beaches. We were given an array of items and lots of different cards with different time frames and had to guess which item went with which card. After some – shall we say heated – discussions we settled on our timeline and after getting it wrong (4 times!!) we finally got the seal of approval from MCS’s Kate.

For your information, here is our full timeline and time it takes for items to fully decompose. WARNING – some time frames may shock you – and hopefully make you THINK!

Cardboard – 2-5 years
Balloon – 4 years
Plastic Bag – 20-50+ years
Crisp Packet – 75 years
Tin Can – 450 years
Nappy – 500 years
Plastic Bottle – 450-1000 years
Glass – Forever

At the end of a very thought provoking and eye opening day MCS treated us to a bit of Rock Pooling on our newly cleaned beach. We we soon found lots of marine life from crabs, to sea snails, to anemones.

Finishing off our day like this and seeing all of the marine life in its natural habitat completely highlighted the significance of the Beach Clean and all the hard work MCS do on a day to day basis.

We would like to ask everyone to GET INVOLVED! Whether you would like to organize your own event in way of a work day out or a family trip to the seaside or maybe just jumping in on an already organised event like The Great British Beach Clean (taking place over the 15th-18th September)– the MCS need your help! More importantly the UK’s seas need your help. Join the Beachwatch today and truly make a difference.

*** Ps: we decided unanimously that the pair of pants won ‘find of the day’!

Friday, 8 September 2017

Sun, Sea & Cetaceans

Simon is one of our South East Sea Champions and alongside studying for a Foundation Degree in Marine Ecology and Conservation, he also does voluntary work for conservation charities (including the Marine Conservation Society!) He was recently lucky enough to go to Tenerife  to volunteer on a whale and dolphin conservation project. Read on to hear all about his trip.

As a marine ecology and conservation student with a keen interest in marine mammals, spending four weeks in Tenerife volunteering with whales and dolphins seemed like the perfect way to get field experience. What I didn’t expect was a once in a lifetime opportunity, whilst contributing to valuable scientific research…

Before I go into that, here’s a bit of background information about me: I’m currently studying for a Foundation Degree in Marine Ecology and Conservation, and I'm planning on doing a BSc Hons in Marine Biology upon successful completion of my course.

I chose to go on the project as I’ve always been interested in whales and dolphins, and felt this was a fantastic opportunity to get some experience in conducting scientific research.

The project I was involved in has three main activities that are conducted on a daily basis:
  1. Cetacean Surveys on local whale watching boats where data and photographs are collected on the local populations of whales and dolphins in the area. This will be used to increase knowledge of the animals, such as where they prefer to socialise. 
  2. Community Outreach activities are carried out which mainly involves telling visitors about responsible whale watching companies, that follow guidelines that ensures minimal disturbance to the animals. As part of the ongoing plastic pollution problem, beach cleans are also conducted across the island. 
  3. Boat and other vessels, such as jet skis, were monitored through surveys to see if there was any disturbance caused to whales and dolphins in the area. This will allow staff to potentially bring in restrictions that ensure minimal disturbance to any whales and dolphins in Tenerife. 

Tenerife is home to a resident population of Short-finned Pilot Whale and Bottlenose Dolphin, and the project aims to build a database on these two species. Occasionally, other species are seen such as Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Common Dolphin, Sperm Whale, and Minke Whale. All the sightings collected are used to a build catalogue of populations resident within Tenerife, so that conservation measures can be implemented to safeguard their future.

If I had to choose highlights from the trip, they would be:
  • Bow-Riding Dolphins: when I was on one of my Cetacean Surveys on the boats, I saw a pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Common Dolphin, and Bottlenose Dolphin bow-riding along the front of the boat. It was an amazing experience to see these majestic animals up close in their natural habitat. 
  • Pilot Whale Mother & Calf: when I was collecting photographs of Pilot Whales from one of the boats, I noticed that an adult female had a nearly born calf alongside her, and I managed to get a photo of them together. 
  • Risso’s Dolphins: on my last boat survey, I was very luck to encounter a family group of Risso’s Dolphin. This is a species that is known for having white scars across their skin, possibly made by their main prey item: squid. It was very sweet to see them tail slapping (I like to think it was their way of saying hello). Certainly a great way to end an incredible trip. 

Being a volunteer on the project was such an amazing experience. It gave me an insight into what is involved in marine mammal research and has a certainly served as a benchmark for future career plans after my studies. If I could give anyone advice if they wanted to get involved with whale and dolphin conservation efforts, they would be: 
  • Volunteer - there are projects in the UK and abroad where people can get involved with conservation projects. You don’t have to be a marine biologist: just have bags of enthusiasm, willingness to get stuck in and maybe a stroke of good luck! 
  • Whale Watching Trips - best way to see whales and dolphins is to go on a whale watching trip. There are plenty of opportunities available in the UK, particularly in Cornwall and Scotland. I would personally recommend those that support the WiSe scheme, a scheme that is used to promote responsible wildlife watching, which should be displayed on their website. 
  • Make a donation, make a difference - we all have the ability to make a difference that will contribute towards the conservation of all marine life, including whales and dolphins. In the UK, we are lucky enough to have different species from Bottlenose Dolphin to Orca’s. Any donation you can make will support organisations, such as MCS, to ensure that UK seas are fit for life for marine species. 
I hope you’ve been inspired by my blog and that it's got you thinking about ways that you can support the conservation of whales and dolphins in a time where the ocean requires urgent protection from a number of man made threats.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Getting seaweed savvy with the Big Seaweed Search

Our South West Volunteer Manager Jules Agate has been seeing seaweeds in a new light with the Big Seaweed Search (BSS). Read on to find out all about her macro algae adventures!

Here in the South West of England we’ve really taken to the Big Seaweed Search - like blue-rayed limpets to kelp! The BSS is a partnership project for the Marine Conservation Society with the Natural History Museum (NHM). The aim of the BSS is to involve the public as a force of citizen scientists to help us to find out how the distribution of different types of seaweed, and its abundance, is changing in response to changes in the marine environment.

The three key changes occurring in our seas that seaweeds are likely to be responding to are:
  • Rise in sea surface temperature 
  • Influx of non-native species 
  • Increasing acidification (from dissolved carbon dioxide) 

Despite almost encircling our coastline, with a phenomenal 650+ species in the UK, we still lack data on exactly what seaweed is growing where. This is why we absolutely need citizens to help us ‘do’ the science. There’s just so much coastline and so much seaweed to record!

Seaweeds are important in their own right too. They create the structure and habitat that provides shelter and food for thousands of creatures like urchins, molluscs and fish. Seaweeds are crucial to commercial fisheries, are used in foods, cosmetics and medicines and play a vital role in protecting our coasts from wave action and storm damage.

We have amazing seaweed diversity in our SW seas at the warmer end of the UK temperature spectrum, from huge strapping kelps to delicate looking coral weeds. Also there is a lot of alien invasive species growing in some SW localities, particularly Japanese Wireweed (Sargassum muticum) and Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida).

The BSS uses just 14 species (or groups of species where species level identification is difficult). The 14 are all likely to respond to environmental change and can therefore indicate to us what is happening to our seas more generally. They are also relatively easy to identify.

I became a bit of an expert last summer at rapidly picking out the 14 BSS target types from amongst the piles of those washed up on my local beach. My record is 15 min to collect samples of 9 species! I use the (carefully washed) samples I collect in displays at public shows, events and training sessions to demonstrate what the BSS is all about, and how to do it.

The beauty of the BSS is that it is very straight-forward, entailing just a 5m wide walk from the high to low shore, identifying and ticking off any of the 14 target seaweeds that you see. You’re also asked to make a rough estimate of how much is there and record some features of the shore. It is so simple that it doesn’t feel like you are doing a very big and important scientific experiment, but that’s exactly what it is; one that anybody can join, on any chosen shore (as long as there is seaweed!).

In September 2016 we ran a training session in Cornwall, very kindly organised by Simon Hocking of the National Trust, West Cornwall and his team, and lead by Prof Juliet Brodie from the NHM. This brought together over 40 people and completed three 5m surveys in the gorgeous Mounts Bay Marine Conservation Zone.The next week, I ran my own session for the Polzeath Marine Conservation Group and some more National Trust staff. 

We’ve now had more than 20 surveys uploaded in the South West and it is really taking off. It’s great to see people getting closely involved with our previously over-looked marine macro-algae (aka seaweeds!) and it definitely feels as if we’re starting to build a clearer picture of the seaweeds around our coasts – exciting!

If you’d like to get involved: Check out the Big Seaweed Search website where you can:
  • Read more about the project 
  • Download the guide and recording form. 
  • Explore the current data 
Don’t forget to Tweet your seaweed activities using #BigSeaweedSearch to @mcsuk @NHMLondon

Contact if you are interested in hosting your own group survey or training in the SW and for other regions.

Further reading: Recommended guide to Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland (2nd Edition) by Bunker, Brodie, Maggs and Bunker £19.50 from the MCS shop 

Friday, 5 May 2017

Sea Champions take the MCS beach clean to Egypt!

MCS really is lucky to have such dedicated volunteers who are always going the extra mile to protect our seas. A wonderful example of this is Sea Champion Lucy Alfred who's passion for tackling marine litter inspired her to take the MCS beach clean to the coasts of Africa. Let's find out how she got on.

"Wetsuit: check. Fins: check. MCS bibs: check. Bikini: check Sun cream: check. Wait, what? MCS bibs? In my suitcase? Bound for a diving holiday in Egypt?

Yes, that’s right, I took time out of my Red Sea diving holiday to do a beach and reef clean. I even got a gang of other holiday makers to help me! Luckily they and our hosts Roots Red Sea and Pharaoh Dive Club didn’t need much persuading. As ocean-crazy divers, we’re all passionate about conserving the very thing that gives us so much pleasure. So, armed with some snazzy orange MCS bibs, line cutters and a lot of rubbish containers, we hit local dive site El Gasus one morning.

I and Roots volunteer Kirsty, organised two teams of volunteers. One team focused on the beach, while the others did some serious sub-sea cleaning.

With the sun on our backs the diving team descended into the depths of the pretty dive site. Heading north first we saw virtually no rubbish, due to the nature of the way the wind and currents move along the coast. We did spot a few lion fish and scorpion fish though – awesome!

Heading south, however, we were overwhelmed with litter. Strewn everywhere, it had been deposited on the reef by the southbound wind and current. Fishing line was choking soft and hard corals, plastic packaging floated amongst the copious jellyfish and plastic bottles were embedded in the sand.

While some items were easy to extricate, it was a delicate job unravelling the fishing line without damaging the reef. Indeed, some had been there so long, that corals and anemones had started to grow on or around it. We obviously left that well alone as Nature, after all, always tries to make the best of a bad situation!

We worked hard to remove as much as we could, hauling up bags laden with non-biodegradable material. The land-based team did an equally sterling job, collecting metres of abandoned rope, and other fishing-related litter.

Thankfully, Roots and Pharaoh Dive Club are set up for this sort of exercise. They regularly host marine biologists and conservation volunteers, who work hard to research and preserve the stunningly diverse local dive sites. They were really accommodating and helpful when it came to organising the session. Thank you to Roots, all the staff at Pharaoh Dive Club and the volunteers who assisted us. Special thanks also to Steve King and Ellie D’Silva for the photographs and videos of the event.

If you’d like support from MCS to organise something similar, either in the UK or abroad, be sure to get in touch with their Beachwatch Team. I couldn’t have done it without their help!"

Thanks Lucy, what a fab job! If you'd like to find out more about MCS's Beachwatch Programme and get involved in a beach clean near you then just visit our website.


Friday, 7 April 2017

Welcome Tara!

It’s all change in the Sea Champions Team for 2017. We said a sad farewell to Matt Barnes and Ed Santry who did fantastic things for the programme in the 5 years they were here and we are very excited to welcome two new Volunteer Managers. Kate Whitton will be looking after our Sea Champions in South East England and Tara Proud who is based up in Scotland. A HUGE welcome to both of them!

Tara has had a busy first couple of weeks getting to grips with all things Sea Championy and even managed to fit in a trip to the Isle of Skye to run some education workshops. Here she tells us a little bit about herself and how she got on:

“Hello! My name is Tara and I’ve just started at MCS as the Volunteer & Community Engagement Manager in Scotland. I am really pleased to be joining the team at MCS. For the last 5-years I have been working for RSPB in a variety of conservation roles; from developing and managing an international conservation programme for migratory birds to being a scientist on a 3-month expedition to the UK overseas territory Henderson Island in the south Pacific. In my free time I am a voluntary trainer for Capturing our Coast and I also volunteer with British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS). I have two Biology degrees (a BSc from Bristol Uni and an MSc from Oxford Uni) and I started out my conservation career working for the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. For the last 18 months I’ve been living on the Isle of Skye and exploring the amazing coastlines of the Hebrides.

This is my first week at MCS and I have been working with Conservation Officer Catherine Gemmell to teach school children on the Isle of Skye about the incredible marine species they have on their doorsteps and how they can help us to protect them. The event was part of the Marine Magic Day which is a joint event run by the RSPB, Marine Conservation Society and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

A hundred excited children transformed the school hall into a bustling seabird colony with their voices. I closed my eyes and I could *almost* convince myself it was a sunny June day and I was on a clifftop with Kittiwakes wheeling around overhead catching up on the gossip with their loud 'kittiwaaaake' calls.

The kids were super engaged and keen to take action to help. Stuart the life-sized model leatherback turtle was very popular and really brought to life our messages about why we all need to use less plastic to help the marine environment.

It's been a fantastic first week with Marine Conservation Society and I am looking forward to the next one!”

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

15 tips for good CoCoasting!

As  many of you know earlier this year MCS, along with several other partner organisations launched a very exciting project - Capturing our Coast or CoCoast for short! Hundreds of volunteers have been out surveying our coasts this summer and along the way have picked up a few handy tips. Volunteers Nim, Maude, Kirsten and Dominque are sharing what they learnt to make the most out of a day CoCoasting.

1. Get a wee group together

When we found out about CoCoast, we got other folks we know involved too. Once we were trained, we made plans to head out together. We can’t always manage a group of 4, because you know… life. So Doodle Polls make arranging easier.

We all chose different species packages, so each visit can generate up to 4 sets of data- hurrah for efficiency! It does mean that some people help out with surveying when their pack doesn’t require them to, but friends that count snails together, stay together!

We have also taken on the arrangement of “Driver” and “Feeders”: this means we only take one car (CO2 conscious), less awkwardness around petrol costs and the driver gets fed by the passengers.

Which wellies would you choose?

2. Have good wellies
It’s been a long, hard lesson on the suitability of wellies! The traditional style with small heel and ridged sole/grips are the best on the rocks, slimy turfs and harbour walls. However, a smooth pair of neoprene wellies were essentially…lethal.

3. Wear waterproofs 

Go without and you’ll end up exhausted from 2-3 hours of intense squatting, or a terribly wet behind from all the seaweed-clad rocks you’ve perched on. You might look like a selection of charity shop power rangers but it’s a win for comfort!

4. Waterproof your clipboard

So…ink runs when it gets wet, and sea water does interesting things to the nibs of pens. We’ve developed a system of transparent poly-pockets and permanent marker. It gives you waterproof paper, re-usable record sheet, an archive-able record and a bulk order of poly-pockets. It may look like a piece of grille-cipher when removed from the blank data sheet, but it works the best.

Avoid using whiteboard markers, unless you want to spend the entire survey being overly conscious of your sleeves and screaming at your friends “No! Don’t put your bag/coat/box on the record sheet!”

Get your info written before the transect begins, especially if you have to wait for the tide to go out!

5. Use a GPS app for accuracy
Easy and accurate data on your phone!

Google maps when in the field is terribly inaccurate, and we’ve learnt our memories of where 0 metres was is pretty fallible too. An app such as ‘Compass/GPS’ for android or the one provided on iPhone seem freakishly accurate.

6. Try to ignore the other organisms

On the training day, the 8 species in a pack felt a little too easy. In hindsight, when on a shore and inundated with many shells (potentially containing countable organisms) it’s easy to get distracted from the task at hand, so an 8 species restriction is a relief. 

7. A transect always takes longer than you expect

Initially, we headed off after office hours, sat for a bit on a harbour wall and had a wander about the shore. Four hours later it was nearly dark, cold and we had 2 quadrats still to go.

You can reduce time by a simple not faffing, snacking and non-recordable species bothering (see above).

There's an exciting array of organisms you'll come across that will both delight and horrify you

8. Remember it gets dark

After our initial experience of general merriment/distraction, as well as the quality of the photos we ended up with, it seemed logical to pack a torch. Also useful when you’re in a shady spot.

Darkness ruins your ability to survey but generates beautiful landscapes for the walk to the car

9. Other beach-goers get curious

Another source of distraction can be curious bystanders. They usually divide into three categories:

Type A- Pleasantly asks what you’re doing, smiles at the response, wishes you well and departs.

Type B- Seems annoyed by what you’re doing, may or may not enquire about it and leaves, generally disgruntled. As experienced on Arran, where someone mistook surveying for mussel collecting next to the boundary of the NTZ in Lamlash.

Type C- Like type A but will tell you their life story of political views, Brian Cox and caravans.

10. A good container makes life much easier

Any species pack where species need picking from the quadrat to identify and count (ie. Snail of a Time), being able to separate during collection saves time. Especially, when you're dealing with 15x 4mm periwinkles, repeatedly (although don’t forget to put them back).

Necessary supplies with the tupperware gift that is a double container

11. Remember the tide, you know, the big body of moving water

There’s nothing more disappointing than getting 8 quadrats into a transect and being chased off by the tide, or trying in vain to count organisms which are then swimming/floating off.

Also, there’s nothing as frustrating than to arrive and find the tide in, and spend the next hour willing it to leave.

Turns out tide-tables = really useful!

12. Learn the zones

It seems like something you’ll instinctively know i.e. there’s the sea, there’s the shore- I’ll just divide that by 3, yeah?

Turns out it’s not quite like that, but once you’ve got your head around the indicator species, it does become instinctive.

Napping- proper use of time while waiting for the tide to go

13. Warm tea makes all things better

If you’re cold, you’ll be tempted to fudge data and go to the pub with the open-fire you’re your hands are cold, you’ll be less inclined to stick them into that pool to see if that is a hermit crab or another blinking periwinkle. Tea makes it all seem worthwhile again.

14. You’ll see a lot of interesting things

So whoever said coastal communities were dull!? We’ve seen naked fishermen jumping in the sea, mid-air bird fights, acrobatic gannet dives and incredible sunsets over sea stacks.

15. There are huge benefits

It’s easy to forget when you sit at the computer typing in numbers, what it’s all about. We’re part of a much bigger team, 1000’s in fact, recording data for the benefit and understanding of our coasts and the threats they face.

On a personal note, it means we make time to leave the city and walk on Scottish shores.

Additionally, it has long term benefits for us as students; making the lectures and their significance real and relatable to in real world contexts. Allowing us to develop skills and understanding that will help us access opportunities, like placements and jobs.

CoCoast is adult rockpooling, and we get to claim it as personal-professional development! What’s not to love?

We couldn't agree more Hannah! If you'd like to learnt more about the Capturing our Coast project including how to get involved, head on over to

Friday, 11 November 2016

Great British Beach Clean is Great News for Seals!

Sea Champion Natalie is also a Sealife staff member and works at the Seal Sanctuary in Gweek, Cornwall. Here she tells us what it was like to help organise a Great British Beach Clean and just how important it is for the seals too.

"As an Animal Care Assistant at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, ensuring our local marine habitat is as clean and litter-free as possible is of great importance to me. So I was thrilled on the 19th of September to help organise a “Great British Beach Clean” at Gwithian, Cornwall, as a collaboration between the Seal Sanctuary and Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

With some trepidation, as the clouds and rain rolled in, I travelled to the beach with Dan, my colleague, where we met Jules from MCS and she talked me through the methodology of the survey and explained why we record the litter collected within a 100m transect. 

Despite my worries that the weather would put potential volunteers off, before long a group of 15 of us were grabbing our gloves and bin bags and setting off along the beach, heads down, searching for litter. Despite the miserable weather, spirits were high and it was a wonderful opportunity to meet similarly conservation-minded people and even engage in a little competition to see who could collect the most rubbish and the strangest item! 

A huge fishing net was found by volunteers at the GBBC in 2015 at the same spot

Before long we were finished and weighing bin-bags and collecting in survey sheets. It was truly satisfying, seeing just how much we had collected from a small transect of beach, but also quite shameful that as a society we treat our marine habitat with such disrespect. 

Each year at the Seal Sanctuary we rescue, rehabilitate and release approximately 60 grey seal pups, including those who have been net-entangled (you can read a case-study about one such seal, “Iron Man” here). Net entanglement is a real issue for seals as it may prevent them from diving, hunting and hauling out effectively, and can create nasty deep wounds, especially in growing pups. Gwithian is one of the beaches we use to release our successfully-rehabilitated seals each year, so it was particularly saddening to see just how much litter, including net, was found on the beach. 

Seal haul out spot at Godrevy, just around the corner from the beach

However, the story is a happy one! Just 15 volunteers gave up an hour of their time and removed 276 items of rubbish from a beach; 276 items which could easily have ended up in the sea and entangled or been ingested by a seal, or affected any number of marine organisms. Not only that, but the results of the survey data can help us to tackle the problem at its roots, hopefully meaning that in the future there will be less litter in our seas and less to pick up from the beach. Great news for seals and us humans! 

Uto the seal at the Gweek Seal Sanctuary

I would thoroughly recommend beach-cleaning to everyone! Jules and Dan have shown me just how simple it is to organise and successfully run a beach-clean. It’s an opportunity to meet lovely, like-minded people and there really is no feeling like going to sleep at night knowing that you have done your part for local marine life (including those lovely seals!)."

A big thank you to all the Sea Champions that took part in the Great British Beach Clean this September. It was a huge success with a whopping 364 events taking place all over the UK and 5995 volunteers coming out to help. The Great British Beach Clean Report 2016 with all of the details will be released later in November so be sure to keep an eye out for that and share it widely to help us to raise awareness of marine litter issues. If you’d like to take part in a beach clean or are thinking about organising one yourself then head on over to our Beachwatch webpages for more information and details of cleans coming up. 

To find out more about the Gweek Seal Sanctuary, especially if you’re interested in visiting them then check out the Sealife website.

The Marine Conservation Society has just launched an exciting new "Ocean Devotion" campaign in partnership with the Sealife Trust and Sealife Centres. We're fighting for more and better managed marine protected areas. Show your support and sign our petition here:

And if you’re based in Cornwall be sure to take action our campaign to Save Fal Bay!