Friday, 30 September 2016

Sea Champions are back blitzing again!

In 2015 we teamed up with the National Trust as part of their year to celebrate the Coast to run a series of Bioblitzes and it seems Sea Champions have caught the blitzing bug (quite literally) because this year they’ve been back at it again.

In July Sea Champions  Kellie, Amy, Imogen, Katy, Simon and Volunteer Manager Jules packed up their binoculars & ID guides and headed to Lundy Bay near Polzeath in Cornwall for the Lundy Bioblitz. For those unfamiliar with the term, a Bioblitz is when a group of scientists, naturalists and members of the public get together and race against the clock to discover as many species of plants, animals, fungi and marine life as possible, at a set location, over a defined time period - in this case 24 hours.

The Sea Champs joined the National Trust team and over a hundred other people for an amazing day. The itinerary was jam-packed with bug hunting, rockpooling, butterfly hunting, a wildflower walk, small mammal discovery, a reptile search, bird watching and more, but the most exciting bits for our Sea Champs were the midnight rockpool ramble and the sea watching – where  a sunfish was spotted just off-shore!

It was also a great opportunity to tell people about the new Big Seaweed Search; big thanks to local seaweed expert Chris Townsend who helped with  confirming the seaweeds identified by our volunteers.

The results are now in and a total of 660 species were found during those 24 hours! If you’re curious about what species were recorded then hop on over to Sarah the National Trust Ranger’s blog for a full list.

Bioblitzes are an informal and fun way to create a snapshot of the wildlife found in an area. They’re a great chance for people to get together, learn and share their expertise and enthusiasm which is what the Sea Champions programme is all about. It’s also a great way to contribute to a genuine scientific survey. No doubt there will be  more Bioblitzes in the future for Sea Champions; the next is the MBA Bioblitz on 14-15 October 2016 in Plymouth and Sea Champions will be there!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Wet Wipes Turn Nasty!

Sea Champions have been busy pledging their support for MCS's new Campaign - Wet Wipes Turn Nasty! Emma Cunningham, Senior Pollution Campaigns Officer tells us a bit more about it.

So what's the problem and why should we care?

Wet wipes are ending up as litter on our beaches, causing massive problems for us and our wildlife. Thanks to our flushing habits, we have seen a 400% increase in the average levels of wet wipes on British beaches over the last decade.

However, it’s not all our fault that we're so confused. Some wet wipes have such tiny print or “do not flush” logos on the back that you probably wouldn’t notice them. Combine this with the fact that many flushable and non-flushable products look identical and it’s clear why many consumers are confused about what to do. We even found a couple of packs of “flushable” wet wipes with “harmful to aquatic life” written on the back of the packaging! However, even those labelled as flushable, dispersible or moist toilet tissue aren’t meeting the water industry standards and can result in clogged up pipes and drains, risking raw sewage being flooded back into our homes or raised into our waterways and seas.

We found almost 4,000 wipes on UK beaches during one single weekend last September (MCS Great British Beach Clean). This is unsightly, but why else should we care?

There’s the economic reasons: it costs from £66 to £200 for a plumber to unblock drains that have been clogged by wet wipes, and it costs the water companies £80 to £90 million a year (which is also paid for by us through higher customer bills). And if you don’t care about the litter on our beaches and your children playing in stuff that has come through the sewerage system on the beach, or how much it costs us all in blockages, have a thought for the wildlife. These wet wipes typically contain plastic and once in our seas this plastic forms part of the greater problem of microplastics at sea. This microplastic, once in the oceans, is eaten by zooplankton, which forms the base of the food chain; they are eaten by the fish we eat.

What can we do about it?

Firstly it's simple, if you use a wet wipe, don't flush it. Remember the golden rule, only pee, poo and paper down the loo.

Secondly, we're asking high street retailers to cut the confusion and clearly state on their labels that only pee, poo and paper should go down the loo. Please join our battle against the wet wipe monsters, sign the MCS petition for clearer labelling at and spread the word!

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Friends of Shoreham Beach Spring Clean

One of the great things about the Sea Champions project is getting to work with other fantastic organisations and groups for a common cause. Sea Champion Andy has been helping out the Friends of Shoreham Beach Group who were recently awarded some funding to start a new beach cleaning initiative. Here he tells us a little more about it. 

A cool, blustery afternoon on 24th April saw the Friends of Shoreham Beach (FoSB) Spring Beach Clean.  25 adults and 8 children gathered at Shoreham Fort, and carried out a sweep of the shingle shoreline. It was mostly the usual plastic litter, bottles, caps, fishing material and sweet wrappers, much of it swept in by the storms earlier in the year.

This event also marked the launch of a new initiative, TUTT (Tidy Up the Tide Line) made possible by a donation from the HP Beach Clean Up Fund.  The fund has allowed FoSB to purchase child-sized litter pickers and florescent vests for family beach cleaning.  It will feature monthly or bi-monthly one hour family focused beach cleans along the tideline where most of the debris accumulates. TUTT will also include talks on things of interest relevant to the beach and the adjacent local nature reserve and have competitions and “most unusual object” and generally encourage a “care for your beach” attitude amongst the young.

HP Beach Clean Up Fund was set up by HP in conjunction with the Marine Conservation Society and Keep Britain Tidy, following a storm at sea in 2014 that resulted in the loss of HP printer cartridges which are being found washed up on UK and other European coastlines.  The fund supports non-profit organisations, individuals and local authorities who are undertaking, or planning to undertake beach litter clean ups on UK beaches in areas where HP cartridges have been found.

Ed Santry, MCS Volunteer and Community Engagement Manager (South East England) extended his congratulations to FOSB and said he was pleased to see the money going to a worthy active clean up group.

The efforts of the beach clean resulted in at least 30 refuse sacks filled and the afternoon was concluded with a tour of the Napoleonic fort by Friends of Shoreham Fort and a well-earned hot drink from their beachside café.

FoSB are a volunteer group, supported by Adur District Council whose role is to  look after the Local Nature Reserve that is Shoreham Beach and one of its many tasks is organising Beach Cleans.

Click here to find our more about the HP Beach Clean Up Fund 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Why Scotland should do it like the Swedes

Plastic bottles Sea Champion Andrea found on a remote beach on Harris in the Outer Hebrides

Sea Champion Andrea is a Swede living and studying in beautiful Scotland. Here she tells us about how the bottle deposit scheme back home is working.

I love the Scottish nature especially the coasts, where I hate to see how much litter there is. I joined MCS as a Sea Champion volunteer earlier this year and have so far been to beach cleans and to help deliver education workshops in schools.

Living in Scotland is in many ways very different from my home country. In Sweden we may not have the impressive castles, great beers or awesome ceilidhs for example. One thing we do have though is our famous deposit return system, something that is still missing in Scotland. Because of this system, bringing all your bottles and cans back to the store and getting money for it is a very natural part of life for anyone growing up in Sweden it is so normal that we even have a verb for it – “Panta”.

When living in a country with a deposit return system, recycling is always on your mind without particular effort. If you’re out and about drinking something in a bottle or can, you will probably put it in your bag and bring it home to the collection. It also becomes natural that if you are having a party, you make sure everyone leaves their bottles and you could collect enough to pay for next day’s brunch!

If the bottle does not make it to the recycling in the first pace, it can even have a second chance - it’s not rare to see people searching the bins in the park for bottles. I have even heard rumours about people that pay their whole rent with what that they pick up around town!

A bottle return station in Sweden

Business, offices, events and organisations also consume a large number of plastic bottles. I have been working in restaurants and bars in both Sweden and Scotland and have seen a massive difference in how recycling is prioritised in the two countries. I found that in Sweden, where money can be saved, recycling happened quite naturally, while it is a lower priority here in Scotland.

The deposit return system is also useful for the community, when for example organisations or schools collect bottles to raise money for their activities and trips. In a big collection competition last year, 13 million bottles and cans were collected by sports organisations from all corners Sweden.

Statistics has shown that putting a value to the bottles can truly change people’s behaviour. The success is quite clear, in 2014, 82,7% of all PET bottles were brought back and recycled in Sweden and the recycling rates for other materials are also high. I also could imagine that the deposit return system could make a huge difference here in Scotland because of how much the plastic bag use decreased when the 5p charge was added.

I have recently been on my first trip to the Outer Hebrides, a really amazing part of the world. Even in such a remote and pristine place, I found that many beaches were still full of plastic. It is very clear that marine litter is a problem all over Scotland and the amount of plastic is increasing according to the data collected during MCS’s many years of beach cleans. It is also clear that plastic bottles are a significant part of the problem and that the deposit return system is an effective way of doing something about it.

During my 25 years as a Swede, I have not had any negative experiences with the deposit return system, and the positive effects are so many. I hope that Scotland will soon join with the Swedes, taking a step towards being a more sustainable country with less plastic litter on its very special and beautiful coasts.

Please show your support for putting in place a Deposit Return System in Scotland by following the Have You Got the Bottle campaign on facebook and on twitter @yougotthebottle.

Have you got the bottle?

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Ocean Literacy for Disabled Children in “Cornubia”

John Hepburn is one of our Sea Champions and an education volunteer. He’s been out and about in schools in Plymouth delivering the MCS Cools Seas workshops teaching children all about the wonderful marine life in our seas and how to help look after it. But John is also involved in another exciting marine education project which he’s kindly told us all about:

“Wow!  How cool is that?” was Katie‘s response to the announcement that we were going to look at the seabed beneath our feet using our baited lander.  Katie was one of four children who were about to undertake a voyage of discovery around Plymouth Sound and its estuaries in “Cornubia.” “Cornubia” being a beautifully restored Bristol Channel pilot cutter, built in Polruan in 1911.

The Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter Trust runs these day trips for disabled children from Devon and Cornwall between April and October, sailing out of Mayflower Marina in Plymouth.  They give the children and their carers, the experience of sailing in a classic yacht which is much less spartan than most other boats used for sail training-type activities.  The children learn about sailing the boat; they help set the sails and those who want (nearly everyone) get a chance to steer.  

My day starts a few hours before the children arrive because as well as doing the marine biology, I am first mate, so there’s a lot to be done to get the boat ready for sea and I also get the technology – microscope, TV, computer ready. Then there’s the bit I really enjoy – collecting the samples to give the kids a glimpse of ocean life through the life on the pontoons.

Some things are guaranteed like barnacles, mussels, hydroids and seamat. With luck there will be a small anemone, a keel worm, and with a good dollop of luck a feather star too. There are always amphipods burrowing in the biofouling, and they’re quite exciting under the microscope.  Skeleton shrimps are pretty cool too. 

All these go in a translucent plastic food container and under the microscope, which displays on a large TV in the saloon on-board.  Reactions from the children when watching vary with cognitive ability.  For some it’s just funny wiggly things on the screen, others are fascinated and ask searching questions. 

I also put samples of seaweed in large plastic ice cream containers so they can see the different colours and feel the textures of the different species or of different ages.  We can see that stuff settles and grows on the weed too, and on the boat.  “Who likes to eat seaweed?”  “Yuck!”  (Although there are a very few that like it.)  But they’re all surprised to find that seaweed is used in ice cream. 

The children arrive, and then once in their lifejackets, we walk down the pontoon, past “Cornubia,” to the very end.  Then we all take two deep breaths, and I ask them why we breathe, and where the oxygen comes from.  Plants, trees, they invariably tell me.  “And half of it comes from the plants in the sea,” I tell them.

We talk about plankton, small stuff and big stuff, plants and animals, things that spend their whole lives in it and those that spend only a part of them, what plankton eats and what eats plankton. Most know the blue whale eats plankton, and is the biggest animal on earth, ever.  Some know about basking sharks, and a few, the whale shark.  Very few know about the sunfish.  But it’s a neat fact that the biggest sea mammal, the biggest shark and the biggest bony fish are all plankton eaters.  

Next up, the lander. (Lander is actually a rather grandiose term for an aluminium tube with a CCTVcamera suspended within it.). Once seated safely in the saloon we get the second mates to deploy the lander, by shouting, “Dive, dive, dive!” in best submarine movie fashion. On the TV we see it slipping beneath the surface, a glimpse of the weed on the pontoon, the passing shadow of the boat’s hull then the bottom appears just before the landing on the seabed. 

Usually first up are the zombies of the deep, netted dog whelks.  They emerge from the ooze like the un-dead rising from the grave and stumble around looking for prey.  Not for the squeamish, but kids tend to like that sort of thing.  And we get other things too – gobies, shore crabs, spider crabs, pipe fish, sea slugs, wrasse – all seen in glorious technicolor.  

Once we’ve done with the microscope and lander (the attention spans can be quite short), then we brief the children on safety on board and off we go to sea!  

We tailor the day trips to suit the abilities of those on board.  Disabilities have included Autism, Epilepsy and Down’s Syndrome. The basic plan is to start with an easy motor up the river, to get them used to being afloat, and set the sails on the way back down after passing under the Tamar bridges.  Those who can and want to help, pull the ropes, steer, keep a look-out, make the tea and do the washing up.  

We give the children a specially written guide, a bit like the “I Spy” guides for them to record what they've seen. The guide has plenty of marine life for them to look out for such as birds and mega-fauna, as well as things to help them understand the human and physical geography of the area.  

After lunch we go into Plymouth Sound and do some real sailing.  The children are divided into port and starboard watches, and work as teams pulling in the foresail sheets. Once we've trawled for plankton, if the sea state allows I set the microscope and TV up in the saloon again, while we’re out in the Sound.  Otherwise it has to wait until we are in calmer water.  Then, having covered a Petri dish with drops of water from the sample with a pipette, we can see what we've caught.  

Once we've waved goodbye to the children the crew gather back on board to reflect on the day.  The reaction from Mungo, from Doubletrees school sums it up well. He said, “I really liked looking at the sea life through the microscope and underwater camera.”  These sailing excursions are really valuable for the children.  They increase their confidence, coordination, motor skills and team-working.  But we also show them that the sea is an amazing place, amazing things live in it, people do amazing things in it and that they are all linked.  

Wow, what a fantastic project! If you'd like to know more then check out John's report here

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Holy shrimp! This scampi happening!

"What I didn't know about fishing, fisheries and sustainable seafood" by Sea Champion Mary Sears

Cod and chips with mushy peas please," spoke the customer in front of me in the queue at the fish and chips takeaway, all the crispy golden batter coating the cod making my mouth water as I waited my turn in the queue on a Friday night. But just how much cod can one place really supply sustainably? For the past 4 months I have been an assistant online research volunteer for the Marine Conservation Society, looking into sustainable seafood and the multiple supermarkets, restaurants and fishmongers that sell seafood on their menus. Using the new 'Good-Fish guide' app on my smart phone, I wanted to write this blog, summarising my findings.

Before my interest in fisheries and sustainability evolved, I would head to my local supermarket or fishmonger without a thought in mind about whether to ask where the trout or snapper I was buying was sourced from, or how it was caught, because when you're uneducated, who cares? But, whilst in my first year of doing an Integrated Wildlife Conservation degree at UWE, I have widened my understanding and knowledge on the importance of sustainability and protecting ecosystems, especially our wonderful marine ecosystem.  The last FAO report (2014) indicated that in 2011 in total 28.8% of global assessed fish stocked were overfished; 61.3% are fully fished; and just 9.9% are under-fished (i.e. there is room for expansion), proving WHY it is so important to take seafood sustainability seriously.

One of my aims whilst researching different supermarkets and fishmongers was to test the knowledge of the workers preparing the fish, to see if they themselves knew whether the fish they're selling is sustainably sourced and if not, why not? Using the new MCS Good Fish Guide app, the first supermarket I visited was an ASDA store. Whilst nervous to talk to the people there at first, I realised I wanted to gather as much information as I could get about how seafood derived from the sea, gets to ASDA's ice counters! I spoke directly to the manager of the fish counter, who was happy for me to take photos of his fish on ice display and informed me that all the fish they supply is MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified - fantastic! However, there was no Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) labelling in evidence, which seemed a little suspicious. Also, not all the fish they had on show, such as river cobbler and rainbow trout, were labelled with the method of which they were captured or whether they were farmed or not. When I asked the manager (who was extremely friendly) he said that ASDA stores were currently updating all their fish labels so that customers know exactly where and how their fish is being sourced. We’ll have to wait, see and hope that it actually happens as ASDA scored poorly in the recent MSC league table for certified seafood (

Previous to this research, I had watched Channel 4's 'Hughs Fish Fight' to learn about how he has been and still is, trying to change EU policies about fish stocks and fishing technology world wide, especially in LEDC’s such as the Philippines. In this fishing nation, Hugh has helped educate hundreds of fish farmers on how to be more sustainable.

Several of the fishmongers I visited had advertised, 'SUPPORTERS OF HUGH'S FISH FIGHT' on their windows, which I thought was great as SO many people who watch Channel 4 will have heard of the series. The fish manager in ASDA described to me how customers just want 'cheap fish' to feed their families at home, but they love knowing that by buying the sustainable fish ASDA supply (although inexpensive) they are supporting sustainable fisheries through their custom.   Each year, billions of unwanted fish and other animals - like dolphins, marine turtles, seabirds, sharks, and corals - die due to inefficient, illegal, and destructive fishing practices.

Capture methods clearly labelled on some of the fish were 'hook and line method' and 'pots and traps' which are listed as low impact and selective methods by the MCS, hoorah!

Handing out Pocket Good Fish Guides to friends and family
Whilst looking at different species in stores, I would have the 'Good-Fish Guide' app open on my phone and search the app for the species I was looking at in store, for example, European Lobster. I’d then compare the information on the labels in store with the information provided by the app. The app gives you a 'sustainability rating' as well as some background information on the species to help you understand any effects on the environment that the sourcing of a particular species has had. It was SO easy to do and I've recommended the app to a load of people I know who consume fish weekly, to help them make more informed decisions!

Whilst out and about visiting multiple supermarkets and fishmongers I learnt a lot about 'fish to avoid' and 'fish to eat'. Seafood is sold widely all over the world, but by using this app and making sure I read the labels of any seafood I buy, I now know how to make more sustainable decisions.

I work in a restaurant which sells cod, haddock, scampi and salmon, but on the menu there is NO information about where the fish is sourced or whether it is sustainable to consume or not; I personally will speak to my manager about making changes to this. Everybody has their own favourite restaurant and favourite place to eat, but if more restaurants and takeaways provided more information on the sustainability of the fish on their menu, it would make customers feel much happier about paying for a good, sustainable source that isn't harming the environment!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Bristol Sea Champs have been helping stop plastic getting from "City to Sea"!

Sea Champions have been working on a fantastic local partnership project in Bristol and here Amy and Kay describe what they’ve been up to and what’s been achieved so far.
Amy writes:
“With Bristol winning the European Green Capital award last year, it was an exciting time for conservation. I was lucky enough to get involved along with Sea Champions Kay and Neil, with the City to the Sea group to represent MCS. City to Sea was just getting started and their aim was to reduce the amount of plastic litter from Bristol ending up in the Severn Estuary and floating out to sea. The group was made up of a collaboration of practitioners, scientists, local organisations, marine biologists, artists and campaigners working on ways of phasing out single-use plastics to create a model that can be shared with other coastal and river based cities. The first few meetings were opportunities for the members to share their experience and talk about different ideas and decide where we should start. 

The Bristol Whales art installation produced to celebrate Bristol's year as European Green Captial for 2015 


This is Kay as in the MCS Cod costume at the group's launch last summer, which was filmed for Made in Bristol TV (watch the video here).
Out of the potential issues raised, cotton bud sticks and MCS Beachwatch litter survey findings were talked about a lot and is something the group will campaign on in the future. The issue we decided to tackle first was single use drinks bottles, which formed a lot of the waste found on the Avon gorge river cleans. City to Sea started the Bristol Refill project in response to this problem,

The idea is really simple; all that the business needs to do is put a sticker in their window so that the public know that they can go in and get their water bottles filled up for free, helping to reduce the number of single use bottles bought and thrown away. The project now has over 170 businesses signed up across the city (exceeding our target of 120).

As a volunteer on the project, I’ve been out and about speaking to lots of businesses and had mostly positive responses; everyone has been keen to find easy ways to help reduce waste getting to the sea. If you are ever in Bristol, have a look at the Bristol Refill map for all the places that you can fill up your own water bottle.”

Sea Champion Kay tells us about the next stage of the City to Sea project:

“Thinking about how to grow the project, we started the new year in 2016 by attending a City to the Sea workshop. We looked at future ideas for new projects within the campaign to engage Bristol folk. It was great to see a range of people at the workshop, including young people and a former MCS Campaign Manager!
We were split into groups and each given a scenario and asked to come up with campaigning ideas.  The question that kept coming through was ‘how do you change peoples’ behaviour?’  We discussed how to get people into the habit of regularly carrying a water bottle, but then what happens if you run out of water?   Times that you had to buy a bottle of water, tended to be when you were travelling around on public transport, and there was nowhere to refill a bottle; also if you got caught out by being out longer than you thought. Some people proposed a message on bottled water, similar to those found on cigarettes, stating what happens to that plastic bottle when you throw it away. Somehow, we could not see the corporates liking that idea!

Things have also been happening on a political level, one of the founding members of City to the Sea and a Bristol Councillor took forward a motion that outlined constructive and step-by-step ways in which the City Council as a property owner, caterer, landlord and events licenser could play a key role in lowering the mount of SUP (Single-Use Plastics) Bristol wastes every year.

Here City to Sea Founder Natalie Fee addresses the Council meeting.
The motion included a strategy for seven key areas where Bristol City Council could make a difference, from ending the sales of plastic bottles in council buildings to working with festivals in the city to phase out all single use plastics. Although the motion was not selected to be heard due to time constraints this time, the campaign continues, with the motion coming back to the next council meeting in March. As Sea Champions and supporters of City to Sea, we will be writing to our local Councillors and MPs asking them to support the motion.
If you want to get your Council to introduce something similar in the city you live in, we can send you a copy of the motion that you could adapt and send to your local Councillors.

We’d be really keen to hear from other Sea Champions about measures they have been working on, or have seen succeed to reduce the use of plastic bottles and other SUPs in their areas. We can then propose those ideas to help to push ‘City to Sea’ even further forward."

Amy and Kay, Bristol Sea Champions

If you’d like to find out more about the City to Sea project then visit their site here. Or if you’d like to share your thought with Amy and Kay you can email them via our Sea Champions SW Manager Jules at