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!

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Summer in the Scottish Highlands

In   May this year Sea Champion Emilie stepped into the role of MCS Information Officer based at the Glenmorangie Distillery in Tain. Here she tells us about her action packed summer as MCS’s most northerly member of staff.

Introducing the role

The Dornoch Firth Information Officer role is based at the Glenmorangie Distillery just outside the Royal Burgh of Tain in the Highlands, set along the beautiful shores of the Dornoch Firth. The role is funded by the Glenmorangie whiskey company as part of the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP), run in partnership with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and Heriot Watt University. The distillery benefits from 20,000 national and international visitors each summer and my role was to engage with visitors about the work and core messages of MCS as well as get out into the local community to deliver education workshops and run beach cleans.

A bit about my background

I started out planning to work in coastal tourism, however, during my undergraduate studies in I became acutely aware of the (often unsustainable) way that society has come to interact with the environment, particularly the marine environment which changed things for me. After graduating I studied an MSc in Marine Systems and Policies at the University of Edinburgh. It was there, at a beach clean in Cramond, just outside of Edinburgh, that I first came in to contact with MCS and discovered my interest in marine litter!

A bit about the role

The role was full of variety. From talking with visitors about MCS and current campaigns to teaching the public about the wading birds and seals that were sunning themselves on the sand banks, every day was different. I also joined the Glenmorangie Academy on their wildlife watching trips around the nearby Cromarty Firth to explain to new staff members about the partnership and how it fits in with the marine conservation issues MCS is working on.

There’s been lots of community outreach too. Following in the footsteps of previous post holders Jonathon and Harriet, I’ve run education workshops at 10 local schools and hosted MCS information stands at several events including the Tain Highland Games, Inverness Ocean Film Festival and Balintore Fisherfolk Festival. Most recently, I ran 14 beach cleans around the Dornoch Firth as part of the MCS Great British Beach Clean, with three schools taking part.

What's next for me?

Living up here has turned my perspective on its head (originally hailing from the Midlands, I have developed a new understanding of what ‘The North’ really means). While it’s been a challenge at times (mainly to find reliable signal & wifi), it has been a great opportunity to explore some of the incredible land & seascapes that Scotland has and I've fallen in love with this beautiful part of the world and so have decided to stay up here.

Now that the summer has come to an end and I’ve finished up at the distillery, I’ve moved down to Edinburgh to start with Scottish Environment LINK as their Marine Policy and Engagement Officer which I’m very excited about. And, of course I’ve been getting back to those beach cleans at Cramond!

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!