Saturday, 28 April 2018

Taking Marine Conservation into the Classroom

Sea Champion Fiona showing the class her diving equipment

Sea Champion Fiona is an avid marine conservationist and diver and was really keen to share some important messages with the younger generation. With the buzz of Blue Planet 2 putting the topic of plastic pollution on everyone's mind she decided to take this opportunity to visit a local junior school and share the marine conservation love.  

Just as most people were gearing up for Christmas on a cold November morning, I went into Drayton Junior School to talk to two groups of children all about the polar regions and man’s impact on them. I saw this as an ideal opportunity to engage youngsters on the very current issues of marine litter and plastics and what they can do to help.

I ran through information on the Arctic and Antarctic polar regions, the similarities and differences and some of the animals that live there. I then went through some of the incredible adaptations they have acquired to enable them to survive in such harsh environments. I showed them short videos and played some sounds of icebergs creaking and cracking. I then went on to demonstrate that in such remote regions man’s impact is still evident as marine litter has been found in all areas of the globe.

I described what marine litter is, where most of it comes from and what the impacts of the litter are to our environment and wildlife, especially plastics. Most importantly I then explained to them what they can do to help reduce the problem. I then finished off with a wonderful animated video that illustrates the problem perfectly without being too hard hitting and they were transfixed.

Both groups were so well behaved and listened very intently (apart from a windy young lad in the front row of the first group and his friends with the giggles… I must admit I found it hard not to laugh too!) They answered all the questions so enthusiastically and were very knowledgeable which was brilliant and at the end I had some great questions and observations which really demonstrated that they had been listening.

After Fiona's session the teacher ran a competition to design a poster on the polar region and man's impact on them

I finished off the session by showing them my dive kit and explained how it is used in my work – to gather survey data to assess the condition of the designated sites of the marine environment and also assess man’s impact on them. Some of them volunteered to try breathing off the twin set regulators with a mask, but sadly time ran out so further students opted to come back during break time and have a go which was encouraging. However the bell went off all too quickly just like my school days and it was time to go.

All in all it was a very enjoyable experience and I really felt they had absorbed what I’d said. Fingers crossed there may be some future conservationists or marine biologists amongst them. It was a very satisfying day and if anyone is considering doing some volunteer environmental education in schools, then I would encourage it wholeheartedly. It’s a really positive experience for all involved.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Hooked on volunteering - what else can I do?

Michelle on the beach with a group of volunteers after a beach clean

When people come and volunteer with us at the Marine Conservation Society there are many different ways they can get started. They may begin by organising a beach clean or doing Seasearch dives, doing some community fundraising or surveying the shoreline for our CoCoast project. So many of our volunteers get hooked on marine conservation and want to do more. That was the case for Sea Champion Michelle who recently won our Conservation Award. Read on below to find out how she got started and all the great work she's done so far.

Four years ago I found myself getting more and more fed up at finding litter along the coasts and shore lines when I went to the beach and wondered where it kept coming from as it couldn’t just be from what people had left behind. So I decided to find out more and organise a beach clean for one of the local beaches that I grew up next to.

I found the Marine Conservation Society Beachwatch page on the internet by chance as I was just scrolling through and decided to join and become a Beachwatch Organiser for Bacton Beach in Norfolk.

My first beach clean was back in November 2013. It was just me and my 12 year old daughter at the time and we collected a couple of bin bags full. I found it very satisfying and it was the perfect excuse to go down the beach and do something worthwhile whilst there. Once I saw what was involved in the surveys and understood how important they are I knew there was a real opportunity to make changes.

At the next clean there were four of us and we managed four bin bags full. Inspired I decided to start advertising more and so made a Facebook page and a Twitter account. The number of people coming out to help has grown over the years and we now have a fantastic group of regular volunteers.

After a little time I decided to take on another beach and became the organiser for a beach next to Bacton beach called Walcott which was in desperate need of some cleaning after the very severe surge tide of December 2013. Back then a lot of people lost their homes and there was severe flood damage to peoples' property which meant a lot of building debris, plastic piping, bags, polystyrene and rubber insulation found its way onto the beach. At the first beach clean at Walcott ten of us collected a whopping 110 kg of rubbish!

Not long after whilst walking with my son along another beach a few miles south called Sea Palling we found dead birds caught up in fishing rope and lots of litter too, so I decided to take on that beach as well. The final beach I took on was Mundesley where I went to school and have many happy memories of visiting. We have been working away at clearing up a huge polystyrene mountain there behind the sea defences since February 2017, it is now more of a mole hill and much improved!

I have been the Beachwatch Organiser for all these beaches since. They are relatively small beaches, but almost every weekend I organise a beach clean for one of them as well as doing the year round surveys and seal warden duties in the winter. So there I was, looking after four beaches but I still felt like there was more I could be doing so 3 years ago I became a Sea champion and boy have I been busy since!

As more people found out about the beach cleans I was asked to give a talk at Bacton First School to key stage 2 children. This was a great opportunity to educate the younger generation. I then did another two beach clean talks at a primary school and a Brownie group both of which I did a small beach clean with too.

Eventually I started getting contacted by companies such as Aviva and McDonalds asking if I could organise beach cleans as part of their charity initiative days. I did one with Aviva and Virgin Money both in 2016 and 2017 and a couple with Victory housing group.

Working at Sainsburys I was also able to be part of their local heroes scheme where they donate up to £200 per financial year depending on how many hours you volunteer for a charity. The Marine Conservation Society gets £200 per year from that as well as some fundraising I do whilst manning stalls at events.

I've even tried my hand at a bit of media work and have done a couple of radio interviews too as well as had the opportunity to take part in Sky TV's Ocean Rescue programme as part of a new children's program.

Recently it was a very nice surprise to be invited to the Marine Conservation Society AGM in London and to have won their Conservation Award! I was very touched and happy to receive this as it means a lot to me. I do the beach cleans as it is something I feel strongly about and enjoy, but receiving this was fantastic and a huge thank you for the opportunity and recognition . It has been a fantastic four years so far and hopefully many more to come!

Phew, what a trooper! A huge thank you Michelle. The award was very well deserved and we can't wait to see what you get up to next 🙂.

Friday, 23 February 2018

A Sea Champion Out of Water

Kay getting seaweed savvy out on the shore
Here at MCS we get approached all the time by people who live nowhere near the sea but still want to volunteer with us. Can they still become a Sea Champion, they ask? And if they did, what could they do? Well, the answer is YES you can and there's lots to do no matter how far from the sea you are. Kay one of our Bristol Sea Champions wondered those very things and here's what she's been up to. 

With a passion for the sea and all things marine, I enthusiastically signed up to become a Marine Conservation Society Sea Champion. A dose of reality then set in. I live in Bristol which is not on the coast and lacks beaches and rock pools to explore, so was this really a good idea?

I have spent the last year involved in a number of marine themed activities from dressing up at local events, to promoting MCS, to finding a dead ray on a stretch of coast one weekend.

Here are some of the things that you can do which can involve friends, your work place or simply using the power of one - you:

Find out if your Council has a ban on releases of balloons and sky lanterns on their land via this list. If not, get campaigning for a ban locally.  There is loads of useful info and resources on the MCS Don’t Let Go website, including alternative ideas for celebrations and commemorations.

With the increased awareness of plastic pollution you could link in with local environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and animal welfare organisations such as the RSPCA. You can show your support by signing the pledge page to show your support for a local ban and then share with your friends on social media.

Set aside some time even if only once a month to spend a day at the weekend exploring your nearest bit of coast. Take part in a MCS wildlife sightings survey for jellyfish, turtles, basking sharks or alien species – all on the website. Or just wander, explore, take photos and see what you find.

Find out the  Sea Champions nearest to you from your regional Volunteer Manager and meet up to discuss what you can do locally – a great excuse for a coffee and cake or even something stronger!

Kay meeting up with some other Sea Champions in Bristol
Learning more about all things marine can give you the confidence to inform people about what is going on in our marine environment. Future Learn do a free online course on Monitoring the Oceans from Space.

Grab a coffee, sit down and listen to one of the podcasts about the sea and all things marine that are out there. Ocean currents or the BBC Blue Planet podcasts.

Why not take up the Plastic Challenge and see if you can get your workplace/local school involved.

It's also always worth checking out the current MCS campaigns page as there are lots of different ways you can get involved listed on there. 
Kay dressed as MCS's Larry the Lobster helping out at the Bristol Festival of Nature

So the answer is yes you can be a Sea Champion and get active without living near the coast but a word of warning – as you start doing things you will find you want to do more and more!

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Why did I become a Sea Champion?

It's always great to learn from our lovely volunteers just what made them want to get involved in the first place and so when South East Sea Champion Steve got in touch to share his reasons we thought others might like to read about it, just in case you were thinking about it too.

Retiring in late 2014 was brilliant. Half a career teaching mainly English and Art, then half a career in the civil service largely writing and delivering training and presentations was over. I made myself a promise which was to avoid what frustrated or bored me so minimal IT and no dismal senior management to deal with. 

In my twenties and thirties I did some freelance cartooning and wanted to get back to that. I also love allotment gardening and cooking so those were definite. We retired back to the sea, having lived in Southsea when first married and missed it when in commutersville nearer London. So, retirement also meant joining Bexhill Environmental Group (which organises beach cleans), doing the publicity for the local art society, and trying various activities through the U3A (University of the Third Age). I now love Bexhill on Sea which is pleasantly eccentric.

My daughter, meanwhile, became qualified as a marine biologist and so by osmosis and her patience I began to gather knowledge about marine issues, plus the occasional physical attack if I cooked the wrong fish. At the excellent Bexhill Festival of the Sea in 2016 I picked up various leaflets – a disease for which there is no cure – and the more I read about MCS the more I thought, ‘This is worthwhile’.

Therefore, in 2017 after the Festival and a chat with Volunteer Manager Kate I joined up as a Sea Champion. Slightly baffled by the number of other organisations with overlapping functions; Clean Seas, Sussex Wildlife and MSC, I thought MCS had the clearer overview. 

The next consideration was how could I be most useful? Well, teaching and training held me in good stead so I’ve now completed the preparation to go into schools to deliver MCS' education workshops. Then I thought I would draw a few cartoons which may amuse but get people thinking too. I sell my cartoon cards locally but they don’t have a message as such, so this was more of a challenge to balance the two. I hope that they are a useful tool to get people thinking about marine issues. Then next up is to give a talk to the area U3A about plastics in the marine environment.

It’s nice in your sixties to do something new and to use the skills acquired over the years. It’s also nice to be involved with all ages in MCS as many of the clubs, societies and activities available when you retire are a bit shuffler-dominated. Oh, I’m one of those too, so no criticism intended. 

I’d be happy to link up with anyone in the Hastings to Eastbourne area for local activities – please contact me via Kate ( if so. Regards, Steve Hall.

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