Tuesday, 10 November 2015

MCS Lancashire Local Group runs a marine ID day

The Lancashire Local Group members

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has long understood the value of people coming together in their community to discuss shared interests and work together for a common cause. In fact, that’s a huge part of the reason why the Sea Champions programme came about. However, long before the Sea Champions programme MCS had established Local Groups and we’re delighted to say that three of these are still going strong today in Lancashire, South East England and Pembrokeshire.

Back in the summer, the Lancashire Local Group ran a marine ID day which they opened up to the local community. Kathy from the group has shared a little more about the day:

The event was hosted by RSPB Leighton Moss Nature Reserve, Silverdale, which has featured on the BBC's "Springwatch" series. We had a great mix of people come along including RSPB Leighton Moss volunteers, local divers, students undertaking environmental studies and others interested in wildlife and conservation.

A varied and interesting programme was put together which included topics such as Plants of the Foreshore and Algae/Seaweeds/Phytoplankton.

A few interesting questions were raised, someone asked if jellyfish sting each other and someone else was surprised that dead men's fingers are cnidaria and not sponges. The highlight of the day was a quiz of marine life photos which an RSPB member had kindly brought along to share with us.

We had some really positive feedback from the people who came along. The Local Group felt that this was a successful day, providing the opportunity to promote local and national marine conservation, enthusing those who attended with the richness and diversity of the marine life of Morecambe Bay and promoting the work of MCS and the Lancashire Local Group. We’re hoping to run more ID days in the future.

If you live in the Lancashire area and would like to get involved with the Local Group then be sure to have a look at their website for details or what's coming up and how to join. 

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Manning the stand at the Plymouth Seafood Festival

For the fourth year running the Marine Conservation Society was invited to attend the Plymouth Seafood Festival. We love this event and it's such a brilliant opportunity to talk to the public about our work. Sea Champion Bethan was kind enough to lend us a hand on the stall and shares how she got on. 

Earlier in September this year, I was able to take part in the Plymouth Seafood Festival down on the Barbican on behalf of the Marine Conservation Society. I have been volunteering for MCS since the beginning of my Second Year (October 2013) providing an extra pair of hands and a voice to speak to the general public at large scale events as well as speaking at local schools about the importance of marine conservation.

The Seafood festival has become an annual event for the city as part of the wider Ocean City Festival running throughout September, showcasing the best Plymouth and the surrounding area has to offer for seafood, local produce and fantastic local brews! On the main stage, it offers cooking demonstrations for people to watch, as well as a variety of food stands to keep you going throughout the day. Set on the historic Barbican area of Plymouth, as you wander through the stands, you also get glimpses of the marina and the local fishing boats coming into harbour.

It was a fantastic day, speaking to members of the public about how important it is to keep our beaches clean, how to eat fish from well managed sustainable sources, as well as keeping the children entertained with Litter Pick Panic! It is always great to see and hear from the general public at these events, and it is incredible the amount of people we spoke to who really care about the marine environment and want to do more to protect one of our most beautiful habitats!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

My first beach clean!

Phew! It’s been a busy few days for the Sea Champions team getting involved with the Great British Beach Clean all over the UK. We’re going to be sharing all about how we got on over on the Marine Conservation Society facebook page but while we unpack the litter pickers and tally up the survey sheets we thought you might enjoy this story from Sea Champion Kieran who tells us what it was like to run his first beach clean.

"This weekend was the Great British Beach Clean and all across the country, beach cleans have been taking place to raise awareness, collect data and do something about the huge problem that is marine litter. As part of this nationwide effort I was organising a beach clean at Bovisand in southern Devon. In the build up to the event I was a bit nervous. I had only recently became a Sea Champion, this was my first time organising a beach clean and I was a bit worried that something might go wrong, or that people wouldn't turn up!

Luckily on the Saturday the weather was incredible with clear skies and hot sun. Jules (the Sea Champions Volunteer Coordinator for the South West), my friend Paul, a member of the public and I got cracking with setting everything up: lugging all of the equipment down the hill and putting up tables and banners.

Before long a small crowd gathered and Jules began with the initial talk, telling people what the purpose of the clean was- that it was part of a nationwide and global effort to clean up beaches and to collect really useful data that can be used to inform policy on marine litter. Information on how to use the recording form was also covered, before I added some information on safety (helped by a man from the council who happened to be passing at that exact moment).

After gearing everyone up and signing the appropriate forms, we got to work. The beach at Bovisand is cleaned relatively regularly, but even so there was quite a lot of litter, this seemed to be in the form of lots of little pieces rather than huge bulky bits. Gradually we worked our way across the beach in small groups; scouring the sand and seaweed for litter. We could have been there all day picking bits up!

Jules and I chatted to the volunteers and helped them identify bits of litter. It is often difficult to identify bits of rubbish and to understand the journey that it has taken to end up on the beach before you pick it up. The group who turned up to the clean were a great mix of people of different ages and backgrounds. This really helped when identifying different pieces of litter as people had different areas of expertise and together collectively we could identify more. One of the volunteers was a keen angler and from speaking to him I learned a lot about angling and how to differentiate between different types of line.

The beach clean seemed to go really quickly and everyone I spoke to seemed to be having a good time. People were surprised by the amount of plastic we kept finding and also seemed shocked when they found out that something they had never thought of as being plastic actually was, this was the case with polyester.

Interesting finds included; coconuts (we joked that they had come all the way from a tropical island somewhere), small toys, Lego and balloons; along with the usual’s such as packaging, bottle tops, fishing line and rope. The most shocking thing we found were two hypodermic needles- which could have been really dangerous, if someone stepped on them so we disposed of these safely.
At the end we gathered everyone together, weighed the rubbish and took some photos next to our filled bags – there were lots of smiles.

Seeing the reactions from the people who took part and the litter that we removed from the beach, was the ultimate feedback. It was nice to do our bit to combat marine litter. It was definitely worth the effort and planning I put in. 

I would definitely organise a beach clean again!"

Thanks Kieran, splendid effort! 

The Great British Beach Clean may be over for this year but there are always cleans going on so be sure to have a look at our Beachwatch pages to find one near you, or why not organise your own?

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

There's always a way to get involved with MCS!

We are lucky to have three fab Volunteer Coordinators who look after Sea Champions in Scotland, the South West and the South & South of England and they do a splendid job. But sometimes we get approached by people outside of those areas who want to help or by younger people (our current programme is for over 16s). What happens then?

Phoebe Harris (aged 13) was one of those people. She got in touch with us in May wanting to join the Sea Champions programme but unfortunately as she is under 16 we weren’t able to take her on. That didn’t deter Phoebe one bit. We shared some other things that she could do and she jumped right in. Find out what she got up to below.

"As I looked into the Marine Conservation Society I really liked what they do and although I was a bit gutted not to become a Sea Champion I thought it would be good to raise money for them so I could be a part of their great work. When I found out about what a Big Blue Day was I knew that it would a great experience and something to put on my CV.

Once my school told me I could do it I decided that I was going to do a cake sale. I printed off posters and stuck them around the school to let people know it was happening. Then the night before the cake sale I baked a range of different cakes and biscuits, all with something blue to represent Big Blue Day. I did get a few people to help me out but I did most of the preparation myself. 

On the day of my cake sale I brought all my cakes in and set up the tables where it was going to take place and waited for people to arrive. I felt the cake sale went very well and I'm very happy with the £59.60 that I raised. I hope to do more fundraising in the future for the Marine Conservation Society."

A huge thanks Phoebe, we’re looking forward to welcoming you to Sea Champions in the future! 

If you’re interested in getting involved with MCS but aren't able to become a Sea Champion for whatever reason then have a look at our Get Involved page and be sure to check out the Quick Actions.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Capturing the Sounds of our Shores with the National Trust

Our friends at the National Trust have launched a fantastic new initiative this summer asking the public to record "the sounds of our shores". Whilst out and about at our coast in a couple of weekends time for the Great British Beach Clean, Sea Champions are hoping to capture some of their favourite seashore sounds to contribute to the project. Here Mike Collins from the National Trust shares a little about the project and how to get involved.

Walking along Studland beach in Dorset recently I recorded my own mini seaside soundscape. The waves of the English Channel gently lapped this low-lying beach and I picked up the background chatter of families – building sandcastles and jumping about in the sea. And on a visit to the wonderful Exe estuary in Devon I caught the sounds of waders on the mud flats, a flag flapping gently in the breeze and the reeds blowing in the wind. 

Recording sounds at these familiar places made me see them in a new light. I would stop and just listen, trying to pick out sounds.  There is a danger of taking sound for granted and many of the sounds from the working coastline are slowly disappearing.

There is something very powerful about the sounds of our shores. We have a deeply sensory connection with the stunning UK coastline and it’s something that is embedded in our DNA.  The seas around the 10,800 miles of coast and more than a thousand islands are rich in natural sounds and the sound of people at work and at play.

Thinking back to my trips to places such as the Farne Islands in Northumberland or Formby in Lancashire the sounds add a real richness and tone to the experience. Yes I can visualise the seabirds on the Farne Islands or the amazing sand dunes at Formby but the sound takes the memories to another level.

Sounds of our Shores is a community-led, interactive soundmap which asks members of the public to upload their favourite seaside sounds and help build a permanent digital resource of UK coastal recordings This summer the National Trust, British Library and National Trust for Scotland want people to capture the sounds of the coastline. It could be the intensity of a seabird colony, the power of waves on a stormy day or the crunch of people walking along a pebbly beach.

Sounds can be recorded on smartphones and tablet computers and then uploaded on to a sound map. The first of its kind, of all of the sounds of our shores from this digital sonic postcard will be added to the British Library Sound Archive; allowing future generations to tune into the sounds of summer 2015.

So this summer if you’re heading for a walk along the coast or a day at the seaside spend a little bit of time recording some sounds and help to make sonic history by contributing to the first ever coastal sound map.

Mike Collins works for the National Trust. More information about how to get involved can be found at www.bl.uk/sounds-of-our-shores and you can share sounds of our shores via #shoresounds.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Sea Champion John takes "Aliens of the Deep" into the classroom

John has found a great way to combine his Sea Championing with his other voluntary work to help educate the marine biologists of the future. From the rockpools to the classroom - "Rockschool" anyone?

As both a Wembury Marine Centre volunteer and a Marine Conservation Society (MCS) Sea Champion I’ve been keen to find ways the two organisations could work together. I’ve been helping with rockpool rambles and organising events at Wembury Marine Centre for 12 years and recently, as an MCS Sea Champion, I’ve done the training to deliver the Cool Seas workshops to schools.  With the agreement of the Marine Centre team I came up with the idea of promoting the MCS Cools Sea workshops to the schools I helped guide on rockpool rambles.

Donna Briggs a teacher from Ernesettle Community School, brought her class of Year Twos down to Wembury on a June Friday and got in touch soon after to ask for information about the Cool Seas workshops which resulted in me delivering “Aliens of the Deep” to two groups of 30 children two weeks later!

This was a bit unnerving.  I’d only recently done the training and rather assumed I’d help with one being delivered by someone else before going solo, but that wasn’t the way it was going to be.  Happily Jules Agate, the SW Sea Champions Coordinator, my muse and mentor (she doesn’t like being described as my “handler” – I guess I’m flattered that she regards me as not quite wild) was there to help.  She brought all the bits and pieces I needed – like the cuddly squid, octopus and turtle, and copies of the Cool Seas Explorers’ “Wild guide to our seas” and we were ready to go.

Donna had done a fantastic job in arranging things at the school.  The reception staff expected Jules and me, welcomed us into the school and knew where we were going to perform.  The technology worked just as you’d want, so we were completely ready when Donna’s class turned up spot on time. “Aliens of the Deep” covers a very different part of the ocean to the rockpools at the Wembury Marine Centre.  

The workshop looks at the challenges creatures face in the deep sea and the adaptations they have made.  As part of the workshop we asked the class to design their own “alien” and show how it might be suited to life in the deep sea.  In designing his “alien”, one student came up with a fish with a magnetic sensor enabling it to detect and eat the scaly-foot snail.  A very original adaptation – and who’s to say he’s wrong!

We had some very mature reflections from the children when we asked them what they’d learnt.  “Half our oxygen comes from the sea,” and “ROVs are good because they let us see what’s down there without endangering a pilot,” are a couple of the great things they shared.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the session.  Certainly Jules and I did, and Donna said the children were still talking about it the next day.  It was a good example of working together; I hope we can do that more.

Monday, 13 July 2015

A Plastic Challenge with a twist!

Sea Champion Gill took on this year’s Plastic Challenge with a twist, she did it whilst on holiday! Below she shares how she got on and has thrown in some great tips. 

I decided to attempt my plastic challenge whilst on holiday for a week in Cornwall as the shops in Penzance were more suited than those in our home town.  

Veges & Fruit

I found the best places for fruit and vegetables were farm shops, weekly/farmers'/WI markets, and greengrocers.  Supermarkets wrapped too much in plastic, especially organic, which seems bizarre that you can either care about your own health or that of the planet but not both.  Unwrapped lettuce, celery and cucumber were the hardest to source.


I always thought meat was going to be my biggest challenge as all the meat I buy comes either shrink wrapped, triple bagged or on a tray wrapped in film. So it was with some trepidation that I walked into a butcher's shop and asked for some lamb shoulder to go straight into my plastic box with no wrapping. No plastic - no problem!  I found it just as easy to buy fish and cheese at specialist shops or at the meat, fish or deli counter in supermarkets.  It is however important to be prepared with your own plastic containers, preferably the type with four clips on the lid to hold the lid on firmly and a rubber seal to make sure nothing leaks out.  Take it from me there is nothing worse than finding your fresh fish has leaked out over the rest of your shopping!

Dairy/Baked goods

I think the hardest part of the challenge was finding dairy produce other than solid cheese and butter.  Shop bought milk either comes in plastic bottles or tetra paks, whilst soft cheese, yoghurt and cream invariably comes in plastic pots.  I did manage to find some crème fraiche in a glass jar and used tinned coconut milk as a replacement for fresh milk in soup, which turned out better than the original recipe!  Buying bread, cakes and savoury items such as sausage rolls were easy from a bakers shop using paper bags, but gluten-free produce was impossible and if you fancy some crisps – forget it!

The Staples

The Weigh Inn
A lot of store cupboard ingredients are really easy to buy – flour, sugar, eggs, oats, and ingredients in tins and jars, however when it comes to things like rice, pasta, nuts and dried fruit, it's not so easy.  This is where we found 'The Weigh Inn' in Penzance to be invaluable.  It is full of loose ingredients in tubs that you can scoop out into your own bags, such as cereals, dried beans and pulses, baking ingredients including bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar and baking powder, sweets, herbs and spices. 

What about washing?

For the washing I used Ecover Laundry Liquid, the bottle of which can be refilled at various shops. On the subject of household and personal care items I have managed to find Suma's Ecoleaf toilet rolls which are wrapped in a 100% cornstarch compostable wrap called Bioplast, and Lush Toothy Tabs which are tablets of solid toothpaste packed in a small cardboard box. I like to buy Faith in Nature unwrapped soaps (coconut is lovely) and use coconut oil on my face and body.

A load of rubbish? Not so much!

Gill's rubbish for the week
At the end of our holiday I looked at the rubbish I had accumulated – four glass jars (three to be reused), two egg boxes (also to be reused), a selection of tins, some paper, some small bits of tin foil, a tub full of compost, two plastic lid covering strips and a plastic pouring insert from an olive oil bottle. It will only be the plastic bits that cannot be recycled. Not too bad, I'm quite proud of myself.

A final few thoughts

Planning in advance seems to be the key to this challenge – finding recipes that use as little packaging as possible and writing a lot of lists, as well as the ability to cook meals from scratch.  Ready meals use an awful lot of plastic.

I definitely think it is worthwhile shopping at local markets or using local producers who you can get to know and will support your efforts especially if they know you will come back every week. Most people seem to be interested in the challenge and think it is a shame about all the plastic packaging going out to sea or to landfill. 

Hopefully it might give at least one person food for thought with their own shopping.  

Monday, 15 June 2015

MCS turtle puppets go international!

Sea Champions Tom and Claudia have been helping our Volunteer Coordinator Matt up in Scotland for a couple of years now, during which time they've become a dab hand at talking to the public about marine conservation. It's great to see them taking our trusty turtle and jellyfish activities over the water to Costa Rica. Tom tells us a bit more about what they've been up to. 

Having volunteered with MCS for a few years whilst at university, my girlfriend and I had the opportunity put these skills into practice a bit further afield. The Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica is one of the most bio-diverse places on earth, and it was here that we were lucky enough to work as Research Assistants with the NGO Latin American Sea Turtles (LAST).

In-between tagging hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata) and green turtles (Chelonia mydas), replanting mangroves and surveying sea grass beds, we also worked on community outreach programs around the country. Having made many turtle puppets and egg carton jellyfish with children around Scotland at various MCS events, we were well equipped to now do these activities with Costa Rican kids!

Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) visit the UK in the summer to feed on jellyfish, but then return to the Caribbean and Central America to nest. It was very exciting to know that the turtles we were teaching about in the UK were probably the same ones as in Costa Rica! This just shows the importance of international protection and education, and that what we do at home can affect animals from across the other side of the planet.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Sea Champion Andy has been "bigging-up" his beach clean!

Volunteer Andy wears two hats. By day he’s a Marks & Spencer employee and Plan A Champion and by night/weekend/any-spare-minute he’s a MCS Sea Champion. (He’s all about the championing!) Andy recently helped to organise the M&S MCS collaborative Big Beach Clean-up at his local beach in Formby and we caught up with him for the low down on how it went. Be sure to check out the photos, you won’t have any trouble spotting Andy, he’s the one dressed as a lobster!

"I've been running beach cleaning events at Formby for a number of years now, I really enjoy running beach clean events as it’s such as change from my normal day job with my Marks & Spencer.

This year I ran an event for the Big Beach Clean-up which is a partnership between my employer and MCS. It was an early start as The BBC Breakfast weather team arrived to broadcast the weather live from the beach during the beach clean. I was delighted that my event attracted over 300 volunteers which included over 100 school children and even the local area Mayor came along. 

I really enjoy running events such as beach cleans because it feels so good to be contributing to the conservation of our most precious environments. The events are great fun to run and be involved in especially when you can dress up as lobster and appear on national TV! It also feels great to promote such as valuable charity such as MCS."

Well, the Big Beach Clean-up may be done for another year but if you're getting litter picker withdrawal don't worry, the Great British Beach Clean is back this September. Keep an eye on our Beachwatch webpages for details.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Oceans Alive! Sea Champions take our workshops into schools

At the end of 2014 we ran three training days for Sea Champions interested in working with children, teaching them how to deliver our education workshops. It’s now a few months on and they have done a fantastic job getting out in their local communities sharing our messages with the young marine conservationists of the future. Sea Champion Imogen tells us how things have been going so far. 

2015 for me was all about trying something new and this is exactly why I decided to help deliver educational sessions for the Marine Conservation Society. Teaching was something I had never really considered and I the thought of over two-hundred children watching your every move in an assembly I found quite daunting. However, after a training day in Bristol with MCS, ironically teaching me how to teach, I was ready for my first school!

My first visit was to a school in Plymouth and it coincided with British Science Week, which was fantastic as everyone was dressed head to toe in science gear! The day started off with delivering the ‘Oceans Alive Assembly’ to the entire school. This assembly includes a marine litter game, where we ask some children to pick an item of litter and guess how long they think it takes to degrade. The best way to describe this game is as ‘controlled chaos’! The assembly hall suddenly goes into uproar, with children shouting or talking to their neighbour about the task in hand. I personally think it is fantastic to hear over 100 students discussing marine litter all at once because it really shows how these workshops are working.

After the assembly, I also had the opportunity to deliver the ‘Aliens of the Deep’ workshop to children in Year 3. It’s a wonderful feeling teaching school children about our oceans. Many are fascinated by what animals can live in the deep sea; with a special mention to the Blobfish that never fails to have a classroom filled with laughter.  After the workshop there were so many questions, each one being completely different from the next. Someone could be asking “how long does plastic take to degrade?” Another asking, “why are there fish in the sea?” It always keeps me on my toes!

Requests for these workshops all over Plymouth have started rolling in, and the calendar started filling up. Since then, I have been able to deliver these workshops to two more schools and have another five lined up.  I can honestly say that I am loving every second!

I was also fortunate enough to win a science outreach competition called “I’m a Scientist, Get me Out of Here”. Imagine X Factor, but for scientists! Within this competition I was against other scientists communicating with kids about our research and our ideas on science as a whole. I am over the moon to say I won and received £500 to spend on science outreach. I didn’t have to think twice about donating it to the educational sessions with MCS and I can’t wait to see how this money can further develop the sessions. 

I would really encourage people to get involved in these educational sessions as they are so rewarding, and enjoyable. You can see first-hand how these workshops make an impact.  If you are like me, and find public speaking a bit scary, this is the perfect opportunity to boost your confidence.  It is perfect because you will be fully supported by the Sea Champions and Education team at MCS who will train you and help you to get started

So... three schools down, plenty more to go!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Cleaning up the Norfolk coastline with Sea Champion Michelle

Volunteers and 130kg litter cleaned up!

Michelle loves the beach but was getting increasingly upset by the amount of litter that she found on her seaside strolls so she decided to become a Sea Champion and do something about it!
I have always loved the beach and found the ocean a fascinating place; so many wonderful creatures and beautiful areas. One of my favourite childhood memories is looking in rock pools for crabs, shrimps and starfish and just watching them do their thing. Walking along the shore and seeing the small common jelly fish looking like tiny jewels along the tide line waiting for the sea to come and collect them is one of the many natural and simple beauties and it’s completely free!
Spot the polystyrene pieces!
One thing that has always annoyed me is litter. Not only is it unsightly and a danger to the public but the effect it has on marine life is devastating. So many times I have admired our beautiful Norfolk beaches only to have that beauty tarnished by somebody’s discarded plastic bag or whole bags full of litter where someone has enjoyed a picnic and left the litter behind. One of the most disgusting sites that I find particularly annoying is the dog mess left in plastic bags. I would often walk along the beach collecting bags of litter and couldn't help wondering why more was not being done! Then I discovered the Marine Conservation Society’s Beachwatch program and decided to become a Beachwatch organiser, organising clean ups at the beach I grew up near.
Part of an unwanted chair

I started organising cleans at Bacton and Walcott beach in North Norfolk. This then extended to Sea – Palling beach as well which is a pretty bay abundant with wildlife including grey seals which I have recently started wardening. I organise clean ups once a month or more covering four small beaches and try to get as many locals involved as I can as well as non-locals too. To start with I had a bit of difficulty trying to get people involved but after a few cleans word has got out and more and more people are joining in, we even have some regulars which is great!

There's even an old hoover in here!
In 2014 we did around 20 beach cleans and over 800 kg of rubbish was picked up. The main marine litter culprits were plastic, tarpaulin, rope along the breakers, fishing gear and polystyrene. I have found a hoover, deck chair frames, a dingy, part of an air balloon, wind breakers and even part of a toilet!

If you ever visit North Norfolk why not join in? I have a Facebook page you can visit for updates and the cleans are also on the Beachwatch events page. They are always a great day out and its very rewarding. It is a great feeling knowing you are doing your bit to help!


Tuesday, 3 March 2015

A Sea Champion on Ascension Island: Green Turtles, shooting stars and half a Chinese washing machine

Team turtle raking the beach ready for the next night's turtle activity
Emily Cunningham was one of the original pilot Sea Champions and got stuck in organising beach cleans, manning stalls and doing litter surveys all whilst studying Marine Biology at Bangor University. She has since worked to reduce beach litter through beach clean activities and community engagement in both Sri Lanka and on Ascension Island and has been kind enough to share a little about the work she’s done below.

Few people have heard of Ascension Island, a 5 by 7 mile speck of volcanic rock located 1600km from Africa and 2250km from Brazil and even fewer have been lucky enough to visit. I’ll hold my hands up and say that I’d never heard of it – until I saw a job advert for a Marine Turtle Programme Coordinator online and was enlightened by a bit of google searching. After a successful Skype interview, my partner and I took the position as a job share and off we went!

Using the turtle sledge to help females back to sea
Ascension Island hosts the Atlantic’s second largest nesting population of Green Turtles and our job was to coordinate the monitoring programme. Rising at dawn each day, the team (affectionately known as “Team Turtle”) would check known strandings hotspots and help exhausted 250kg female turtles back to the sea - sometimes with the aid of our bespoke turtle sledge (see picture). We’d then survey 3 index beaches, counting individual tracks and nests, before raking them away ahead of the next night’s activity. As well as running twice weekly turtle tours for visitors and the odd VIP, we would head out to the index beaches to monitor nest productivity. The hottest hours of the day were our downtime – for snorkelling or snoozing – ahead of the night shift. My favourite “task” was watching shooting stars and listening to the careful excavation of an egg chamber.

Ascension Island has received a lot of attention lately – it’s one of the three British Overseas Territories proposed as huge marine reserves. If all three are designated, the UK Government would increase the amount of ocean under full protection by 50%. But what about the threats that marine reserves can’t protect against? I’ve been a Sea Champion working to help combat marine litter for years - but the marine litter on Ascension Island (an isolated island with a transient population of 800) was the worst I had ever seen. We did a MCS Beachwatch survey of 2 exposed bays on the South Coast and found hundreds of plastic bottles, strapping, kilometres of rope, decades of driftwood, odd flip flops, buoys, a freezer, hair gel from Congo and half a Chinese washing machine!

Ascension Island sings like a canary of the marine litter problem – it is global. No beach, no matter how remote, is free of litter. It’s a reminder of how important the work of Sea Champions really is and how in acting locally, we protect globally. Although the problem is daunting, every beach clean we organise and every talk we give is part of the solution. Being a Sea Champion has been an important part of my career (and personal) development and I wish all the other Sea Champions the best of luck in finding your dream job! Thanks MCS for being a big part in helping me achieve mine.

Emily is now proud to be the Living Seas Officer at Cheshire Wildlife Trust, managing a Marine Litter Project on the Dee Estuary. For general rants about plastic bags and how amazing UK seas are, follow her on Twitter @eegeesea

Monday, 23 February 2015

Tyres for Terns!

Here’s a great story from the Forth Estuary where Scottish Sea Champions have turned fly tipped tyres into wildlife habitats! Volunteer Coordinator Matt gives us the low-down.

So on our typical quarterly beach cleans and surveys in the Forth Estuary in 2014 we found scores of fly-tipped tyres. Rather than leave these to deteriorate into the waters we decided to put them to good use.

It was mucky work as the tyres were dumped untreated and contained thick oils and contaminants that were leaching into the waters. Luckily the Great British public and Sea Champion volunteers rose to the challenge and thankfully wore old clothing! The tyres were collected and cleaned to remove chemicals and oils. Now to find a use for them rather than landfill.

Common Terns are one of our amazing species that migrate thousands of miles to our shores each summer to breed. These little fellas aren’t doing so well and have been declining in recent years. Originally they were found throughout the Forth Estuary but a mixture of disturbance, predation and vegetation growth can lead to nests failing. Most now nest in the Specially Protected Area at Leith Docks off Edinburgh but you know the saying about all your eggs and one basket so we started to look for alternate habitats to give them a helping hand.

There are numerous disused piers in the estuary that can accommodate terns if the conditions are right, this little beauty has Terns on it each year but not breeding successfully due to the exposed areas. 

Terns have been known to use rafts created from tyres to protect chicks from the elements, disturbance and from view from would be predators. So on a calm day Scottish Sea Champions set out to install the tyres and secure them with chains to create a potential seabird nesting habitat.

It would have been a long swim out but thankfully our friends at the Maid of the Forth were on hand to offer one of their wildlife watching vessels stationed in South Queensferry and North Berwick http://www.maidoftheforth.co.uk/

After a little bit of effort from some passionate people we have hopefully helped our feathered marine friends for the 2015 breeding season. Mission complete!

Monday, 16 February 2015

G’Day from Jimmy & Claire, our honorary Aussie Sea Champions

When we were contacted last summer by Jimmy explaining that he was coming to the UK for a couple of months and would love to get involved with Sea Champions we certainly didn’t want to turn a kind offer of help away so our solution was to make Jimmy and his sister Claire honorary Sea Champions! Read on to hear about their marine conservation adventures as they made their way round the UK coastline.

"In the beginning of July 2014, my sister Claire and I made our way to London and then out west, and ended up helping at a stand on an insanely cramped beach in sunny Weymouth, England. Here, this story begins, that being our adventure along the stunning British coastline.

I’d chosen to get in touch with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) prior to leaving Australia to organise some volunteering. Coming off a cracker of a summer on the Victorian coast, having thrown myself into everything from rock-pool rambles to night time snorkels chasing dumpling squid, and a few days micro-chipping fairy penguins in between, I was pumping with energy and enthusiasm to continue to help out wherever I could, even if that was in a foreign land.

Volunteering with MCS introduced us to a new way of travelling. We continued to explore but now with a new twist, one with a deeper purpose than simply taking in the towns, countryside and people on display. We started to see the coastline as our own, with our holiday time allocated to cleaning beaches of vast piles of rubbish rubbing off on us, forming a sense of ownership that transcends homogenised ‘borders’.

We offered MCS an opportunity to visually promote large tracts of the British coast from the eyes of a road-tripper, live, through social media such as twitter and Instagram. Each night, as Claire was settling down in her half-broken tent, I was in the two-door car with my knees around my ears, uploading and transferring the days photos to multiple locations, and sharing info we’d discovered during the day as well.

We ran numerous beach clean ups along the way in Wales and Scotland; on the tip of the Gower Peninsula, at Tresaith (the first heritage coastline in Britain), outside Tenby (with its low-tide stranded boats), on the Ynyslas sand dunes, and on multiple lochs (Lyne, Long, Sween, Broom). Whilst at Brighouse Bay in southern Scotland, Claire and I focused solely on counting the strands of washed up rope from the fishing industry. We picked up over two thousand pieces between us, in a little under an hour! Terrible.

Volunteering on the road wasn't easy, and in hindsight I would've liked a few more weeks to really take our time, staying in spots for days rather than hours. But return to the ‘real world’ we must, with a further appreciation for how huge and diverse the world is, and a priceless collection of memories.

Now it’s time to work on my own country’s coastal problems – teaming up with the Australian Marine Conservation Society for the “fight for the reef” campaign, whilst taking the environmental message to all that can listen. 

To the passionate people we met at MCS, we thank you all for having us on board as honorary Sea Champions, and wish every single one of you the best in the fight to protect and save British waters from those that the waters have (again, ironically) protected for centuries.. Peace!!"

To read Jimmy's full story or peruse through a few more of his beautiful seaside photos pop on over to his blog It's Jimmy Nails

Here's a quick update from Jimmy 6 months on: "I'm now co-coordinating the Victorian branch of the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) down here, with heaps of events and our major campaign ticking along. It's been an amazing learning curve and experience the past six months. We've had a Rally For The Reef, dive shop talks, national park and marine protected area walk'n'talks, beach cleans, organising invasive species workshops. I'm loving it!"

Friday, 13 February 2015

Being a Sea Champion - Cassie & Rebecca give us the lowdown

South West Sea Champions Cassie Greenhill and Rebecca Adams spent the summer of 2014 volunteering at the MCS head office. In this short video they share with us what they got up to.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Guest Post: "How I went from face scrubs to Sea Championing", volunteer Imogen tells us her story

Imogen's research: microbeads extracted from popular facial scrubs

"Guilty as charged. There I was happily using facial scrubs and other cosmetics that contained micro-beads and it had never even occurred to me that I would be washing my face or brushing my teeth with plastic fragments, why would it? Like so many others I was completely oblivious to the fact that I was contributing daily to marine litter.

It was only when I was introduced to microplastics while studying for my undergraduate degree that I was made aware of the damage I was personally causing the marine environment and I was horrified! Once I knew, it was easy to make more informed decisions about what I was buying to reduce my part in the pollution. Now I check the contents of cosmetics before I buy them and if they contain plastic then they’re not going in my shopping basket. Easy!

I’ve taken things a step further and I am now a PhD student at Plymouth University researching ‘The Sources and Fate of Plastic Pollution within the Marine Environment’.   I am passionate about providing the public with more information on plastic pollution’s origins, and its subsequent journey, future, and effects on the environment. Recently I have been extracting and quantifying the plastics used in top brand facial scrubs, and found the results very surprising.  Microplastics are known for being ingested by marine animals, transporting non-indigenous species to new locations, and generally making the sea into a ‘plastic soup’.  By looking at the amount, shape and size of the microplastics extracted, it helps to further identify the impacts they are having the marine environment. 

A SEM (scanning electron microscope) photo of a microbead used in facial scrubs

Unfortunately there are still many other ways the sea is polluted. Plastic bottles and carrier bags washing up on the beach and animals entangled in fishing lines are just two examples of the terrible images that spring to mind. Educating people on the ways that we pollute, very often unwittingly like I was, help us make the right lifestyle decisions for reducing our imprint and increasing our sustainability. If you’re not aware of the how we are contributing to pollution as a society then how are we expected to combat it?! This is the exact reason why I became a Sea Champion.

Myself and other Sea Champions have been spreading the knowledge about marine pollution to more people. We recently received training on how to deliver educational talks and workshops to schools and other organisations about the ocean and how to preserve it. Hearing the feedback from these talks has been fantastic, and it really shows how it just takes one person informing others to cause a ripple effect. Continuing to spread the word with fellow Sea Champions is something that I'm really looking forward to this year. The positive results and great feedback really proves how worthwhile this cause is and I'm excited to see how this project continues to grow."

Are you concerned about microplastics? Then head on over to our SCRUB IT OUT webpage to find out more and pledge to go microbead free!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Guest Post: Volunteer Emily tells us how she’s decided to take on the challenge of organising her own Beachwatch beach clean

One of my goals for this year is to gain as much conservation-related volunteer experience as I can. I want to expand my skills in all areas, including practical/field and academic, so that I can build a solid foundation for a career in conservation. One of the possibilities I looked at was volunteering for beach clean-ups in my local area, as a means of doing something vitally important for a good cause. During my online travels, I came across the Marine Conservation Society which is a charity based in the UK working towards the protection of our seas, shores and the wildlife that lives there.

“The tide of litter washing up on our shores is not just unpleasant to look at, it can harm and even kill some of our best-loved marine wildlife. Over 170 species including seabirds, turtles and whales have mistaken marine litter for food and actually eaten it, which in many cases has resulted in starvation, poisoning and ultimately a slow, painful death. Plastic packaging and discarded fishing nets also injure, entangle and drown some of Britain’s favourite marine animals, including seals and dolphins.”

They operate a programme entirely run by volunteers called the Beachwatch Survey that runs all over the country. The goal for each survey is to comb a 100m stretch of beach, record and collect each piece of litter found within that space and then send off the data to the MCS, who use it for analysis of the state of our beaches among other vital work. For my local beaches, there were no upcoming events scheduled when I looked, so I decided to register as an organiser and arrange my own clean-up. I'm quite excited as I've never taken part in a beach clean-up before, let alone organised one, and I am looking forward to the challenge of coordinating an event like this, thereby expanding my organisational skills and working towards a worthy cause (one of a great many that rely on volunteers). It's also a brilliant way to get some fresh, sea air after being stuck inside all Winter!

After liaising with Adur and Worthing Council and gaining permission to carry out an event, I have officially scheduled my first Beachwatch for Sunday 8th March. I'm holding it on Goring-by-Sea beach in Worthing, which is a beach I know reasonably well and is my nearest coastal area from where I am in Horsham. I am hoping to get a decent amount of volunteers to take part in the event so will be working hard to get the word out and about!

If you are in the West Sussex area and you're interested in taking part in this survey, you can find the event details here where you can register as a volunteer. It would be great to see as many people as possible helping out and enjoying a bit of fresh, sea air!

Emily is an artist, birdwatcher, volunteer and amateur conservationist. Read all about her conservation adventures over on her blog The Art of Nature or follow her on Twitter @ArtofNatureBlog

Good luck Emily, can’t wait to hear how it goes!