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