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.