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!

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Friends of Shoreham Beach Spring Clean

One of the great things about the Sea Champions project is getting to work with other fantastic organisations and groups for a common cause. Sea Champion Andy has been helping out the Friends of Shoreham Beach Group who were recently awarded some funding to start a new beach cleaning initiative. Here he tells us a little more about it. 

A cool, blustery afternoon on 24th April saw the Friends of Shoreham Beach (FoSB) Spring Beach Clean.  25 adults and 8 children gathered at Shoreham Fort, and carried out a sweep of the shingle shoreline. It was mostly the usual plastic litter, bottles, caps, fishing material and sweet wrappers, much of it swept in by the storms earlier in the year.

This event also marked the launch of a new initiative, TUTT (Tidy Up the Tide Line) made possible by a donation from the HP Beach Clean Up Fund.  The fund has allowed FoSB to purchase child-sized litter pickers and florescent vests for family beach cleaning.  It will feature monthly or bi-monthly one hour family focused beach cleans along the tideline where most of the debris accumulates. TUTT will also include talks on things of interest relevant to the beach and the adjacent local nature reserve and have competitions and “most unusual object” and generally encourage a “care for your beach” attitude amongst the young.

HP Beach Clean Up Fund was set up by HP in conjunction with the Marine Conservation Society and Keep Britain Tidy, following a storm at sea in 2014 that resulted in the loss of HP printer cartridges which are being found washed up on UK and other European coastlines.  The fund supports non-profit organisations, individuals and local authorities who are undertaking, or planning to undertake beach litter clean ups on UK beaches in areas where HP cartridges have been found.

Ed Santry, MCS Volunteer and Community Engagement Manager (South East England) extended his congratulations to FOSB and said he was pleased to see the money going to a worthy active clean up group.

The efforts of the beach clean resulted in at least 30 refuse sacks filled and the afternoon was concluded with a tour of the Napoleonic fort by Friends of Shoreham Fort and a well-earned hot drink from their beachside café.

FoSB are a volunteer group, supported by Adur District Council whose role is to  look after the Local Nature Reserve that is Shoreham Beach and one of its many tasks is organising Beach Cleans.

Click here to find our more about the HP Beach Clean Up Fund 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Why Scotland should do it like the Swedes

Plastic bottles Sea Champion Andrea found on a remote beach on Harris in the Outer Hebrides

Sea Champion Andrea is a Swede living and studying in beautiful Scotland. Here she tells us about how the bottle deposit scheme back home is working.

I love the Scottish nature especially the coasts, where I hate to see how much litter there is. I joined MCS as a Sea Champion volunteer earlier this year and have so far been to beach cleans and to help deliver education workshops in schools.

Living in Scotland is in many ways very different from my home country. In Sweden we may not have the impressive castles, great beers or awesome ceilidhs for example. One thing we do have though is our famous deposit return system, something that is still missing in Scotland. Because of this system, bringing all your bottles and cans back to the store and getting money for it is a very natural part of life for anyone growing up in Sweden it is so normal that we even have a verb for it – “Panta”.

When living in a country with a deposit return system, recycling is always on your mind without particular effort. If you’re out and about drinking something in a bottle or can, you will probably put it in your bag and bring it home to the collection. It also becomes natural that if you are having a party, you make sure everyone leaves their bottles and you could collect enough to pay for next day’s brunch!

If the bottle does not make it to the recycling in the first pace, it can even have a second chance - it’s not rare to see people searching the bins in the park for bottles. I have even heard rumours about people that pay their whole rent with what that they pick up around town!

A bottle return station in Sweden

Business, offices, events and organisations also consume a large number of plastic bottles. I have been working in restaurants and bars in both Sweden and Scotland and have seen a massive difference in how recycling is prioritised in the two countries. I found that in Sweden, where money can be saved, recycling happened quite naturally, while it is a lower priority here in Scotland.

The deposit return system is also useful for the community, when for example organisations or schools collect bottles to raise money for their activities and trips. In a big collection competition last year, 13 million bottles and cans were collected by sports organisations from all corners Sweden.

Statistics has shown that putting a value to the bottles can truly change people’s behaviour. The success is quite clear, in 2014, 82,7% of all PET bottles were brought back and recycled in Sweden and the recycling rates for other materials are also high. I also could imagine that the deposit return system could make a huge difference here in Scotland because of how much the plastic bag use decreased when the 5p charge was added.

I have recently been on my first trip to the Outer Hebrides, a really amazing part of the world. Even in such a remote and pristine place, I found that many beaches were still full of plastic. It is very clear that marine litter is a problem all over Scotland and the amount of plastic is increasing according to the data collected during MCS’s many years of beach cleans. It is also clear that plastic bottles are a significant part of the problem and that the deposit return system is an effective way of doing something about it.

During my 25 years as a Swede, I have not had any negative experiences with the deposit return system, and the positive effects are so many. I hope that Scotland will soon join with the Swedes, taking a step towards being a more sustainable country with less plastic litter on its very special and beautiful coasts.

Please show your support for putting in place a Deposit Return System in Scotland by following the Have You Got the Bottle campaign on facebook and on twitter @yougotthebottle.

Have you got the bottle?

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Ocean Literacy for Disabled Children in “Cornubia”

John Hepburn is one of our Sea Champions and an education volunteer. He’s been out and about in schools in Plymouth delivering the MCS Cools Seas workshops teaching children all about the wonderful marine life in our seas and how to help look after it. But John is also involved in another exciting marine education project which he’s kindly told us all about:

“Wow!  How cool is that?” was Katie‘s response to the announcement that we were going to look at the seabed beneath our feet using our baited lander.  Katie was one of four children who were about to undertake a voyage of discovery around Plymouth Sound and its estuaries in “Cornubia.” “Cornubia” being a beautifully restored Bristol Channel pilot cutter, built in Polruan in 1911.

The Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter Trust runs these day trips for disabled children from Devon and Cornwall between April and October, sailing out of Mayflower Marina in Plymouth.  They give the children and their carers, the experience of sailing in a classic yacht which is much less spartan than most other boats used for sail training-type activities.  The children learn about sailing the boat; they help set the sails and those who want (nearly everyone) get a chance to steer.  

My day starts a few hours before the children arrive because as well as doing the marine biology, I am first mate, so there’s a lot to be done to get the boat ready for sea and I also get the technology – microscope, TV, computer ready. Then there’s the bit I really enjoy – collecting the samples to give the kids a glimpse of ocean life through the life on the pontoons.

Some things are guaranteed like barnacles, mussels, hydroids and seamat. With luck there will be a small anemone, a keel worm, and with a good dollop of luck a feather star too. There are always amphipods burrowing in the biofouling, and they’re quite exciting under the microscope.  Skeleton shrimps are pretty cool too. 

All these go in a translucent plastic food container and under the microscope, which displays on a large TV in the saloon on-board.  Reactions from the children when watching vary with cognitive ability.  For some it’s just funny wiggly things on the screen, others are fascinated and ask searching questions. 

I also put samples of seaweed in large plastic ice cream containers so they can see the different colours and feel the textures of the different species or of different ages.  We can see that stuff settles and grows on the weed too, and on the boat.  “Who likes to eat seaweed?”  “Yuck!”  (Although there are a very few that like it.)  But they’re all surprised to find that seaweed is used in ice cream. 

The children arrive, and then once in their lifejackets, we walk down the pontoon, past “Cornubia,” to the very end.  Then we all take two deep breaths, and I ask them why we breathe, and where the oxygen comes from.  Plants, trees, they invariably tell me.  “And half of it comes from the plants in the sea,” I tell them.

We talk about plankton, small stuff and big stuff, plants and animals, things that spend their whole lives in it and those that spend only a part of them, what plankton eats and what eats plankton. Most know the blue whale eats plankton, and is the biggest animal on earth, ever.  Some know about basking sharks, and a few, the whale shark.  Very few know about the sunfish.  But it’s a neat fact that the biggest sea mammal, the biggest shark and the biggest bony fish are all plankton eaters.  

Next up, the lander. (Lander is actually a rather grandiose term for an aluminium tube with a CCTVcamera suspended within it.). Once seated safely in the saloon we get the second mates to deploy the lander, by shouting, “Dive, dive, dive!” in best submarine movie fashion. On the TV we see it slipping beneath the surface, a glimpse of the weed on the pontoon, the passing shadow of the boat’s hull then the bottom appears just before the landing on the seabed. 

Usually first up are the zombies of the deep, netted dog whelks.  They emerge from the ooze like the un-dead rising from the grave and stumble around looking for prey.  Not for the squeamish, but kids tend to like that sort of thing.  And we get other things too – gobies, shore crabs, spider crabs, pipe fish, sea slugs, wrasse – all seen in glorious technicolor.  

Once we’ve done with the microscope and lander (the attention spans can be quite short), then we brief the children on safety on board and off we go to sea!  

We tailor the day trips to suit the abilities of those on board.  Disabilities have included Autism, Epilepsy and Down’s Syndrome. The basic plan is to start with an easy motor up the river, to get them used to being afloat, and set the sails on the way back down after passing under the Tamar bridges.  Those who can and want to help, pull the ropes, steer, keep a look-out, make the tea and do the washing up.  

We give the children a specially written guide, a bit like the “I Spy” guides for them to record what they've seen. The guide has plenty of marine life for them to look out for such as birds and mega-fauna, as well as things to help them understand the human and physical geography of the area.  

After lunch we go into Plymouth Sound and do some real sailing.  The children are divided into port and starboard watches, and work as teams pulling in the foresail sheets. Once we've trawled for plankton, if the sea state allows I set the microscope and TV up in the saloon again, while we’re out in the Sound.  Otherwise it has to wait until we are in calmer water.  Then, having covered a Petri dish with drops of water from the sample with a pipette, we can see what we've caught.  

Once we've waved goodbye to the children the crew gather back on board to reflect on the day.  The reaction from Mungo, from Doubletrees school sums it up well. He said, “I really liked looking at the sea life through the microscope and underwater camera.”  These sailing excursions are really valuable for the children.  They increase their confidence, coordination, motor skills and team-working.  But we also show them that the sea is an amazing place, amazing things live in it, people do amazing things in it and that they are all linked.  

Wow, what a fantastic project! If you'd like to know more then check out John's report here

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Holy shrimp! This scampi happening!

"What I didn't know about fishing, fisheries and sustainable seafood" by Sea Champion Mary Sears

Cod and chips with mushy peas please," spoke the customer in front of me in the queue at the fish and chips takeaway, all the crispy golden batter coating the cod making my mouth water as I waited my turn in the queue on a Friday night. But just how much cod can one place really supply sustainably? For the past 4 months I have been an assistant online research volunteer for the Marine Conservation Society, looking into sustainable seafood and the multiple supermarkets, restaurants and fishmongers that sell seafood on their menus. Using the new 'Good-Fish guide' app on my smart phone, I wanted to write this blog, summarising my findings.

Before my interest in fisheries and sustainability evolved, I would head to my local supermarket or fishmonger without a thought in mind about whether to ask where the trout or snapper I was buying was sourced from, or how it was caught, because when you're uneducated, who cares? But, whilst in my first year of doing an Integrated Wildlife Conservation degree at UWE, I have widened my understanding and knowledge on the importance of sustainability and protecting ecosystems, especially our wonderful marine ecosystem.  The last FAO report (2014) indicated that in 2011 in total 28.8% of global assessed fish stocked were overfished; 61.3% are fully fished; and just 9.9% are under-fished (i.e. there is room for expansion), proving WHY it is so important to take seafood sustainability seriously.

One of my aims whilst researching different supermarkets and fishmongers was to test the knowledge of the workers preparing the fish, to see if they themselves knew whether the fish they're selling is sustainably sourced and if not, why not? Using the new MCS Good Fish Guide app, the first supermarket I visited was an ASDA store. Whilst nervous to talk to the people there at first, I realised I wanted to gather as much information as I could get about how seafood derived from the sea, gets to ASDA's ice counters! I spoke directly to the manager of the fish counter, who was happy for me to take photos of his fish on ice display and informed me that all the fish they supply is MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified - fantastic! However, there was no Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) labelling in evidence, which seemed a little suspicious. Also, not all the fish they had on show, such as river cobbler and rainbow trout, were labelled with the method of which they were captured or whether they were farmed or not. When I asked the manager (who was extremely friendly) he said that ASDA stores were currently updating all their fish labels so that customers know exactly where and how their fish is being sourced. We’ll have to wait, see and hope that it actually happens as ASDA scored poorly in the recent MSC league table for certified seafood (

Previous to this research, I had watched Channel 4's 'Hughs Fish Fight' to learn about how he has been and still is, trying to change EU policies about fish stocks and fishing technology world wide, especially in LEDC’s such as the Philippines. In this fishing nation, Hugh has helped educate hundreds of fish farmers on how to be more sustainable.

Several of the fishmongers I visited had advertised, 'SUPPORTERS OF HUGH'S FISH FIGHT' on their windows, which I thought was great as SO many people who watch Channel 4 will have heard of the series. The fish manager in ASDA described to me how customers just want 'cheap fish' to feed their families at home, but they love knowing that by buying the sustainable fish ASDA supply (although inexpensive) they are supporting sustainable fisheries through their custom.   Each year, billions of unwanted fish and other animals - like dolphins, marine turtles, seabirds, sharks, and corals - die due to inefficient, illegal, and destructive fishing practices.

Capture methods clearly labelled on some of the fish were 'hook and line method' and 'pots and traps' which are listed as low impact and selective methods by the MCS, hoorah!

Handing out Pocket Good Fish Guides to friends and family
Whilst looking at different species in stores, I would have the 'Good-Fish Guide' app open on my phone and search the app for the species I was looking at in store, for example, European Lobster. I’d then compare the information on the labels in store with the information provided by the app. The app gives you a 'sustainability rating' as well as some background information on the species to help you understand any effects on the environment that the sourcing of a particular species has had. It was SO easy to do and I've recommended the app to a load of people I know who consume fish weekly, to help them make more informed decisions!

Whilst out and about visiting multiple supermarkets and fishmongers I learnt a lot about 'fish to avoid' and 'fish to eat'. Seafood is sold widely all over the world, but by using this app and making sure I read the labels of any seafood I buy, I now know how to make more sustainable decisions.

I work in a restaurant which sells cod, haddock, scampi and salmon, but on the menu there is NO information about where the fish is sourced or whether it is sustainable to consume or not; I personally will speak to my manager about making changes to this. Everybody has their own favourite restaurant and favourite place to eat, but if more restaurants and takeaways provided more information on the sustainability of the fish on their menu, it would make customers feel much happier about paying for a good, sustainable source that isn't harming the environment!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Bristol Sea Champs have been helping stop plastic getting from "City to Sea"!

Sea Champions have been working on a fantastic local partnership project in Bristol and here Amy and Kay describe what they’ve been up to and what’s been achieved so far.
Amy writes:
“With Bristol winning the European Green Capital award last year, it was an exciting time for conservation. I was lucky enough to get involved along with Sea Champions Kay and Neil, with the City to the Sea group to represent MCS. City to Sea was just getting started and their aim was to reduce the amount of plastic litter from Bristol ending up in the Severn Estuary and floating out to sea. The group was made up of a collaboration of practitioners, scientists, local organisations, marine biologists, artists and campaigners working on ways of phasing out single-use plastics to create a model that can be shared with other coastal and river based cities. The first few meetings were opportunities for the members to share their experience and talk about different ideas and decide where we should start. 

The Bristol Whales art installation produced to celebrate Bristol's year as European Green Captial for 2015 


This is Kay as in the MCS Cod costume at the group's launch last summer, which was filmed for Made in Bristol TV (watch the video here).
Out of the potential issues raised, cotton bud sticks and MCS Beachwatch litter survey findings were talked about a lot and is something the group will campaign on in the future. The issue we decided to tackle first was single use drinks bottles, which formed a lot of the waste found on the Avon gorge river cleans. City to Sea started the Bristol Refill project in response to this problem,

The idea is really simple; all that the business needs to do is put a sticker in their window so that the public know that they can go in and get their water bottles filled up for free, helping to reduce the number of single use bottles bought and thrown away. The project now has over 170 businesses signed up across the city (exceeding our target of 120).

As a volunteer on the project, I’ve been out and about speaking to lots of businesses and had mostly positive responses; everyone has been keen to find easy ways to help reduce waste getting to the sea. If you are ever in Bristol, have a look at the Bristol Refill map for all the places that you can fill up your own water bottle.”

Sea Champion Kay tells us about the next stage of the City to Sea project:

“Thinking about how to grow the project, we started the new year in 2016 by attending a City to the Sea workshop. We looked at future ideas for new projects within the campaign to engage Bristol folk. It was great to see a range of people at the workshop, including young people and a former MCS Campaign Manager!
We were split into groups and each given a scenario and asked to come up with campaigning ideas.  The question that kept coming through was ‘how do you change peoples’ behaviour?’  We discussed how to get people into the habit of regularly carrying a water bottle, but then what happens if you run out of water?   Times that you had to buy a bottle of water, tended to be when you were travelling around on public transport, and there was nowhere to refill a bottle; also if you got caught out by being out longer than you thought. Some people proposed a message on bottled water, similar to those found on cigarettes, stating what happens to that plastic bottle when you throw it away. Somehow, we could not see the corporates liking that idea!

Things have also been happening on a political level, one of the founding members of City to the Sea and a Bristol Councillor took forward a motion that outlined constructive and step-by-step ways in which the City Council as a property owner, caterer, landlord and events licenser could play a key role in lowering the mount of SUP (Single-Use Plastics) Bristol wastes every year.

Here City to Sea Founder Natalie Fee addresses the Council meeting.
The motion included a strategy for seven key areas where Bristol City Council could make a difference, from ending the sales of plastic bottles in council buildings to working with festivals in the city to phase out all single use plastics. Although the motion was not selected to be heard due to time constraints this time, the campaign continues, with the motion coming back to the next council meeting in March. As Sea Champions and supporters of City to Sea, we will be writing to our local Councillors and MPs asking them to support the motion.
If you want to get your Council to introduce something similar in the city you live in, we can send you a copy of the motion that you could adapt and send to your local Councillors.

We’d be really keen to hear from other Sea Champions about measures they have been working on, or have seen succeed to reduce the use of plastic bottles and other SUPs in their areas. We can then propose those ideas to help to push ‘City to Sea’ even further forward."

Amy and Kay, Bristol Sea Champions

If you’d like to find out more about the City to Sea project then visit their site here. Or if you’d like to share your thought with Amy and Kay you can email them via our Sea Champions SW Manager Jules at

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Have you got the bottle?

Marine litter is a problem, this we know. Our Beachwatch surveys are telling us that the amount of litter found on our beaches has more than doubled in the last twenty years. We also know that a staggering 14% of that litter in Scotland is made up of drinks containers. MCS is working in many ways to help reduce this, one of the most recent being our involvement with the Have You Got the Bottle campaign in Scotland. The aim of the campaign is to introduce a deposit return system for drinks packaging. Marvellous idea you say, we think so too. But the first obstacle to making it happen is getting it through parliament.

Catherine, our Scotland Conservation Officer went along to a meeting with the other partners in the campaign where they posed the question, how are we going to get Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs) to pay attention and vote for it the deposit system? Luckily the Scottish MCS team and Sea Champions had a cunning plan that would raise awareness of the campaign and grab the MSPs’ attention. The plan? Instead of sending a standard written invitation to the parliamentary event they decided to put the invite on a plastic bottle that had been cleaned off of a local beach. Genius! Here’s how they did it…

It began with a beach clean. 129 MSPs to invite = 129 bottles. Sounds like a lot but sadly, they weren’t hard to find. Sea Champions Dawn and Chloe along with MCS colleague Dawn, MCS Trustee Leigh and some lovely volunteers from the Edinburgh Zoo helped collect over 200 bottles from Aberlady and Dalmeny beach.

Step 1 done, just a slight issue, where to put them?! Luckily Calum our Head of Conservation in Scotland kindly kept all the bottles in his shed before they were transported to Catherine’s spare room ready to be washed and labelled.

Next up, the label. Sea Champs Malin is pretty nifty with graphics and whizzed up a fab label to go on the bottles.

Then Sea Champs Kim and Eilidh spent a day cleaning and labelling all of our bottles ready to go to be sent out to the MSPs. (Check out the wee time lapse video they did here.)

To help drum up some more support our Volunteer Manager Matt with the help of Sea Champ Neil headed down to the beach to make a video showing just how big the problem is that went out on social media. Check it out here.

Back in the office MCS’s Dr Sue Kinsey was busy writing our official response to a call for evidence on the proposed deposit return system by Zero Waste Scotland.

Catherine went along to the meeting on the day and tells us a little about how it went:

"There was a full room and at least 9 MSP’s present along with a number of other staff who had been sent with their bottles in the MSP’s place due to other commitments. We even had one MSP ask to take part in the next beach clean in his constituency so a brilliant success! John from the Association to Protect Rural Scotland specifically thanked MCS for all our work in front of the whole attendance including Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead who absolutely loved the bottles!"

This really was a superb team effort between the MCS Scottish program staff and Sea Champions.

We’d like to say a HUGE thank you to our lovely volunteers who help made this happen.

To find out more about the Have You Got the Bottle campaign click here and why not follow Catherine on Twitter or Matt on Facebook to see what else our Scottish team and Sea Champions are up to.