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.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxWaP0BUxTo 

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