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!