I well remember the Marine Conservation Society starting up in the late 1970s. It coincided with the early days of my TV filming career when marine conservation was quite a new concept in the eyes of the general public and little understood for the importance it held. With the development of the web and social media, marine conservation issues are now easily communicated to the masses and finally people are beginning to realise that the sea is not a limitless resource of food as well as not a bottomless pit for waste.
The Marine Conservation Society is a UK charity for the protection of the seas around the United Kingdom, and for the protection of our shores and wildlife.
Richard Harrington is the communications Officer for the MCS.
Jeff: Can you tell us more about the Marine Conservation Society and what being communications manager entails?
Richard: MCS is the UK charity for the marine environment, and we have a lot to say when we stand up for the life beneath the waves. I am in the privileged position of working at MCS to get our work noticed – through media, digital, printed resources etc – and harnessing the support of people who are interested in seeing marine life better protected in joining with us in our important work.
Jeff: What kind of people support the MCS?
Richard: That’s a challenge to answer! We started off with the support of scuba divers, and scientists, who still make up a good percentage of our supporter base. But the work we’ve branched out into on beaches, in schools etc. means we have a great variety now, and it really is hard to label our supporters as one type or another.
Jeff: What age groups are they mainly?
Richard: There’s a broad range of ages, with a peak in numbers for our paying supporters in the age ranges between 45 – 64. This might sound old! But actually, in comparison with some other charities, it is relatively youthful.
Male and female split is almost precisely 50:50. I like to think we have universal appeal!
Jeff: How do they support the MCS?
Richard: There are those who simply donate a couple of pounds a month and trust us to do our work, and we simply keep them informed of our work. A lot of people like to get much more involved, and we have several thousand volunteers who clean beaches, dive with Seasearch, and we also have around 250 “Sea Champions” – super volunteers who are the local voice of MCS in UK regions and countries. We encourage our supporters to get behind our campaigns, too, and always have ways for people to get involved.
Jeff: Are all MCS members from the UK or do you have people interested from other countries?
Richard: Mostly UK, as we are a registered charity here, but we have a good number of supporters who live overseas, too. Several live in Europe, a handful in the US, and a smattering of others is spread across the continents!
Jeff: Can you tell us about the MCS’s most recent projects?
Richard: The biggest has been with marine reserves (see my later answers). The Seasearch underwater surveys have gone from strength to strength, mapping out many new seabed sites with volunteer divers. We’ve been cleaning and surveying beaches with the biggest ever national event this spring, when nearly 10,000 people turned up around the UK. Working to make the UK largely carrier bag-free, successfully in every country other than England – so far!
Jeff: Do you have a favourite project?
Richard: I really enjoy seeing the results of our sustainable seafood work – our lists of fish to eat and avoid are used by chefs and supermarkets, and the public are definitely picking up on the need to buy sustainable. I’ve enjoyed working with Fish Fighters (and the “End of the Line” documentary makers before this). We’re making a Good Fish Guide App for Android at the moment, and looking at rating retailers on their sustainability in the Autumn. Watch this space!
Jeff: Are there ongoing issues that never seem to get resolved?
Richard: One big theme of our last few months has been trying to get marine reserves around UK waters; we enlisted the support of TV’s Fish Fight, marched on parliament, and really pulled out all the stops to make them a priority for government. At a crucial time, we’re seeing all the hard work turn into rather vague commitments from government for English seas, and Wales’ waters too. We’re focusing on Scottish seas over the next few months, which stand a good chance of being better protected if we succeed.
Jeff: A few years ago we were all very excited about the Marine Bill initiative but as time went on it slowly disappeared from public news. Can you tell us what is happening with it now and what the MCS involvement is?
Richard: That bill became an Act in 2010 (2011 for Scotland) and some good things have come of it. There is more of a joined-up approach to managing our seas by government, for example. But – and it is a big but – the network of protected sites that was enabled by the legislation is slow in coming to fruition. We’re keeping the pressure on!
Jeff: If people have a special marine environment or species they want to protect, how can they get started?
Richard: Talk to us! Don’t feel helpless, there’s lots you can do. Depending on where your favourite place might be, and what species you have concerns for, there is always something you can do to help. For a small site off the UK coast, you could garner support amongst locals and sea users for protecting it, or simply help spread the word about how valuable it is.
Jeff: Most of our readers are divers, how can they best support the marine environment?
Richard: Join MCS – you won’t be disappointed! www.mcsuk.org