MAYA PLASS – Marine Biologist – TV Presenter – Conservationist
Born Maya Plass in Kent in 1978, her early childhood was often spent in and around the Kentish rivers examining minnows and sticklebacks. As nature would have it, Maya’s world would follow the rivers out to sea when she was brought to live on the Wirral. Trips to Hilbre Island with her biology-teaching mother would enchant Maya as she explored the colourful rock pools and marvelled at the birds and seals. Inevitably, the long days spent absorbing the wonders of the coast – coupled with a passion for natural history and the great outdoors – led Maya to pursue a career in marine biology.
Her aquatic fate was set when Maya moved to Devon to study for a BSc Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology, later followed by an MSc Integrated Coastal Zone Management in Bournemouth. The incredible beauty of the underwater world – the life stories of the inhabitants, the amazing diversity of food provided by the sea and the coastal, historical, ecological and mythical stories which make the seas so very important to our society, never ceases to amaze her.
Professionally, Maya’s career began as project officer in coastal Argentina, and later on a European project on the Exe Estuary, as she developed sustainable coastal management projects. In 2007, Maya fulfilled her lifetime ambition of sharing her love for the sea when she set up her own marine education business – Learn to Sea.
Learn to Sea enabled her to share her passion and knowledge of the sea within workshops for both children and adults. This led to several trips and projects across the UK’s coasts and abroad – including a life-changing trip to the World Heritage Site Midway Atoll – which inspires much of Maya’s workshop content. In 2009, Maya was invited to work with the BBC Spring/Autumnwatch team as a contributor, and has returned as a regular guest presenter. The experience of filming highlighted a potential outlet for Maya to ‘use’ the magic of modern media to inspire, inform and educate. She has since been seen on BBC Coast and ITV’s Hungry Sailors.
In 2011 through the powers of twitter, Maya had the chance to follow her dreams of writing a seashore book – inspired by her collection of new and old seashore guides. The RSPB Handbook of the Seashore (published May 2013 by Bloomsbury) is full of incredible facts, stunning pictures, exquisite illustrations and the beloved creatures that Maya knows so well.
Maya’s passion for marine conservation and campaigning had led her to raise money for charity in long distance open water swims, rowing lengths of the Thames and even triathlons. This dedication to marine conservation includes her role as patron for three fantastic charities – Sea-changers, MARINElife and Mires Mor. (http://www.mayaplass.com/bio.html)
I asked Maya why she felt marine conservation was so important and why more people should take an interest or even care about what was happening in the world’s oceans?
Sadly we have stopped recognising our natural world as something of value. We wonder why we need to encourage marine conversation and this is all, in my opinion, down to a lack of connection with our marine environment. The sea is, at times, seen as a separate entity to our terrestrial lives and we forget or are not taught that it is the lungs that keep our global system healthy. The sea provides us with atmospheric oxygen from plankton and absorbs (too much) carbon dioxide from our exorbitant and consumer based lifestyles. Our oceans play a part in our global weather systems, provide us with protein, and are a means of transporting goods, a living lab which has cures for medical conditions, a source of economy and a vast and wonderful playground for all manner of water sports including diving. Why wouldn’t we want to protect our seas and oceans? There are just a few reasons why we must protect our seas…apart from them being utterly beautiful!
Are there any aspects of marine conservation that are more important to you than others?
As vast as the seas and oceans are so too are the issues which threaten our marine environment. There are many conservation drives that play a vital role in encouraging marine conservation. This might range from beach cleans to trying to change government policy on pollution from industry. Beyond all of these issues the foundation of change will always be from knowledge and understanding. If we are really to expect marine conservation to happen the very first thing we need to tackle is marine education. Why as an island nation do we learn so little about the role our seas have to play on our lives in land? Marine education has the potential for being the biggest catalyst for marine conservation. If you ask the vast majority of children where oxygen comes from they say the trees despite more than half of our oxygen coming from plankton in the sea. The teachers or children rarely know this fact and this is something that needs changing in order for us to promote an appreciation of the sea.
Do you feel that enough is being done by local authorities, conservation departments and even governments to protect the future of our marine environment?
Simply put – no. There are some people trying very hard to improve our future which they recognise relies on coastal and ocean health. We are all responsible in helping achieve this goal. We all have the power at our fingertips to make a difference. We don’t have to be government policymakers or work for conservation groups to make commitments to ensure the safety of our seas. If we all make a concerted effort we will be closer to that tipping point of change.
What more can be done?
Where to begin? We need to consume less in all areas. The less we buy, the less fuel is used in transport and the less carbon dioxide in our atmosphere which will acidify our oceans and make them uninhabitable for species. I think we need to replace this lust for “stuff” with a pursuit of simple pleasures in the great outdoors. It could be sport or simply enjoying nature and the natural world. This needs to be encouraged from an early age. We need to be conscious of where we source our purchases and of the company’s codes of practise and question their environmental codes. This isn’t always easy and nobody is perfect but the more we try the closer we are to creating solutions to environmental degradation.
Do you think there is enough attention paid to conservation in our school education systems?
Having seen recent discussions about curriculum removing terms like, “climate change” from the geography curriculum I think more concerted effort is needed to educate the next generation. This doesn’t have to be doom and gloom future scenarios but ensuring children get into good habits and practices through their lessons at school, outdoors education and how the school encourages ecological practise within its walls. This is easier said than done when schools and teachers are under huge pressure from financial cuts and growing pressure of reports and documentation. This isn’t just about Forest School but also encouraging marine education laid out within the curriculum.
If anybody was concerned about their local marine area or wanted to protect certain species, what advice would you give them on where to start?
They could get involved in government consultation on marine planning which they could look up through their local council. Coastal counties will have an environment department that they could contact. The internet is always a great source of information to see what could be done and what is being done in a certain area. They could even approach local marine organisations and groups to see if they already have any projects which match your concerns. I think the key thing is to share your passion and dedication with others so they too might become enthusiastic to support your concerns. The more we talk about the sea the better!
The Big Shark Pledge: Shark Trust’s new campaign kicks off with a call for support
With the ink still drying on last week’s landmark listing of nearly 100 species of sharks on Appendix II of CITES, the Shark Trust insists that this is not the time for shark conservation to take a break. The UK-based NGO this week launches its biggest-ever concerted campaign to tackle the overfishing of oceanic sharks. They are calling on people across the world to join the call for stricter controls on high seas fisheries.
The Big Shark Pledge is at the heart of an ambitious set of campaign actions. Working to secure science-based catch limits on all sharks and rays affected by the international high seas fishing fleet. The pledge will build the largest campaigning community in shark and ray conservation history to support a raft of policy actions over the vital years ahead.
Many of our best known and much-loved sharks make their home on the high seas. In our shared ocean, these oceanic sharks and rays face a very real threat from a huge international fleet of industrial-scale fishing vessels. Research published in early 2021 confirmed that over three-quarters of oceanic sharks and rays are now at risk of extinction due to the destructive impact of overfishing. They have declined by 71% over the last 50 years.
The Shark Trust is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year and has a long history of securing positive changes for sharks, skates and rays. The Big Shark Pledge will build on the success of their NoLimits? campaign which underpinned landmark catch limits on Blue Sharks and Shortfin Mako in the North Atlantic.
“While the listing of so many species on the CITES trade agreement is certainly a positive step, there remains a huge challenge in ensuring that sustainable practices are embedded in international fisheries.” says Shark Trust Director of conservation, Ali Hood. “Sharks on the high seas face extraordinary pressure from excessive fishing practices. This has to be addressed through international agreements such as those secured for Blues and makos.”
There is hope and a feeling of momentum in the shark conservation community. Just last week, in addition to the new CITES listings, the Shark Trust, working with partners in the Shark League, secured the first-ever international quota for South Atlantic Mako at ICCAT meeting in Portugal. The new campaign from the Shark Trust aims to push forwards from here, engaging a wave of support through the Big Shark Pledge to bolster policy action.
This will be a long-term international and collaborative effort. Forging a pathway to rebuild populations of high-seas sharks and rays. By putting science at the heart of shark conservation and fisheries management. And making the vital changes needed to set populations on the road to recovery.
Shark Trust CEO Paul Cox says of the Big Shark Pledge “It’s designed to give everyone who cares about the future of sharks the chance to add their voice to effective and proven conservation action. By adding their name to the Pledge, supporters will be given opportunities to apply pressure at key moments to influence change.”
Fourth Element X Sea Shepherd
This year on Black Friday, fourth element announced their new partnership with Sea Shepherd, encouraging people to move away from mindless purchasing and to opt-in to supporting something powerful.
For 40 years Sea Shepherd, a leading non-profit organisation, has been patrolling the high seas with the sole mission to protect and conserve the world’s oceans and marine wildlife. They work to defend all marine wildlife, from whales and dolphins, to sharks and rays, to fish and krill, without exception.
Inspired by Sea Shepherd’s mission, fourth element have created a collection of fourth element X Sea Shepherd limited edition products for ocean lovers and protectors, with 15% of every sale going to the Sea Shepherd fund to help continue to drive conservation efforts globally.
“Working with Sea Shepherd gives fourth element the opportunity to join forces with one of the largest active conservation organisations in the world to try to catalyse change in people’s attitudes and behaviour. Fourth Element’s products are designed, developed and packaged with the intention of minimising our impact on the ocean environment, and with this partnership, we will be supporting the work of Sea Shepherd, in particular in their work on dealing with the twin threats of Ghost fishing nets and plastic pollution.”
Jim Standing fourth element co-founder
Read fourth element’s Sea Shepherd Opinion Piece HERE
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