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Marine Life & Conservation

An Interview with Marine Biologist and TV Presenter Maya Plass



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. (



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!

Jeff Goodman is the Editor-at-Large for with responsibility for conservation and underwater videography. Jeff is an award-winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker who lives in Cornwall, UK. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

Marine Life & Conservation

Ghost Fishing UK land the prize catch at the Fishing News Awards



The charity Ghost Fishing UK was stunned to win the Sustainability Award.

The winners were selected by a panel of industry judges and the award recognises innovation and achievement in improving sustainability and environmental responsibility within the UK or Irish fishing industries in 2021.

Nominees must have demonstrated a unique and innovative response to an environmental sustainability issue within the UK or Irish industry, demonstrating that the project has gone above and beyond standard practice, and provided evidence of its impact. The judges look particularly for projects that have influenced a significant change in behaviour and/or that have inspired broader awareness and/or engagement.

Ghost Fishing UK originated in 2015, training voluntary scuba divers to survey and recover lost fishing gear, with the aim to either return it to the fishing industry or recycle it. The charity is run entirely by volunteers and has gone from strength to strength, only last year winning the Best Plastic Campaign at the Plastic Free Awards.

Now, the charity has also been recognised at seemingly the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a unique achievement as trustee Christine Grosart explains;

We have always held the belief that working with the fishing industry is far more productive than being against it, in terms of achieving our goals to reduce and remove lost fishing gear.

The positive response to our fisheries reporting system that we received from both the fishing industry and the marine environment sector, was evidence that working together delivers results.

The feedback we got from the awards evening and the two-day Scottish Skipper Expo where we had an exhibit the following day, was that the fishing industry despises lost fishing gear as much as we do and the fishers here are very rarely at fault. It is costly to them to lose gear and they will make every effort to get it back, but sometimes they can’t. That is where we come in, to try to help. Everyone wins, most of all the environment. You can’t ask for much more.”

Following the awards, Ghost Fishing UK held an exhibit at the Scottish Skipper expo at the new P&J Live exhibition centre in Aberdeen.

This gave us a fantastic opportunity to meet so many people in the fishing industry, all of whom were highly supportive of our work and wanted to help us in any way they could. This has opened so many opportunities for the charity and our wish list which has been on the slow burner for the last 7 years, was exceeded in just 3 days. We came away from the events exhausted, elated, humbled, grateful and most of all, excited.”

Trustee and Operations Officer, Fred Nunn, is in charge of the diving logistics such as arranging boats and organising the divers, who the charity trains in house, to give up their free time to volunteer.

He drove from Cornwall to attend the awards and the exhibition: “What a crazy and amazing few days up in Scotland! It was awesome to meet such a variety of different people throughout the industry, who are all looking at different ways of improving the sustainability and reduction of the environmental impact of the fishing industry.

It was exciting to have so many people from the fishing industry approaching us to find out more about what we do, but also what they could offer. Fishermen came to us with reports and offers of help, using their vessels and other exhibitors tried to find ways that their product or service could assist in our mission.”

  • Ghost Fishing UK uses hard boat charters from Cornwall to Scotland for the diving projects, paying it forward to the diving community.
  • The charity relies on reports of lost fishing gear from the diving and fishing community and to date has received well over 200 reports, culminating on over 150 survey and ghost gear recovery dives, amounting to over 1000 individual dives and diver hours by the volunteer team members.
  • You can find more information at
  • If you are a fisher who knows of any lost fishing gear, you can report it to the charity here:
  • The charity is heading to Shetland for a week-long project in the summer of 2023. If you would like to support this project, please contact them at:

Chair of Ghost Fishing UK and professional technical diving instructor Dr Richard Walker was immensely proud of the team’s achievements;

I’ve been a scuba diver since 1991 and have met thousands of divers in that time. I’d be hard pushed to think of one of them that wasn’t concerned about conservation of our marine environment. To be recognised by the fishing industry for our efforts in sustainability is a huge honour for us, and has encouraged our team to work even harder to find, survey and remove lost fishing gear from the seas. The fact that the fishing industry recognises our efforts, and appreciates our stance as a group that wants to work alongside them is one of the highlights of our charity’s history, and we look forward to building the relationship further.

To find out more about Ghost Fishing UK visit their website here.

All images: Ghost Fishing UK

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Marine Life & Conservation

Komodo National Park found to be Manta Hotspot



Through a collaborative effort between citizen divers, scientists from the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF), and Murdoch University, a new study reports a large number of manta rays in the waters of Komodo National Park, Indonesian, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, suggesting the area may hold the key to regional recovery of the threatened species.

Reef mantas (Mobula alfredi), which grow up to 5m, tend to reside and feed in shallow, coastal habitats. They also visit ‘cleaning stations’ on coral reefs to have parasites, or dead skin picked off by small fish. Courtship ‘trains’ are also observed adjacent to cleaning stations. In Komodo National Park, manta rays are present year-round, challenging the famous Komodo dragon as the most sought-after megafauna for visitors.

Scientists teamed up with the dive operator community to source identification photographs of manta rays visiting the parks’ waters and submit them to – a crowdsourced online database for mantas and other rays. Most of the photographs came from just four locations from over 20 commonly visited by tourism boats.

I was amazed by how receptive the local dive community was in helping collect much-needed data on these threatened animals,” said lead author Dr. Elitza Germanov. “With their support, we were able to identify over 1,000 individual manta rays from over 4,000 photographs.

People love manta rays—they are one of the most iconic animals in our oceans. The rise of the number of people engaging in SCUBA diving, snorkeling, and the advent of affordable underwater cameras meant that photos and videos taken by the public during their holidays could be used to quickly and affordably scale data collection,” said MMF co-founder and study co-author Dr. Andrea Marshall.

The photographs’ accompanying time and location data is used to construct sighting histories of individual manta rays, which can then be analyzed with statistical movement models. These models predict the likelihood that manta rays are inhabiting or traveling in between specific sites. The study’s results showed that some manta rays moved around the park and others as far as the Nusa Penida MPA (>450 km to the west), but overall, manta rays showed individual preferences for specific sites within the Park.

I found it very interesting how some manta rays appear to prefer spending their time in some sites more than others, even when sites are 5 km apart, which are short distances for manta rays,” said Dr. Elitza Germanov. “This means that manta rays which prefer sites where fishing activities continue to occur or that are more popular with tourism will endure greater impacts.”

Fishing activities have been prohibited in many coastal areas within Komodo NP since 1984, offering some protection to manta rays prior to the 2014 nationwide protection. However, due to illegal fishing activity and manta ray movements into heavily fished waters, manta rays continue to face a number of threats from fisheries. About 5% of Komodo’s manta rays have permanent injuries that are likely the result of encounters with fishing gear.

The popularity of tourism to these sites grew by 34% during the course of the study. An increase in human activity can negatively impact manta rays and their habitats. In 2019, the Komodo National Park Authority introduced limits on the number of boats and people that visit one of the most famous manta sites.

This study shows that the places where tourists commonly observe manta rays are important for the animals to feed, clean, and mate. This means that the Komodo National Park should create measures to limit the disturbance at these sites,” said Mr. Ande Kefi, an employee of the Komodo National Park involved with this study. “I hope that this study will encourage tourism operators to understand the need for the regulations already imposed and increase compliance.”

Despite Indonesia’s history with intensive manta ray fisheries, Komodo National Park still retains large manta ray aggregations that with careful ongoing management and threat reduction will benefit regional manta ray populations. The study highlights that marine protected areas that are large enough to host important manta ray habitats are a beneficial tool for manta ray conservation.

For more information about MMF visit their website here.

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