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Dutch voluntary organisation visits English waters on diving and cleaning expedition

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The Dutch Dive the North Sea Clean Foundation (DtNC) departed last week for their 12th diving expedition in the North Sea aboard the Cdt. Fourcault. Expedition North Sea 2018 is dedicated to discovering and cleaning wrecks in England and the Netherlands. 30 experienced volunteer divers remove waste during the 10 day expedition at 20 locations (in particular ghost nets, lead, fishing hooks and lures), liberate animals, collect biological and archaeological data and photograph and film.

With this expedition we want to bring both the beauty, vulnerability and litter of the North Sea to the attention of the general public,” says Ben Stiefelhagen, Expedition leader and founder DtNC.


Cleaning has a high priority because nets, lines and other rubbish break off slowly into smaller pieces which are difficult to remove from the sea. In addition to cleaning, there are other activities on the program:

  • The expedition ship Cdt. Fourcault sails first to wrecks near the Dutch coast where a pilot is started with a photogrammetry scan – a method to image wrecks in 3D.
  • From there, the team sails to biologically interesting Natura2000 protected areas on the border between the Netherlands and England, including the Brown Ridge and the Dogger Bank, where unique species  were previously observed and expected again.
  • The divers dive on various wrecks, including a sunken oil production platform.
  • In English waters, the team visits the enormous Southern North Sea marine protected area for Harbour Porpoises. They then move northwest to Coquet to St Mary’s, Farnes East, and Berwickshire and North Northumberland protected areas (protecting reefs and rich muds). This furthest destination of the expedition is also a special bird nature area, also known for its fish-rich waters with kelp and numerous grey seals.

DtNC cooperates with the UK Marine Conservation Society to guide its actions in UK waters and to inform policy makers and the general public in UK about the expedition and its results.


The North Sea Foundation helps on board and tells the story of this expedition. This is how we show the Netherlands our beautiful North Sea, which is more than worth it!” said Floris van Hest, Director of the North Sea Foundation.

Whilst UK has protected many inshore areas from damaging bottom trawling and dredging, there are no bans on any trawling or netting in the Dogger Bank, Farnes East, Coquet to St Mary’s and Harbour Porpoise MPAs in the the North Sea. Working together, we can show the biodiversity and life in these remote places,” said Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MPA specialist, Marine Conservation Society.

Expedition North Sea 2018

This expedition is an initiative of the Dive The North Sea Clean Foundation in collaboration with the Dutch North Sea Foundation and the UK Marine Conservation Society. The expedition team consists of marine biologists, amateur archaeologists, ecologists, underwater photographers, film makers and support divers plus crew.

The diving work can only be done by very experienced divers in view of the difficult circumstances in which the project has to be carried out: 25 to 45 meters depth in cold, running water with varying visibility (2 to 25 meters). From the 11 expeditions that have been carried out so far, the foundation has shown that marine life in the North Sea is surprisingly diverse and colorful, which strengthens the importance of nature conservation.

The team works closely with research agencies, industry, universities and the government. DtNC wants to put the importance of natural and artificial reefs (including wrecks) in the North Sea on the map and stimulate a sound marine protection policy. Wrecks, boulders, cobbles and rocky reefs act as nurseries and shelter for many life forms. It is estimated that more than 500 different animal species live on these hard substrates in the Netherlands alone. Moreover, wrecks are time capsules of great cultural-historical importance. Since 2011, the foundation has already organized 11 successful expeditions to various areas in the Dutch part of the North Sea.

Watch a short video, created by Onderwaterbeelden.nl, about this project:

Follow the website and Facebook of The North Sea Clean Foundation and The North Sea Foundation for more information. Use: https://map.mpa-reality-check.org/ to see where protected areas in UK seas are actually protected from damaging fishing.

Marine Life & Conservation

UK Shark Fin Trade ‘dead in the water’

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The government has today signalled the end of the UK’s involvement in the global shark fin trade with an announcement that new legislation will require all imported and exported shark fins to remain attached to the shark carcass and only traded as a whole commodity.

The news has been welcomed by Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation and its supporters including wildlife TV presenter Steve Backshall MBE and chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who both endorsed the charity’s No Fin To Declare campaign, calling for a post-Brexit ban of the personal import allowance of shark fins to the UK.

Before Britain left the EU it had been bound by outdated legislation that permits anyone to carry up to 20kg of dried shark fins into and across European borders as part of their personal import allowance. According to Bite-Back, this loophole has been exploited by the shark fin trade to legally ‘smuggle’ fins undetected for decades.

Campaign director at Bite-Back, Graham Buckingham, said: “This news puts the UK at the forefront of shark conservation and represents a further blow to a global industry that is forcing sharks closer to the brink of extinction. We applaud the government for using Brexit to side-step this archaic EU legislation and instead lead the world in the conservation of sharks and the oceans. We hope and believe this announcement will encourage other European countries to impose similar constraints.”

It’s estimated that global fishing fleets hunt and kill 73 million sharks every year. As a result one in four shark species is now either endangered or threatened forcing populations of iconic shark species including great whites, hammerheads, oceanic whitetips and threshers to a tiny fraction of those recorded 50 years ago.

Over the past decade shark fins — used as the title ingredient in shark fin soup — have become one of the most valuable seafood items in the world, a fact the charity says, has created a ‘marine gold rush’ to catch and separate sharks from their lucrative fins.

Shark fin soup is widely regarded as a controversial dish. Not only are the cartilaginous strands from the fins tasteless, fishermen are known to cut the fins off the sharks they catch and throw the rest of the shark overboard to die.

Bite-Back first exposed the personal import allowance loophole in 2015. Alongside the detrimental environmental impact the NGO also highlighted that no other item on the ‘green channel’ list compared in terms of volume or value. In fact a 20kg consignment of fins is enough to make 705 bowls of shark fin soup and has a black market value of around £3,600.

Spain, France, Portugal and the UK all feature in the top 20 shark fishing nations in the world. Remarkably though, for years, the UK has exported around 25 tonnes of shark fins to Spain for processing and onward sale to the Far East.

However, it will soon become illegal to import or export individual shark fins making it extremely costly and inconvenient to buy and sell a product that is contributing to the decimation of vital shark populations.

Wildlife TV presenter and Bite-Back patron, Steve Backshall MBE, said: “Today’s news is a fantastic outcome for shark conservation and the culmination of years of campaigning from Bite-Back. The government’s decision to effectively ban the trade in shark fins will be significant in helping to restore the balance of the oceans. At the same time it sends a clear message to the world that shark fin soup belongs in the history books and not on the menu.”

Support shark and marine conservation at www.bite-back.com

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Protecting England’s Wreck Sites: Site Security Protocols Launched

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The security of heritage assets is of the utmost importance; a monetary value cannot be attached to the significance of a site or its associated artefacts. This statement is true for both on land and underwater sites.

The policing of underwater sites however, is often a trickier affair, with out-of-sight often equalling out-of-mind. Unfortunately, a site’s underwater location does not stop thieves from stealing or damaging artefacts.

To aid in the protection of our underwater cultural heritage, a selection of sites of historical, artistic and archaeological importance have been protected by law under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/what-is-designation/protected-wreck-sites/). Historic England manage these sites on behalf of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, Digital and Sport (DCMS), and a team of Licensees, effectively voluntary custodians, play a key role in their ongoing management.

The licensees work tirelessly on the wrecks and have had a special relationship with them since the very first days of the Protection of Wrecks Act. If it wasn’t for them, many of the sites would still be unknown and we would have very little knowledge of many of the existing sites. Their presence on the sites acts as a deterrent to anyone thinking of accessing the sites illegally and their monitoring ensures that the sites are understood and enjoyed by many people.

To further aid in the physical protection of these significant sites, Historic England funded a partnership project between the Protected Wreck Association (PWA https://protectedwrecks.org.uk/) and MSDS Marine (https://msdsmarine.com/). This national-level project has seen the development of Site Security Plans for protected wreck sites. The model developed is based on the highly successful model developed by Ron Howell and the SWMAG team who are Licensees for the Salcombe Cannon and Moor Sands protected wreck sites.

A Site Security Plan is the end result of a process which assesses how secure a site is from illegal access. By completing two very easy to use but highly specialised forms, the site is given:

  • Its own Site Security Champion
  • Its own Heritage Crime Officer in the Police
  • A level of risk of heritage crime occurring to enable appropriate response to be put in place and to allow targeting of resources
  • Quick win opportunities to decrease its level of risk
  • A protocol for the licensees to follow every time they access the site
  • Specialist guidelines to enable crime reporting to enforcement authorities
  • A toolkit consisting of: A High Vis vest, to help identify the Site Security Champion to the public / authorities and pocket-sized card, summarising guidance on reporting crimes.

The project team will be supporting Licensees and their teams in completing a Site Security Plan and Risk Assessment for each Protected Wreck Site. MSDS Marine will be contacting Licensees inviting them to book a slot to work through the process. Individual Licensees and teams can also follow the guidance to complete the documents on their own with MSDS Marine on hand to support as required.

The Site Security Forms are accessible on the Protected Wreck Association website, in the members only area https://protectedwrecks.org.uk/members-area/site-security/ . If you are not a member and would like to join, this is an excellent time, as its free!

Assessing the security of a wreck site will inform Historic England of any sites which are at a high risk of heritage crime, and aid them in the future management of these sites. It will assist Licensees in highlighting areas for concern and in turn offer positive actions that can be taken to reduce the threat. It is hoped that the scheme will help put practical measures in place to ensure that the sites are protected from illegal activity in future.

Alison James, Project Manager at MSDS Marine said: “I spent ten years working at Historic England managing England’s protected wreck sites and at times was incredibly frustrated by being unable to ‘police’ the sites. The model we have developed is based on the highly successful model developed by SWMAG which has been shown to work on a number of occasions. We hope this will make a real difference to the sites and the teams that work on them.”

Professor Mike Williams, Chair of the Protected Wreck Association said: “We are delighted and grateful that Historic England has funded this project. It will enable us to undertake valuable work to support our members, who are dedicated volunteers protecting our maritime heritage.”

Hefin Meara, Marine Archaeologist at Historic England said: “We are pleased to support this important project and recognise the enormous contribution that licensed volunteer divers are making to help protect England’s fascinating marine historic environment.”

For more information please visit www.ProtectedWrecks.org.uk , www.MSDSMarine.co.uk, and www.historicengland.org.uk.

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