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
Jeff chats to… Paul Cox, CEO of the Shark Trust about the Big Shark Pledge (Watch Video)
The Big Shark Pledge aims to build one of the biggest campaigning communities in the history of shark conservation. To put pressure on governments and fisheries. And make the positive changes required to safeguard awesome sharks and rays.
Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.
Marine Conservation Society to take legal action over ocean sewage spills
The Marine Conservation Society is announcing joining as co-claimant in a legal case against the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to protect English seas from sewage dumping.
The legal case seeks to compel the Government to rewrite its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan 2022, impose tighter deadlines on water companies and redevelop the Plan to effectively apply to coastal waters which are, currently, almost entirely excluded.
Sandy Luk, Marine Conservation Society CEO: “Untreated sewage is being pumped into our seas for hundreds of thousands of hours each year; putting people, planet and wildlife at risk.
We’ve tried tirelessly to influence the UK Government on what needs to be done, but their Plan to address this deluge of pollution entering our seas is still unacceptable. We owe it to our members, supporters and coastal communities to act, which is why we’ve joined as co-claimants on this case. We’re out of options. Our seas deserve better.”
Launched and funded by the Good Law Project, the Marine Conservation Society will stand as co-claimants on the case with Richard Haward’s Oysters, and surfer and activist, Hugo Tagholm.
Before reaching this point, the charity responded to a government consultation in March 2022 and met with DEFRA to express concern. In August 2022, the charity wrote an open letter to DEFRA outlining the ways in which the proposed Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan fails to protect the environment and public health from dumping raw sewage into the sea. However, the Plan hasn’t been amended and still fails to adequately address water companies’ excessive reliance on storm overflows and the harm their heavy use causes to our ocean.
The plan virtually excludes most coastal waters (except for bathing waters) either directly or indirectly, with some types of Marine Protected Areas and shellfish waters totally excluded. 600 storm overflows are not covered at all by the Plan and will continue to – completely legally – be able to dump uncontrolled amounts of sewage directly into English seas and beaches. What’s more, the Plan lacks all urgency – with long-term targets set for 2050, and the earliest, most urgent targets not to be met until 2035.
Meanwhile, Marine Conservation Society analysis finds that raw sewage is pouring into the ocean at an alarming rate. In total, there are at least 1,651 storm overflows within 1km of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in England. These overflows spilt untreated sewage 41,068 times in 2021. Of these, almost half the overflows spilt more than 10 times in 2021, with an average of 48 spills for each of those overflows. Overall, in 2021, sewage poured into Marine Protected Areas for a total of 263,654 hours.
According to DEFRA’s own latest assessments, only 19% of estuaries and and 45% of coastal waters are at ‘good ecological status’, with none meeting ‘good chemical status’, and three quarters (75%) of shellfish waters failing to meet water quality standards.
Rachel Wyatt, Policy & Advocacy Manager for Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society: “Untreated sewage contains a cocktail of bacteria, viruses, harmful chemicals, and microplastics. It’s nearly impossible to remove microplastics and ‘forever chemicals’ once in the environment. Due to their persistence, with every discharge, these pollutants will continue to increase, meaning eventually they will pass – or may have already passed – a threshold of harm.”
In addition, it’s not just invisible toxins that are causing problems. In September this year at the charity’s annual Great British Beach Clean, sewage related pollution, such as wet wipes and sanitary products, were found on 73% of the beaches surveyed across England.
A new DEFRA report, Ocean Literacy in England and Wales, shows that 85% of people say marine protection is personally important to them. Yet this is being ignored.
Emma Dearnaley, Legal Director at the Good Law Project, said: “The Marine Conservation Society is at the forefront of tackling the ocean emergency and standing up for coastal communities impacted by climate change and pollution. We are delighted to have them on board as a co-claimant.
“Good Law Project will work closely with the claimants, including the Marine Conservation Society, to put forward the case for more ambitious and urgent measures to reduce sewage discharges by water companies. These sewage spills are threatening human health, biodiverse marine life and the fishing industry. We believe that taking legal action now is vital to help safeguard our coastal waters for generations to come”.
If the case is won, the Marine Conservation Society hopes to see the UK Government amend its Plan so that it meets the DEFRA Secretary of State’s legal obligations to protect the ocean and its inhabitants from raw sewage spills.
For more visit the Marine Conservation Society website.
Header image credit: Natasha Ewins
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