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Marine Life & Conservation

Weird and not-so-wonderful UK beach litter discoveries

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The Marine Conservation Society’s year-round Beachwatch programme, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, sees dedicated volunteers clearing litter from the UK’s coast and surveying what they find. Whilst much of the data is used to campaign for policies to slow the tide of single-use plastics entering the ocean, sometimes the charity’s volunteers find some weird and not-so-wonderful items washed up on British beaches.

The charity has gathered some of the weirdest items found by volunteers, showing that you truly never know what you’ll find on the UK’s shores, or how long it’s been there for.

  1. A double mattress
  2. Plastic Christmas tree
  3. A plastic Olaf figure
  4. A single wedding shoe
  5. A wig
  6. 20-year-old crisp packet
  7. A fridge door
  8. Christmas tree baubles
  9. Pink women’s underwear, found by astronaut Tim Peake
  10. Glitterball

Many of the items reported by Marine Conservation Society volunteers show just how long litter can last. Crisp packets, one of the most commonly littered items year on year, can last decades, as proven by the 20-year-old crisp packet found by one volunteer.

Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: “I was shocked to learn about the vast assortment and sizes of the items that have been washed up on our beaches. It is a stark reminder that we need to do more to protect our seas and I’m delighted that players of People’s Postcode Lottery continue to support this valuable work.”

People’s Postcode Lottery players have raised £2.65 million for Marine Conservation Society and have been supporting both the Great British Beach Clean and the Beachwatch programme since 2018.

Beachwatch is the Marine Conservation Society’s national beach cleaning and litter survey programme, running year-round with thousands of volunteers across the UK helping to care for the coastline.

Among these weirder items found on the beaches, the pandemic has also impacted the type of litter washing up on UK beaches, with the charity’s Great British Beach Clean report revealing that almost 30% of beaches had discarded PPE on them, posing a significant threat to wildlife. Disposable masks shed microplastics that can be ingested by marine life, whilst sea birds can become entangled in the straps. 70% of inland picks also found PPE, and it’s only a matter of time before these find their way into our ocean, potentially polluting it for years to come.

To read more about the Marine Conservation Society’s Beachwatch programme, register and see how to get involved, please visit the Beachwatch website.  

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

Marine Life & Conservation

Ground-breaking Shark Research conducted in St. Maarten waters

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In April 2021 members from the Nature Foundation St. Maarten, the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA), the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), and Beneath the Waves conducted multiple ‘scientific firsts’ as part of the “Shark Shakedown” project. The research expedition was a part of a wider research project into tiger sharks in the region funded by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-NL) through the Biodiversity Funds and the Dutch National Postcode Lottery. The researchers tagged eleven sharks, including for the first time a female pregnant tiger and endangered Caribbean reef shark in the Dutch Caribbean. The data will provide vital information for conservation strategies not only in St. Maarten, but for the wider Caribbean.

The expedition lasted five days in which three species of sharks were tagged, including tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezi), and nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum) all ranging from sub-adults to adults.

Participants received hands-on training with experts from Beneath the Waves in preparation for the upcoming expedition to the Saba Bank in August 2021. The goal of this upcoming expedition is to determine whether the Saba Bank is a breeding area for tiger sharks in the Eastern Caribbean. The high-definition ultrasound technology the team used was created by E. I. Medical Imaging and pioneered by collaborator Dr. James Sulikowski, of Arizona State University. This technology has successfully been used to identify maturity state and the stage of pregnancy in various shark species, a first for shark science in the region.

The scientists successfully confirmed early pregnancy stage in a large female tiger shark, as well as placed a satellite tag on the shark during the workup process. Using satellite tracking over the next few months, the scientists hope to confirm evidence of Sint Maarten being a breeding location for these globally threatened animals. In another shark tagging ‘first’, Beneath the Waves’ Chief Scientist, Dr. Austin Gallagher, placed the first camera tag on a tiger shark in the Dutch Caribbean. The team successfully recovered the camera package during the expedition, and the animal has already shown promising results regarding shark behavior in the region.

Both the satellite tag and camera tag have shown that these tiger sharks prefer to travel in the area between St. Maarten and St. Barths; however, these are only the first detections. No assumptions can be made yet regarding the movement of these animals.

The information gained from this research will provide a better understanding of the importance of both the status of sharks in Sint Maarten’s territorial waters and in the Yarari Sanctuary and the role these ecosystems play in the life-cycle of tiger sharks in the wider Caribbean region. Tiger sharks are currently categorized as Near-Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature while Caribbean reef sharks have very recently been upgraded to Endangered. Sharks play key roles in maintaining the balance within local and regional marine ecosystems and maintaining biodiversity and therefore their protection is crucial.

Follow the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance’s Facebook, Instagram (dcnanature) or DCNA’s website (https://dcnanature.org/news/) to learn more about the shark expedition and other nature news from the Dutch Caribbean.

Photo credit:  ©  Sami Kattan/Beneath the Waves (all rights reserved)

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Marine Life & Conservation

The ocean’s solution to the climate emergency

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The Marine Conservation Society has released a new report in partnership with Rewilding BritainBlue Carbon – Ocean-based solutions to fight the climate crisis outlines the importance of the UK’s seas in helping the UK to reach its goal of net zero by 2050, and 2045 for Scotland.

In order to reach net zero, the quantity of carbon dioxide taken from the atmosphere and stored in natural solutions must increase. By protecting and rewilding ecosystems in our ocean, blue carbon stores will have increased capacity and ability to store carbon.

The significant role of the world’s forests in helping to reduce carbon emissions has been formally recognised through numerous initiatives and reforesting projects intended to keep carbon locked into the world’s forests on land. Unfortunately, equivalent solutions in the ocean are often overlooked. In order to reach its goal of net zero by 2050, the UK must look to blue carbon solutions in tandem with those on land.

Image: Peter Bardsley

What is blue carbon?

Marine ecosystems like seagrass meadows, saltmarshes and mangroves absorb or ‘draw down’ carbon from the water and atmosphere, just like plants and trees on land. The storage of carbon in marine habitats is called blue carbon. The storage of blue carbon can be in the plants themselves, like seaweed and seagrass; in the seafloor sediment where plants are rooted; or even in the animals which live in the water, including seabirds, fish and larger mammals. Blue carbon is simply carbon absorbed from the water and atmosphere stored in the world’s blue spaces.

Dr Chris Tuckett, Director of Programmes at the Marine Conservation Society: “Carbon contained in marine and coastal ecosystems must be considered in the same way as our woodlands and peatbogs…critical to the UK’s carbon strategy. Our report outlines how vital blue carbon solutions are to an effective strategy which reaches net zero by 2050.

“We’re calling on the UK Government and devolved administrations to act with urgency to invest in, co-develop and implement a four nation Blue Carbon Strategy.”

The suggested strategy focuses on three key action areas:

–        Scaling up marine rewilding for biodiversity and blue carbon benefits

–        Integrating blue carbon protection and recovery into climate mitigation and environmental management policies

–        Working with the private sector to develop and support sustainable and innovative low-carbon commercial fisheries and aquaculture.

Globally, the rewilding of key blue carbon securing marine and coastal ecosystems such as seagrass beds, saltmarshes and mangroves could deliver carbon dioxide mitigation amounting to 1.83 billion tonnes. That is 5% of the emissions savings we need to make globally. This figure doesn’t include the enormous quantities of carbon stored in fish and other marine life; in marine ecosystems such as coral reefs, seaweeds and shellfish beds; or the vast stores of carbon in our seabed sediments.

Rebecca Wrigley, Rewilding Britain’s Chief Executive: We’re calling for the rewilding and protection of at least 30% of Britain’s seas by 2030. Allowing a rich rainbow of underwater habitats and their sealife to recover offers huge opportunities for tackling the nature and climate crises, and for benefiting people’s livelihoods,”

From Dornoch Firth to Lyme Bay, inspiring projects are leading the way by restoring critically important seagrass meadows, kelp forests and oyster beds. Combined with the exclusion of bottom towed trawling and dredging, such initiatives offer hope and a blueprint for bringing our precious seas back to health.

Later this year, the UK will be hosting COP26 – the UN Climate Change Conference – in Glasgow. The conference brings together world leaders to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The ocean and its blue carbon stores are a crucial part of the many urgent and varied solutions required to address the climate crisis.

The UK has committed to significantly increase its spending on nature-based solutions, including those offered by the ocean.  The Marine Conservation Society and Rewilding Britain are calling on UK governments to adopt ocean-based solutions at pace and scale by 2030.

The report, Blue Carbon – Ocean-based solutions to fight the climate crisis, is available to read at the Marine Conservation Society’s website.

Header image: Mark Kirkland

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