James Nikitine: The power of digital communications for marine conservation

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James Nikitine shares his background in digital communications and how they can be used to support ocean conservation in this interview for A View To Sea…

Hi James, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts for the blog. Can you tell us about your background and what you do?

My name is James Nikitine, 32, originally from the French Alps near Geneva, I am a French-British citizen.

I studied film and media in Exeter and Paris, and Marine Science in Edinburgh. My main area of work is marine conservation and communications. My professional activity is varied, involves creation of content, producing, writing, scripting, filming, editing, and working with partners all around the world. It also involves social science, analysis, reporting, and scuba diving.

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James (right), with Mateo Barrenengoa and Dr. Sylvia Earle at IMPAC4, Chile 2017

At the moment, I am starting a new strategic communications and production company, “Manaia Productions”. The Manaia is a mythological creature in New Zealand Maori culture with the tail of a fish, body of a man and head of a bird that symbolizes balance between the Ocean, the Earth and the Sky. It is also understood to be an ‘aura’, or a guardian angel found in each and every one of us, that helps us return to our resting place, Cape Reinga, after we die. I was first in New Zealand for a year in 2009 and have since always been fascinated by South Pacific cultures, having spent 3 months in Samoa in 2011, and lived in Far North Queensland near the Great Barrier Reef in 2012.

What motivates you to work in marine conservation?

My mission as a marine conservationist and communicator shaped up to become educating a large number of people towards the balance we must achieve between mankind and nature. I feel our societies have since the 1960s acknowledged sustainability and environmental conservation, but still cling on to this growth/profit model that is defined by work/earn/spend and a latent consumerism which strips us from any purpose in this alleged ‘only life’ of ours.

For my part, I try and create products (documents and films) that convey the importance of the marine environment, and the idea that a lot has yet to be discovered and will require protection. Over the last year or so, my team and I made a documentary about a high seas expedition to an isolated seamount, ‘Walters Shoal’ and the need to protect biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. This year, we are working on a large marine protected area in French Polynesia. We are also working more generally on tackling marine plastic pollution and developing frameworks on ocean literacy. Our work is incredibly varied!

To sum up, I think what drives me to do what I do is my passionate relationship with our incredible blue world. I started diving when I was about 8 in the Mediterranean, and then subsequently became a Divemaster in Samoa and an instructor in the Philippines. Those experiences changed me forever.

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The Great Barrier Reef, where a lot of the passion came from, Calypso, Australia 2017

How are digital communications changing the conservation landscape, and why are they so important for marine conservation?

‘Digital communications truly have an awesome power if well harnessed’

Since YouTube began in 2005, and Facebook a bit later, followed by the explosion of social media in the 2010s, the internet has now become an ‘arena’ of opinion, content and unfortunately ‘noise’. It is sometimes difficult to navigate real news from ‘fake’ news and therefore it is vitally important to recognize the sometimes-difficult context in which we’re working in. Typically, therefore, the conservation movement has to compose with a range of different voices and often not so friendly voices who advocate for their own values and versions, perceptions of the world.

Digital communications have also opened up new avenues for the conservation and more specifically marine conservation movement. We now have the ability to communicate issues directly from their source, through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and reach millions of people around the world who often feel too remote to engage. So thankfully, social media and digital communications have also enabled this connection to be established. The important aspect is therefore to follow suit once the connection is made and offer additional materials, supplementary information to either act at one’s level, (e.g. changing behaviour towards plastics for example), or to educate someone else about something crucially important for the marine environment. All this might seem obvious but digital communications truly have an awesome power if well harnessed. It is therefore our role to recognize this, and to structure each message according to intention and target audience to make it successful. That is what we do at Manaia Productions, with projects based on strong science, understandable policy and conservation ethics.

‘The internet has now become an ‘arena’ of opinion, content and unfortunately ‘noise’. It is sometimes difficult to navigate real news from ‘fake’ news and therefore it is vitally important to recognize the sometimes-difficult context in which we’re working’

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Underwater filming during the Walters Shoal expedition, Indian Ocean 2016

What is digital communications?

I work mainly producing content (infographics, writing, photography) but at the moment mostly audiovisual content, perhaps best described by these three latest relevant ‘marine conservation communications’ activities:

Seamount surveys in the Southern Indian Ocean

In April 2017, I boarded the R/V Marion Dufresne, a French vessel that usually supplies the French Austral and Antarctic territories of the Southern Indian Ocean. Under the supervision of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the French Global Environment Facility, and with the scientific teams from the R&D Institute and the Paris Natural History Museum, we spent 26 days at sea studying an undersea mountain, a seamount. The objective was to identify unique species of molluscs, crustaceans, worms and algae, but also to study the water column surrounding the seamount to understand nutrients dynamics and currents. The penultimate objective was to inform on a unique remote ecosystem to make a case for high seas biodiversity governance under the United Nations Convention Law of the Sea and their upcoming Intergovernmental Conference aimed at building a governance framework for the high seas and the sustainable use of its resources.

We subsequently made a film about it, ‘The Last Frontier’, that was presented at IMPAC4 and at the Maison des Océans in Paris last December:

Boosting the profile of Marine Protected Areas at IMPAC4

In September 2017, I attended the 4th International Marine Protected Area Congress (IMPAC4) in Chile, where as a volunteer with the Marine Young Professionals of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, I supervised a production team on making a piece to communicate the importance of marine protected areas and also the importance of human involvement in their efficient management.

This was the film we made:

Capturing the Great Barrier Reef on film

Also, in September 2017, I spent 2 weeks in Australia (5 years after my first trip in 2012 where I worked as a Divemaster), to take a snapshot of the Great Barrier Reef after the successive global bleaching events (2014 to 2017). I visited Charlie Veron’s home, Prof. Terry Hughes at his office at the centre for excellence on coral reefs, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and met up with Indigenous leaders, scientists, campaigners and people who work on the reef every day. The result was this film to launch the 2018 International Year of the Reef:

These three projects reflect the diversity of my work, trying to communicate the marine environment but also the crucial connection with our societies and the importance of bridging that knowledge gap to better conserve our blue home.

Who is your target audience? Do you have any top tips for understanding your audience and how best to approach them?

Everyone! Clearly the marine environment concerns everyone on this blue planet. More seriously though, each communication effort will have within its strategy an intended audience. Most projects I work on aim to present marine science, policy and conservation to a wide audience because of their universal value. Too often have these issues been difficult to understand, because of their complex nature but also because people have busy lives. My role is to communicate those issues, so people can take the time to understand them and care for the marine environments that are at risk.

‘Through creative storytelling, strong imagery and pedagogical approaches, we can educate at a global level on some of the new attitudes we must adopt if we want to collectively survive on this blue planet’

I think each audience has a specific interest, and it is our role as content creators to find what people are interested in and why. Every project then has its own life expectancy, with a beginning, a launch and then becoming a memory. In this time of ephemeral content creation, the most difficult task is to create content that lasts. That is our challenge at Manaia Productions!

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Ocean and Climate infographic made during COP21, Paris 2015

When tackling broad and widely damaging issues such as plastic pollution, how can we effectively identify the best message to use and the most appropriate channel for communication?

This is a big one. Plastic pollution starts every day when we wake up, when we open the cupboard and make breakfast. Plastic is everywhere: packaging, most stuff that we use every day is made of plastic, and if we’re not careful, once used and disposed of, it ends up in the ocean. Plastic straws, spoons, cotton buds, small fragments that end up choking turtles, marine mammals or end up in our bodies through the food chain at the smallest level. We are so overwhelmed that when as conservationists we tackle this topic we must clearly identify whom we are speaking to and what we are trying to achieve. Gaining public support through extensive scientific data collection and reporting is key, and the policy solutions often manage to gain traction in the right circles. But it is never easy to fight against strong lobbies and that is our big challenge.

Using social media as a conservation communications tool – any tips?

I think one of the most important things about social media use is to verify the sources of information. In this day and age of ‘fake news’, sensationalism and sensitivity about everything, one must remember that good reporting is real reporting. The television series ‘Black Mirror’ in this sense is a relatively accurate representation of our world.

We must avoid falling for the all too easy read / like / share pattern to reach something more of a read / care / raise awareness (and reflect about the issue) structure.

I feel strong imagery, videos, and clever infographics can be a part of that, but the automation of the process needs to be avoided. Digital communications inherently are about message, intention, and audience. I usually take the time to verify my sources, the intent, whether my audience response is relevant before I express my own view. For me consensus is important. There is no black nor white absolute truth, only grey opinion matters. Timing and posting intervals only matter if one is engaged in a campaign or witnessing an event that is unravelling before us. Ultimately, being in a niche but having external interests (e.g. being engaged in marine conservation but also reading about climate change, social justice or even land degradation) can be very useful as it gives a ‘horizontal’, more general view of a specific issue. Everything is connected.

How can people find your work?

Since 2015, I launched my own personal website with some of my work www.jamesnikitine.com

My communications and production company can be found at www.manaiaproductions.com. This is where a lot more of the work produced for various organisations, partners and clients will be showcased.

And finally, I usually also can be found on Twitter @jamesnikitine

All images belong to James Nikitine, not to be reproduced without permission. 

Cover image: The High Seas, Walters Shoal expedition, Indian Ocean 2016, James Nikitine

Tackling marine plastic pollution: Row For The Ocean take on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

Marine Pollution, Step Up For The Sea

Three women from Devon are taking on the world’s toughest row – the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge . Brought together by a passion for adventure, rowing, and competition they are taking on the biggest challenge of their lives.  They aim to raise awareness of ocean plastics, protect the UK’s beaches and wildlife, and break a world record in the process.

Meet the crew

We are Row For The Ocean – founded by Ros, Kirsty and Kate. In December 2018, we will be rowing 3000 miles across the Atlantic to raise awareness of the ocean plastics crisis. Through our work with Surfers Against Sewage, we are also working to create a Plastic Free Exeter by 2020.

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Photo credit: Row For The Ocean

Who is your chosen charity, and why did you pick them?

Integral to the challenge is our partnership with Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) and their Plastic Free Coastlines Campaign, which we are expanding through a Plastic Free Exeter movement. All money raised will also go directly to their Ocean Schools program which educates the next generation on why plastics are harmful and teaches practical ways to reduce plastic consumption.

Marine plastic pollution

What is it and why do we need to act?

The more we delve into the subject of plastic pollution the more shocking it gets, with new stats, images, and videos coming out everyday. It was for this reason we felt we had to do more. By taking on the Atlantic row, we have a unique platform to inspire action for the cause, as well as provide vital funding for SAS Ocean schools. We want the Row for the Ocean campaign to leave a legacy, involving as many communities as possible and make a tangible difference in our home city of Exeter. That’s why we’re aiming to make Exeter one of the first plastic-free cities in the U.K.

It’s estimated that 50% of plastic is used only once and then thrown away. This ‘single-use’ plastic is what we want to target by reducing the use of plastic coffee cups, utensils, takeaway containers, toothbrushes, straws and plastic bottles to name a few.

When was the first time that you realised marine plastic pollution is an issue? 

Although we were aware of the issue, before undertaking the challenge we never fully realised the full extent of the problem.  One video that always sticks in my mind is taken from the Caribbean Sea, near to where we finish in Antigua.  All you could see was rubbish and plastic, and then they dove underneath and it just got worse.  These aren’t scenes that we see in the UK and I think it’s vital that the public know it’s not simply the bottles washing up on the beach that’s the issue. The problem is the 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the sea – image trying to live amongst that like the marine wildlife have to everyday?

PicMonkey CollageSources: Turtle/Seabird

What is it about marine plastic pollution that most shocks you?

How common, yet invisible, it is.  Even a glass of seawater that appears clear could contains thousands of micro-plastics.

What gives you hope that we can resolve the marine plastic pollution crisis?

There have been points where I’ve wondered whether the problem has gone too far, we’re too entrenched in our use of plastic as an everyday item.  But then you read stories of people developing new ways to clean-up the oceans, or companies making wholesale changes to their products or manufacturing and it brings new hope.  We hope that through this challenge we’ll inspire people to make their own small changes – even if that means simply refusing single-use items.

What advice do you have for people who want to help tackle marine plastic pollution? 

If you live in Exeter, join our newsletter and we’ll keep you up to date on local businesses who are making positive changes or events where you can get involved, such as beach cleans.  Or check out Surfers Against Sewage’s website for a wider spread of beach cleans.  We’ve also teamed up with Less Plastic, a company who will come in and audit your businesses plastic use and give you tangible ways to reduce your plastic use.  The simplest changes? Buy a reusable coffee mug, and refuse the straw!

Rowing an ocean: The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

 

How is your preparation going for the row? What do you have to do to prepare for a challenge like this?

As we’re going for a world record for fastest women’s crossing, we’ve undertaken an even bigger challenge, and require a strict training programme.  We’ve just received our training programme from our strength and conditioning coach for the next year – 6 days a week in the gym working on the rowing machine, circuits and weights.  We’re also doing rehab sessions to balance our bodies and protect against injuries during the row, this includes having very strong cores to enable us to keep a strong posture against the waves hitting you from all angles.  When we get our boat we will spend a lot of weekends at sea, rowing along the south-coast and intend on going over to the Scilly Isles at the end of May.

What has been the biggest challenge in the preparation for the row?

Sponsorship.  With a target so big this was always going to be one of the hardest parts of the row, getting people involved and businesses interested.  With our Exeter legacy we hope to bring as many local businesses across the Atlantic as possible.  As we get nearer to the start-line our mental health will also play a massive part in the row so we’re working with a sports psychologist to help us deal being at sea for 40-50 days.

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Photo credit: Row For The Ocean

What is the most exciting element of your upcoming row?

The unknown! Even with copious amounts of training and preparation, the row itself will always be unexpected in many different ways.  We each know that when we arrive in Antigua we will be changed from those experiences, and that’s a really exciting thought!

How will you document your row?

We’d really like to do a time-lapse of the row and just need to work out the logistics of this.  The race will also be tracked from the Atlantic Campaigns website (this years race can be found here: https://www.taliskerwhiskyatlanticchallenge.com/2017racetracker/).  We’ll also have semi-regular updates from the boat with pictures where data and signal allow.

Getting to the start line

 

How is the fundraising process going?

It going really well, we recently partnered with Winning Attributes founder Mark Rhodes, a world class sailing coach, who has helped massively in pushing the campaign forward and connecting us with sponsors.  We’re always looking to connect with more interested people and businesses to do get in contact if you think you can help us get to the start-line. To see our current partners and sponsors you can visit our website.

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Photo credit: Row For The Ocean

How can people support your campaign to row the Atlantic?

Our target is to raise £60,000 for Surfers Against Sewage, however we are also faced with a baseline cost of £100,000 just to get to the start line.  The boat, on-board equipment, on-shore support, insurance (life and boat) etc. all cost money and, without these, our campaign just isn’t possible.

The good news is that a lot of the costs incurred on the boat and equipment will be recouped on re-sale and all proceeds will go to our great charity, so there won’t be a penny wasted. As a non-profit organisation, all money raised over the £60k will either go to help other SAS schemes, or towards events within the local Exeter area to get communities and schools involved.

The best way to help us get to the start-line as an individual is to join our Blue Mile Club (https://www.rowfortheocean.co.uk/shop).  With this you can buy miles across the Atlantic and even get your name on the boat.  We also want people to sign-up to our Plastic Free Exeter newsletter so that we can hit our 2020 target, and look out for our local events such as the 24hr row we just completed in Exeter.

As a business you have the opportunity to join one of our exclusive partner levels.  Our partnership package can be found here: https://www.rowfortheocean.co.uk/copy-of-official-race-partners-2 but we’d love to come and discuss the challenge in person.

Where can people find you?

The best place to start is our website at www.rowfortheocean.co.uk, we’re also on Twitter and Instagram, @rowfortheocean, and Facebook.  You’re also more than welcome to connect with us individually on LinkedIn – Kirsty Barker, Kate Salmon, and Rosalind West.

Tell your friends and family about this challenge and Plastic Free Exeter. There’s no better way to make an impact than to become an active advocate yourself.

 

Reasons To Be Cheerful #15

Ocean Optimism

September was a great month for ocean conservation, check out some of the positive news below.

Huge pub chain cuts out straws

Wetherspoons, a huge UK pub chain, has announced that it’s going to phase out plastic straws from its pubs, switching to paper straws instead from January 2018. This is great news as this chain is such a large user of plastic straws that it could prevent up to 70 million plastic straws from reaching landfill or the oceans each year. It’s also helping the wider campaign to stop using plastic straws to gather momentum by adding its well known name to the list of big brands who are ditching plastic straws for the health of the ocean.

Great step forward for Pacific Bluefin tuna

At the latest meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, who are the brains behind the management of tuna stocks in the western Pacific Ocean, an agreement was made to recover this population to a sustainable level and to make a long term plan for the health of the stock. The stock is currently about 2.6% of the historical population size; however, the aim is to get it back to about 20% of historic levels by 2034. This is a massive step forward, and a great target, but the countries involved must stick to their commitments and carefully monitor their catches to make sure that these targets remain feasible. More research is also needed to understand the migration patterns of these tuna, and more about their biology. With tight controls on the number caught of fish caught, these tuna will get the chance to recover from intense fishing pressure.

Easter Island Marine Protected Area

One of the biggest marine protected areas has just been created off the coast of Easter Island. It’s called the Rapa Nui marine park, and it’s about the same size as Chile. The hope is that it will provide protection to 142 species that are only found in this area, and 27 of these are thought to be at risk of going extinct. This is a really productive area of ocean, meaning there are huge numbers of fish and several types of high level predator, including scalloped hammerhead sharks and humpback and blue whales. The marine park was voted for 73% in favour by the the Rapa Nui population of Easter Island, and extractive activities and industrial fishing will be banned from taking place inside the boundaries.

Great Barrier Reef is on the mend

Recent research dives to some of the most bleached parts of the coral reef are showing hopeful signs of recovery. Small eggs have been found in amongst the bleached coral, showing that there is still some healthy coral there and it’s capable of producing eggs. The research team also observed that a large proportion of the coral colonies on the inshore reefs had recovered and had regained their colour. There was some growth in in extent of the corals, showing that they are recovering well. It remains to be seen whether the eggs that are produced are able to be fertilised at the next annual spawning event, but if so this could represent a significant step forward in coral reef recovery.

Sea turtles spring back

A new analysis of global sea turtle abundance has been released, which shows that most populations of sea turtles are bouncing back after historical declines. This shows that efforts to protect sea turtles from their greatest threats, including getting caught accidentally in fishing nets and being caught for aphrodisiacs or decoration, are working. Even better news is the discovery that, with adequate protection, really small populations of sea turtles at risk of extinction can bounce back. This research reveals the success of long term turtle conservation efforts so far, but the researchers point out that this must be maintained in order to keep the future bright for sea turtles.

 

Cover photo by Tashiana Photography

 

Reasons To Be Cheerful #14

Ocean Optimism

Here’s some of the good stuff that happened for the sea in July 2017. Got to keep that balance.

 

Zimbabwe bans polystyrene

Zimbabwe is banning polystyrene for health and environmental reasons, and it’s going to help solve a whole lot of pollution problems. Kaylite, as polystyrene is known in Zimbabwe, is very common but not easily recyclable. As it’s made of expanded plastic particles, it breaks apart easily and is blown into waterways leading to the ocean. It can take hundreds of years to break down in the sea, never fully disappearing completely and causing huge marine pollution problems. This ban is being put in place by the Environmental Management Agency in Zimbabwe, making it illegal to manufacture or import kaylite for use or commercial distribution. There are concerns about what alternatives are available for the near future, but from an environmental point of view there’s no doubt that this is a fantastic move for ocean health.

Hobart cuts out convenience plastics

The city of Hobart, Tasmania, has pledged to phase out use of single-use plastic cutlery and containers by 2020. This is a huge move, as thousands of these items are given out every day in the city, but they’re only used for a few minutes before being thrown away. Customers frequently don’t recycle these items, or they are dropped littering the streets, so this convenience culture has become a huge waste problem. The plan is to replace the plastic with natural and biodegradable materials, such as bamboo and cornstarch, or less environmentally damaging materials like cardboard. By cutting out single-use plastic items in this way, the city of 220,000, plus its visitors, can make a huge step forward in reducing plastic waste, and can set a great example to other cities.

Shark fin soup falling out of favour

Sales of shark fin soup are falling in China, one of the top importers and users of shark fins. WildAid research shows that sales of shark fins have fallen between 50-70% on last year. There’s been a recent state drive to reduce consumption of this expensive, luxury product and WildAid have been campaigning strongly against the consumption of shark fins. There’s also a changing attitude amongst young people in China towards eating shark fin soup, with many turning it down for the sake of the sharks. Big name transport companies are also starting to refuse to carry shark fins. These falling sales show a positive change in attitude and consumer decisions in one of highest consuming countries of shark fins. On average 73 million sharks are killed for their fins each year, so this changing attitude can’t happen soon enough.

Tesco scrapping 5p bags

 UK supermarket giant Tesco are scrapping their 5 pence bags, and just offering their 10p bags for life. They’re trialling this plan in stores in Aberdeen, Norwich and Dundee to see if it reduces plastic bag usage even more, then Tesco plans to roll the pilot out across the country. The initial signs from the trial are looking positive, and bag purchases have been falling. However, the Marine Conservation Society are slightly concerned that 10 pence might not be enough of a deterrent to stop people buying so many of the bags. It’s a positive move for ocean conservation as if all of Tesco’s 5p bags aren’t being manufactured and sold, they can’t end up in the sea.

UK strengthens microbeads ban

The UK government has strengthened its ban on microbeads in cosmetics, pledging to ban them from any ‘rinse-off’ personal care and cosmetics items – so anything that washes down the drain. This will mean that shower gels, exfoliating face washes and toothpastes that are manufactured from the 1st of January 2018 will not contain microplastics. Any existing products won’t be able to be sold from 30 June 2018, meaning no more tiny plastic particles washing straight from our houses to the sea from the middle of next year.

Cover photo by the amazing Tashiana Photography 

Reasons To Be Cheerful #13

Ocean Optimism

Big commitments at the United Nations Ocean Conference

The Ocean Conference took place in New York at the beginning of June, a solid week of negotiations and partnerships for ocean conservation. It was a groundbreaking week of commitments, which led to the release of a strong call to action for the health of the oceans. With more than 1300 voluntary commitments made to strengthen the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 14, the ocean conservation goal, the conference has been seen to be a turning point in efforts to make progress in marine conservation. The commitments are voluntary, but if they are put into practice effectively, they will go a long way to achieving Goal 14. Commitments made included the designation of more Marine Protected Areas, more single-use plastic bans, greater restrictions on the release of known marine pollutants and sewage, pledges to carry out more scientific research and new approaches to tackling illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. Ocean optimism was a theme that ran through the conference, particularly when talking about the issue of marine plastic pollution. It’s a big issue, but one with a tangible solution that different organisations, governments and communities can work together to achieve, and that’s a great source of hope.

Canada taking final steps to phasing out microbeads

Canada announced in June that new regulations concerning the use of microbeads, tiny plastic particles that are used in many toiletries and are highly damaging to marine life, will be coming into force from January 2018. These plastic particles are less than 5mm in size, so tiny that they can be eaten by the smallest marine organisms who often mistake them for food. Plastic also absorbs contaminants, meaning that the plastic particles can choke and poison the organisms that eat them. They’re too small to be filtered out by wastewater treatment systems, so they go down the sink and straight out to sea. So what’s great is that these new rules will mean that products containing microbeads won’t be made, imported or sold in Canada from January 1, 2018, unless they’re natural health products or non-prescription drugs. If they are, the ban will come in a bit later in July 2018.

Top fishing companies team up for positive progress worldwide

Some of the biggest fishing companies across the world have agreed to work together to improve sustainability and working conditions in the fishing industry. Although there are millions of small-scale fishers across the world, a lot of the commercial catches are actually controlled by a small number of big companies. It’s thought that about 13 companies control about 11 to 16% of the global catch, which means they have a huge ecological and socioeconomic impact across the world.  This commitment comes as part of the development of a new initiative, the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS), that’s creating a working partnership between big companies from Asia, Europe and the US. Part of the voluntary commitment is to eliminate catches from illegal sources, also known as ‘black fish’. These might be fish that are caught as a result of piracy, slavery or fish that are caught without a license. The companies taking part in this initiative are also cracking down on traceability and transparency in supply chains, pledging to tackle the major issue of slavery in the fishing industry by designing a code of conduct. This initiative may be voluntary; however, the fact that these discussions are taking place and drawing attention to the large amount of power that a small number of companies holds over the health of the ocean is a key milestone in marine conservation.

Vamizi Island reefs are thriving

The Vamizi Island coral reefs off the East coast of Africa appear to be resisting the impacts of climate change due to some great management and some fortunate ecological conditions. The great management is done by the local communities, who are responsible for overseeing how the area is used and enforcing management actions that are put into place to protect it. Without this it’s likely that the reef would be long overexploited. The other factor is the helpful location of the reefs themselves. They’re in an area that receives cooler currents which helps to counteract the gradually rising ocean temperatures that are causing coral reef bleaching. The reef is also in a great place to receive extra nutrients that are brought up from the seabed by a process called upwelling.

 

 

Reasons To Be Cheerful #12

Ocean Optimism

May 2017 marks a whole year of Reasons To Be Cheerful. Here’s some positive ocean news from last month.

Basking shark hangout could get MPA status

A new proposed marine protected area could be designated to protect endangered basking sharks off the coast of Scotland. It’s normally really difficult to protect species that migrate a long way, like sharks, whales, dolphins and tuna, because they don’t stay still long enough for it to be worth designating a specific area. This population of basking sharks off the west of Scotland has been tagged and monitored for a while now. What’s great is the data is showing that they’ve been returning to this proposed marine protected area for consecutive years, which could mean that it’s an important breeding or feeding ground. Protecting this area will help preserve these basking sharks’ favourite haunt, encouraging them to keep returning year on year and supporting the growth of this endangered population.

Talk about potential plastic straw tax

There’s talk of a need for a plastic straw tax, in the same way as a plastic bag tax, which is being driven by a recycling and waste firm, Business Waste. Plastic straws are hugely wasteful, they’re used for a few minutes and then thrown away, and they’re one of the top items of litter found on UK beaches. Business Waste suggested that a tax could encourage people to think twice about whether they need a straw, and could offer a way to get around the cost and complexity of creating and rolling out something new to replace straws in our everyday lives. The UK 5p plastic bag tax was really effective at cutting down on plastic bag usage, and so it’s great that conversations are now starting to happen about whether this is something we need to do with plastic straws.

The Ocean Cleanup hits funding target

The team behind one of the biggest ocean cleanup proposals so far this month announced that they have reached the fundraising target they needed to begin their pilot trials in the Pacific this year. They’ve raised US$ 21.7 million, allowing them to test the new technology that they have also recently announced. Previously the cleanup technology was going to be fixed to the seabed, but now it’s going to be mobile to aim to collect more plastic and faster than previously planned. This is a great step forward, and The Ocean Cleanup team says that they’re looking to get the technology working in the most polluted areas of the Pacific in the first half of 2018.

Helpful coral reef neighbours

A new study has shown that unhealthy reefs recover best when they are close to patches of healthy reef, so that coral larvae can spill over and repopulate the areas that have been damaged. A coral reef reproduces by releasing eggs and sperm into the water at the same time. These then form larvae in the water and drift to nearby areas with the current. This new study has identified that it’s not the quantity of coral larvae that drifts into the damaged reef area, but it’s actually how regularly the larvae drift and settle that is more important. This is a great discovery in coral reef science because it means that we can focus on protecting networks of coral reefs. We need patches of healthy reef dispersed as widely as possible, so that there is a consistent spillover that can reach and help the unhealthy areas recover.

 The MCS Plastic Challenge

The Marine Conservation Society Plastic Challenge was announced last month, which is encouraging people to take real steps to cut their single-use plastics this month. The aim of the challenge is to swap out as many single-use plastics as possible, swapping in reusable, long-lasting alternatives. It’s also a sponsored challenge, and all money raised goes towards helping the MCS tackle plastic pollution on our coasts. Find out more about the challenge, get some plastic-free tips and sign up here.

Cover photo by Tashiana Photography

Reasons To Be Cheerful #11

Ocean Optimism

April was a pretty cheerful month for the oceans, particularly for the people that were brought together at events around the world on Earth Day.

 #MakeTheOceanFamous

 The Sustainable Oceans Summit was held at Georgetown University on Earth Day with the aim to ‘Make The Ocean Famous’. The Summit was focused on solutions more than problems, with a good helping of hope, and aimed to mainstream the importance of the ocean and hold conversations about how to protect it. There were sessions by renowned people in the field, like Dr Enric Sala, who talked about the power of No-Take Marine Reserves as a tool to help recover species that are under threat and Maggie Thompson, who talked about the power in numbers of the upcoming generations. The Summit focused on new approaches to target these younger generations, who will one day be the ones making big decisions about our impact on the planet. To do this we need to switch away from negative messaging and over-used images, instead focusing on positive and successful behaviour changes for the oceans.

 #ConservationOptimism

The Conservation Optimism Summit, held at Dulwich College in London, was three days of optimistic conservation energy, hearing from inspirational people working in conservation and sharing their successes. The focus on what works was strong, as platforms such as PANORAMA were shared, where conservationists can record the ‘building blocks’ of their success. One of the key messages, was that anyone can call themselves a ‘conservationist’. You don’t need to have a science degree, a lab coat or a passion for a certain type of starfish. You just have to recognise that there are issues with how we’re managing our resources and our impact on the oceans, and that we need to take steps to do a better job. It’s all about believing in the need for change, and in our ability to do so. Read more on my thoughts about the Summit here.

Turning waste plastic into roads

A small Scottish start-up is working to revolutionise the way we dispose of plastic, and the way we make roads. At the same time. Toby McCartney has developed a process where waste plastic is transformed into pellets, that are mixed with quarried rock and bitumen and then used to make road surfacing. McCartney says that the plastic approach is longer-lasting, stronger and makes fewer potholes than conventional roads. He also turns industrial farm waste that would normally be incinerated or sent to landfill, two enormously polluting processes, into pellets instead. These pellets are integrated into the process just the same as waste plastic bottles, and then laid to make road surfaces. Cumbria Council are already trying it, using their local waste plastic to resurface their local roads.  It seems like a way better idea to be using waste plastic to create the huge amounts of new road surface that we need every year, rather than continually extracting more and more oil to do the same thing.

 Plastic breakdown, powered by caterpillars

One of the reasons plastic is so great, is also its main downfall. Plastic is strong and malleable, and for this reason a plastic bottle will outlive us by hundreds of years, yet we probably only use it for a few hours at most. So as we continue to buy and throw away plastic, it never actually goes away, it just piles up in landfill and in the sea. A small amount is recycled, but not enough to balance out what we produce. However, a breakthrough has happened in the shape of a caterpillar. The larvae of a wax moth can munch through a piece of plastic in 30 minutes, and scientists have worked out that it’s the enzyme that the caterpillars use to break down and digest beeswax, which also helps them digest plastic bags. Scientists think that this could be a way to help break down the mountains of plastic sat in landfill sites, but there is some way to go with the research to see how it might work in the long term.

 Bioplastic coffee cups

Bioplastic coffee cups have been engineered so that now your coffee can be totally compostable. Bioplastic looks and behaves like normal plastic, but in fact it’s made from plant materials so it can go out to be composted with your food waste and breaks down back into the soil. In the UK we drink about 8 million takeaway coffees every day, which adds up to a vast amount of plastic waste that ends up on the streets, in landfill or in the sea. So the invention of these fully compostable coffee cups, if they can be rolled out on a wide scale into coffee shops nationwide, will help cut this mountain of waste down to size.

 Sea otters bounce back

 Sea otter numbers are bouncing back in Glacier Bay, Alaska, having been decimated for 250 years because of intense hunting for the fur trade. It wasn’t looking good for sea otter populations for a while, but then they popped up again in 1988, thriving off the rich marine resources that the retreating glacier had exposed in the Bay as it melted. Recently a study has been released which shows that the sea otter population in Glacier Bay grew 21% per year between 1993 and 2012. The great news is that this shows that the abundance of natural resources, and the sustainable management of the area as a Marine Protected Area, is helping to bring threatened populations back to a healthy state.

Cover photo by Tashiana Photography