Reasons to be cheerful #3

Ocean Optimism, Step Up For The Sea

There are a lot of positive people out there who are stepping up for the sea and making changes to protect it. Here are a few reasons to be cheerful about the state of the ocean from the last month.

Ikea goes circular

Our society is pretty wasteful, but Ikea are taking a step towards tackling this by creating a ‘Circular Ikea’. The idea is that new products made of recycled materials will be integrated into their range, and existing products will be able to be repaired and recycled. Everyone loves Ikea so it’s great that they’re flagging up how we’ve reached ‘peak home furnishings’, and they’re a powerhouse in their field so it’s time for other companies to follow on. The more we recycle, the less plastic will find its way into the sea.

5p plastic bags success

It looks like the plastic bag charge is working for the sea. Some estimates have been made and scaled up, and it looks like, if we carry on using bags at the same rate as we did in the first six months after the 5p charge came in in England, then usage will have dropped by 83% from the 2014 figure of 7.64 billion plastic bags. Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland all saw reductions of between 70-80% in bag usage in the first year after the charge was brought in. So good news, everyone keep doing what you’re doing – it’s going well.

Talking about polystyrene

People are making noise about needing to ban polystyrene because of the impact it has on the ocean. It takes hundreds of years to decompose, leaks carcinogenic chemicals into water bodies and can cause choking and starvation in marine life. Wales was the first country in the UK to charge for plastic bags, and this move was driven by the consumers. Now environmentally conscious shoppers are concerned about the amount of single use polystyrene and they’re calling for a ban for polystyrene fast food containers. Looking at the success of the plastic bag charge, this one is definitely worth pursuing.

The next UNESCO World Heritage Sites might include the deep sea

At the moment the deep oceans are barely protected. To be honest, we don’t even know much about what’s down there to protect. However, there’s talk that the next UNESCO World Heritage Sites may include deep ocean habitats. This would be a massive deal. It would mean the importance of the deep sea and high seas is being recognised, but it would also be a positive step towards the protection of deep sea species and important breeding grounds from damaging human activities.

RePlast – building blocks from ocean plastic

Once plastic has found its way into the ocean it’s notoriously difficult to remove, but some people are finding a way. Gregor Gomory created RePlast, building blocks made of compressed marine plastic that don’t need any glue. The plan is to use them as an alternative building material for low-cost housing. They help to reuse existing plastic, they’ve got a low carbon footprint and they’re a good incentive to chase marine plastic and extract it. Good for people and good for the sea.

Reasons to be cheerful #2

Ocean Optimism, Step Up For The Sea

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of negative news about the ocean, and so here are some cheerier things to think about that have been in the news recently. It’s not all bad.

Microbeads are going to be banned in the UK

There was talk a while ago about the government working with the cosmetics industry to phase out microbead use voluntarily, but now the UK will be following the US and banning them completely. This is such great news for the ocean because toiletries are often full of tiny plastic microbeads that are used as an exfoliant. They’re too small to be filtered out by waste water treatment works so they just go straight out to sea where they’re eaten by marine life. Banning microbeads is a simple(ish) way of cutting down on our marine plastic pollution as it’s a problem many people don’t even know about.

Numbers of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are creeping up

Since the rapid increase in the number of very large MPAs at the end of last year, the pace has slowed down but new MPAs are still springing up which is great news for ocean health. In the last couple of months both Cambodia and Malta have taken steps to protect their marine environment: Cambodia has designated its first MPA to protect vulnerable marine species and habitats and Malta has designated eight Special Protection Areas (to protect birds).

Edible 6 pack rings

This is a great idea by Saltwater Brewery in Florida. They have piloted edible and biodegradable 6 pack rings made from barley and wheat left over from beer production. Huge numbers of 6 pack rings end up in the sea and marine life gets tangled in them. These ocean-friendly 6 pack rings can be eaten by marine life, and if not eaten they’ll totally biodegrade rather than drift for hundreds of years as plastic would. Hopefully this can set an example to the industry and cut down on future plastic use. Watch a video about it here.

Protection for deep sea species in the North-East Atlantic

It has recently been agreed that there will be a ban on fishing below 800 metres deep in the North-East Atlantic which is great news for conservationists (and the fish). Deep sea ecosystems are really fragile because they grow so slowly that if they are wiped out by fishing gear they can take many hundreds of years to grow back. However, some conservationists argue that these negotiations have taken a long time to agree on and that protection like this is needed far more widely than just the North-East Atlantic.

#oceanoptimism is on the rise

The power of positivity as a fuel for change is being more widely recognised. Articles like this one talk about how too much negativity can turn people off from important conservation issues as people feel overwhelmed, guilty or think that it’s too late to do anything. Pointing out the good news is so important to try to keep a balance, and to motivate people to stay engaged with the issues and step up for the sea where they can.

Reasons to be cheerful

Ocean Optimism

My newsfeed has been full of pretty depressing ocean stories lately, and just scrolling through for a couple of minutes has been leaving me feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all.  Photos of marine life tangled up in nets, piles of dead sharks and thousands of bright pink plastic bottles washed ashore from containers that went overboard  – this is just the start.

I’m not ignoring all that depressing stuff by any means, it’s all very real and concerning and it’s what made me write this, but it made me want to go in search of the positive stuff and to share and celebrate that. Too much negativity doesn’t help the situation, and we need to see and celebrate the successes which are happening but which are often overshadowed.

So here’s some cheerier news from the last month or so, to help keep those negative newsfeeds in perspective.

The waters around Ascension Island are going to become a marine reserve, roughly the size of the UK. Half of it will be closed to fishing which will give the fish stocks a chance to recover and to become more diverse and healthy. We’re still a long way off the aim of protecting 30% of the ocean, but this is still another great achievement and follows on from a run of designations made last year.

The USA have agreed to ban microbeads in cosmetics from 2017.  Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic which are used in lots of different facial scrubs as an exfoliant, and they are found in toothpastes too. When they go down the drain they are too small to be filtered out by water treatment systems and therefore go straight out and pollute the sea. Once in the sea they are often consumed by even the smallest creatures and they then work their way up the food chain until they end up in the fish we see on our plates. Banning them in cosmetics in the US is a fantastic move, and now we need the UK and other countries to follow suit.

Innovative new projects are out to tackle the problem of marine plastic pollution. The Ocean Cleanup is a project being developed which will extract plastic from the ocean using floating barriers in the path of natural currents. Their idea is that since there’s too much plastic out there to chase around, they let it come to them. They’ve recently announced they’ll be testing their pilot barrier soon, which is a great step forward.

Seabin is another cleanup project who have been promoting their plans lately. Their idea is to ‘keep the oceans tidy’, starting out in marinas and filtering the water to remove floating rubbish which is then pumped away and collected on shore.

A few days ago it was announced that the world’s largest population of giant manta rays is now being better protected. They’re found in Peruvian waters and need protecting from being hunted for their meat and gills which are highly sought after for trade and traditional medicine. So now giant mantas can’t be hunted in Peruvian waters, and if one is caught accidentally it has to be released straight away.

We’re learning more about the ocean and its inhabitants all the time. This week some amazing footage was released which was captured by a drone as it was repeatedly ambushed by a Great White shark, and each time it proved to be a very frustrating snack. This kind of footage is incredibly valuable to shark behaviour researchers. Watch the video here!

So, next time your Twitter feed is telling you it’s all bad, search #oceanoptimism and put a bit of positivity back in there.

The lungs of our planet

Marine Protected Areas, Ocean Optimism, Step Up For The Sea

Today is Oceans Day at the climate change negotiations conference, COP21, in Paris.

It’s really important not to forget how much we rely on the ocean.

It’s a major source of food, a massive oxygen producer, soaks up huge amounts of excess carbon and houses 80% of all life on earth. We’d be pretty stuck without it.

Climate change is causing unprecedented changes in the ocean, and we need to act now to prevent further damage.

This isn’t only damage done to the ocean itself, but also to the entire support system it gives us.

Climate change is making the ocean warmer, more acidic and it’s rising too. We don’t know how much longer the ocean will be able to provide for us if we keep pummelling it with high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

Marine Protected Areas can really help. They allow certain areas of the ocean to be under reduced pressure from human activities, like fishing, mining and dredging, and this means they are better able to withstand the impacts of climate change.

The last year has been great in terms of MPAs, with more than 2.5 million square kilometres designated. A positive step for sure.

Ideally we need to fully protect 30% of the ocean by 2030, that’s up from less than 1% right now.

Check out the infographics below from IUCN-WCPA all about how we can’t have a healthy climate without a healthy ocean. Join the conversation on Twitter with #OceanforClimate, #OceanCOP21 or #OceanOptimism.

lungs 1lungs 2

Five projects turning marine debris into cool stuff

Ocean Optimism

As I’ve mentioned in posts before, far too much plastic and other debris currently ends up in the oceans. It’s damaging to the marine environment in lots of ways, but hopefully you knew that already.

There are lots of projects out there which are tackling the problem, by gathering plastic from the oceans and turning it into useful products which also raise awareness of the impacts of marine plastic pollution. Here are just a few.

RAW for the Oceans – denim made from ocean plastic

Pharrell Williams has co-designed a denim collection made from Bionic Yarn, using plastic collected from the oceans.  It’s broken down into fibres, combined with cotton and spun into yarn which is then used to create the denim. See the collection here.

Adidas trainers


Adidas shoes made using recycled plastic fishing nets Source:

Adidas have been working on a prototype trainer with Parley for the Oceans which incorporates recycled fishing net fibres into the design. It looks like these specific ones might not be available to buy, but Adidas are looking to incorporate more recycled plastic into their designs in the future.

ZSL ‘Net-Works’

Net-Works-a-business-students-perspective-620x330 net-works-philippines-weighing-nets

Net-Works is a project initiated and supported by the Zoological Society of London which turns discarded fishing nets into carpet tiles. This is a way in which local fishermen can earn money from old nets which they would otherwise have discarded for nothing, and creates a practical use for discarded nets which are clogging up the sea. The money benefits the local community and local marine environment becomes less polluted.

Aurora Robson – meaningful art from marine debris


Aurora Robson: Kamilo, 2011.

Aurora Robson is the an artist who uses marine plastic debris to create dramatic sculptures which highlight the vast amount of litter which exists in our seas. Other artists such as Mandy Barker have also been very successful in exploring ways to represent the pressure that the ocean is under from marine debris through striking photography. You can check her work out here.

Ecover Ocean Plastic Project


Ecover have been working with fishermen to create a pathway for ocean plastic to become recycled plastic bottles containing, so far, 10% ocean plastic. Ecover commissioned fishermen to trawl for plastics, and then these were cleaned, processed and recycled into washing up liquid bottles.

Speaking in schools: what I’ve learnt so far

Ocean Optimism, Step Up For The Sea

Towards the end of my first year at University I joined the Royal Geographical Society Geography Ambassadors Scheme, and it’s one of the best things I’ve done at Uni.

At school I had attended lots of talks by visiting speakers or students who had done exciting things during or after their school years. These talks were on expeditions or interesting potential careers, and I often left feeling inspired. Their passion for their topic was infectious. Hearing from older students made me apply for an expedition to the Amazon jungle in 2011, after which I came home and started to give talks about my experience. It was an easy thing to ramble on about because I had such incredible memories to share, and I started to get a taste of what public speaking is about.

During A levels I developed a drive to learn more about the state of the ocean, and pursued this further during my gap year. As I learnt more about the issues, I also became involved in some research looking at the public perceptions of the marine environment and realised that a lot of the public don’t know about the issues, or really care. So since then I have combined my passion for marine conservation, and the desire to tell everyone I meet loads about fish, with the buzz I get from standing up and giving a talk and the need to help fill this gap in public knowledge about the sea. The aim is to try to inspire some love and concern for the oceans.

That’s where the RGS Ambassadors Scheme comes in. When I got to Uni I wasn’t sure what the platform would be to continue with this, as I didn’t fancy the Debating Society, and standing on the street chatting to anyone who will listen about the state of the ocean didn’t seem like the way forward either. A friend told me about the Scheme and I signed up and went along to the training day. Since then I have given an A level fisheries management lecture, a Year 7 lunchtime talk to an Inner London school about why we need the sea, a couple of conservation expedition talks and lots of interactive classroom sessions, all marine conservation based.

A washing line full of fishy thoughts

A washing line full of fishy thoughts

I’ve learnt from every talk or session I have done and these are some of the things I’ve realised.

What I’ve learnt about speaking

  • Passion about a topic is cool. Not to all teenagers, but I’ve found a surprising number have approached me after a talk or lesson to ask how I got into it, what subjects I took etc. By not being afraid to show you love the fish you’ll definitely get through to some of them, and encourage them to speak up about interests that may be forming in their school lessons and pursue them further.
  • It’s scary, but that’s what makes it so great. I have been nervous before every talk or session, but also buzzing after every single one.
  • Science communication is about making the information accessible to everyone. Start with simpler background info, then be sure to link closely to what the teacher has taught, and then include some more challenging elements to push the brightest students.

What I’ve learnt about students

  • Kids can come out with some great answers. One task was to complete the sentence ‘we should look after the sea because…’ to which one child scrawled ‘they iz anmls’.
  • Up to a certain age, kids are not afraid to ask questions. I did a lunchtime talk to about 100 Year 7s, and was bombarded with questions about why we can’t build walls under the sea to protect certain areas, why turtles eat plastic bags and what do squid eat. Ask an A level class if they have any questions and most of them will sheepishly avoid your eye.
  • Pencils are a better reward for answering questions than you might think. ‘I love Geography’ pencils = golddust.
'They iz anmls'

‘We should look after the sea because…They iz Anmls’

I haven’t got a particular career plan just yet, but I hope that talks will feature in it somewhere. Planning a talk, standing up to present it, taking questions and chatting to people afterwards gives me such a buzz, and it seems like that’s not something I should ignore.