It Takes An Ecosystem to Protect The Ecosystem
PROTECTION: Sea Change was instrumental in achieving a ban on scallop dredgers within Wester Ross MPA, working alongside the low impact fishermen. The Wester Ross MPA is 600 square kilometres of sea – the ecosystem is now recovering. Our local petition to ban dredgers was widely supported within the area’s communities. The setting up of a ‘neighbourhood sea-watch’ system led to members of the community and fishermen collecting the standard of evidence required to prove illegal dredging – this finally led to the closure of the MPA in August 2015.
SECURING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE ECONOMY: Abundant Nature and restored fisheries produce many more jobs over the long term than depleted seas, if properly managed. We work to communicate the evidence firmly, fairly and with compassion as we work towards a more sustainable economy. Wester Ross is the largest of the Marine Protected Areas known as “Maerl MPAs“. Maerl (a pink coral like seaweed) is one of the keystone species in the area because it supports the broodstock for many other species, as well as commercial fisheries like herring and cod. Protecting the MPAs habitats and species, in particular keystone species like maerl, herring and salmon will lead to a more diverse and robust economy. Happier people too, as living in an intact natural environment is proven to restore people’s wellbeing too.
ADVOCATING & POLITICAL LOBBYING: We need to build resilience in to the ecosystem in order to survive global threats such as climate change, warming seas, ocean micro-plastic’s, chemical pollution and ocean acidification. The impacts of one of these alone can be devastating, the cumulative impacts are unravelling the ocean ecosystems. This is compounded by industrialised fishing and aquaculture. We believe our Politicians are failing to act fast enough.
Since 2014 we have worked as volunteers, self funding our activities. We have met and written to Government marine and conservation agencies, our local MSPs, Parliamentary Committees, Marine Scotland and our Ministers to encourage better management. We have researched and replied to countless national consultations often pulling together local knowledge which would otherwise go unheard. We have attended numerous events, conferences, meetings and talked to many groups, whilst collecting vast amounts of local evidence in order to lobby the Government. We have no financial vested interests.
SOS: Up and down the coast there are others like us – dedicated to trying to save our seas. We are now part of a national campaign for the return of the 3 Mile limit and reform of aquaculture. Our work continues with the current ‘National Discussion on the Future of Sea Fisheries’ and the ‘Priority Marine Feature Review’, amongst others. Nature is our best asset – work with it and it produces food and jobs.
Sea Change has turned Big Industry’s arguments upside down, using local knowledge and real case studies. We need a diverse economy rather than reliance on a few monopoly style industry’s which damage alternative ways of job creation.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC REPORTS Working with some generous professional economists, we have produced two socio-economic reports which we believe help prove that protecting nature creates jobs and wealth. It seems to us to be common sense that an economy built on intact nature is more sustainable in the long term. Diversity and sustainability is critical to coastal communities.
Our argument takes the mobile fishing sector and salmon farmers on with the facts. The Governments justification for overlooking the environmental impact of these industries is because it produces “jobs” and economic growth. The Governments political decisions are made based on reports produced by the Govt. agencies which we believe are biased towards big business and the commercial sector. This is because their focus is on assessing the BENEFITS of commercial exploitation. The reports don’t document or assess the cost to jobs of the environmental damage done. The job losses from environmental degradation can be less visible, but can devastate businesses. We have attempted to reveal the Government’s blindspots and do the calculations they fail to do – revealing the COSTS to jobs and income of this environmental damage. Our Socio economic report on dredging and trawling was part of the consultation on the management orders for the MPA. Andrew Graham-Stewart, the director of Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland had this to say about our socio-economic report and case study on a salmon farm, produced with SCFF and economist Alan Radford.
Your case study is excellent, highly relevant and groundbreaking. The Scottish Government and the industry must not be allowed to continue getting away with making one-sided claims.”
CITIZEN SCIENCE SURVEYS: Since 2015 Sea Change has coordinated many seabed survey’s with our survey partners. Our mapping of the MPAs habitats, particularly maerl beds has been vitally important in creating a baseline from which to document recovery, as well as providing evidence to help protect the MPA. There have been many threats to the MPAs recovery – including salmon farms and illegal dredging.
STORYTELLING & FILM With film makers and artists within the group, we revel in sharing the beauty of the underwater ecosystem – as extraordinary as any rain forest. Our films have been seen by hundreds, even thousands of people. We have had the privilege of working with some superb cameramen divers who have shown us the beauty, as well as the wastelands, below the surface of the sea. Our survey footage has been used to make films to share our discoveries and build awareness about the need for protection and change. Being able to source good quality footage is vitally important to help us tell our story and encourage more custodians and ‘sea protectors’.
SCIENCE DATA PRODUCED
We have collaborated with the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, Wester Ross Area Salmon Fishery Board, North Minch Shellfish Association and Seasearch and Inverness Sub Aqua Club on our surveys. These have been mostly self funded by volunteers and supported by donations from members and supporters.
- Our 2016 week long survey was included in Scottish Natural Heritage’s 2018 Government report on the Wester Ross MPA (published in 2019).
- A Seasearch report on our surveys in 2017 is included in the national data archives.
- Maerl Monitoring: we are due to publish a report later in 2019/2020 on our 4 x 25m maerl transects monitoring recovery and condition.
- Our maerl surveys have flagged up concerns about the “stresses” on maerl which we have shared with SNH. ( September 2018 survey found algae on maerl in the Summer Isles. This encouraged further research and monitoring and the discovery of the colonisation of maerl beds by flame shells and additional concern about stressed maerl in Loch Ewe (coverage by algae). This is leading to further research.
- We supported a Master’s Student from Edinburgh University doing a study on maerl.
- In Sept 2018, March 2019, Sept 2019 Seasearch & Sea Change did a comparative study between a 1981 seasearch survey around Tanera and the Summer Isles and the same dive points today. We completed this in September 2019 as our third week diving.
- We hope to do more free dives and kayak surveys soon.
- The collection of evidence of illegal dredging (on maerl) Leading to a Channel 4 News piece https://www.channel4.com/news/the-illegal-industrial-fishing-damaging-scotlands-great-barrier-reef
- We have also done many more explorations into other MPA habitats which will be reported as part of this survey.
- To follow our open explorer expedition surveys on National Geographic go to https://openexplorer.nationalgeographic.com/expedition/discoverywesterross
DISCOVERIES: we found a ‘newish’ maerl bed (or a very extensive maerl bed) in the Summer Isles and have confirmed many other maerl beds and their condition since we began. We have discovered a species of anenome and nudibranch which have not been recorded in the area before and have noted an unusual abundance of sea cucumbers including an arctic sea cucumber, again not recorded in the area before. We have confirmed horse mussels in loch broom amongst many other findings as well as anecdotal signs of ecosystem recovery.
DEVELOPING COMMUNITY SURVEY TECHNIQUES With the help of Glasgow University, John McIntyre designed a drop down go-pro system on a metal pole which we use to initially explore habitats. This is followed by scuba divers with video camera’s or clip boards for biodiversity surveys. Many more ordinary people are getting involved in citizen science surveys. SNH is now supporting groups with the Inshore Participatory Monitoring Scheme which emerged out of the grassroots interest in surveying in order to restore the habitats, as well as the advances in technology.
COMMUNITY ASSETS: We attended SNH’s workshop in the Summer of 2019 at SAMS in Oban and have recently received funding from their Community Fund for our ROV accessories and Hard drive storage of all our data to produce a Community Archive as an asset.
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND SOCIAL MEDIA Sharing our consultation responses, films, photos, blogs, survey discoveries and letters to MSPs and Ministers has helped share our message on facebook and twitter. Some of our films have had literally thousands of views. We have screening our films at festivals and events such a Belladrum and local community viewings. We encourage people to write responses and letters to MSPS and engage in the political process. There is likely to be a case of ‘pluralistic ignorance’ holding failed policies in place – Sea Change encourages people to speak up with confidence.
The MPA Guide & Neighbourhood Watch Scheme We were helped by the Coastal Community Network and by Flora and Fauna International to publish a Guide to the MPA. Wester Ross KIPPER Guide26 July final copy
HOLISTIC & INCLUSIVE THINKING Everyone has an insight on the sea. Some are more informed than others but everyone’s experience helps build the whole. We try to join the dots between sectors creating a web of knowledge. Being curious and asking questions helps. This takes a lot of emailing, talking and listening, more time than we have, but it helps us build a picture from deep local knowledge of the whole ecosystem and how people engage with it differently. Connecting the dive and creel fishermen’s knowledge with anglers, marine scientists, students, artists, tourists, University professors, wild fisheries groups, fishermen’s representatives and other community groups, enhances our ability to collect pieces of knowledge and learn what might be going on in the sea. Interconnectivity is key. These multiple perspectives add to the whole. The road to hell can be paved with good intentions. Talking ideas through carefully across the many sectors helps avoid the dangers of over simplification and hubris.
NATIONAL & HIGHLAND NETWORKS
On a national level we share ideas and help support like minded groups. We have become part of a national, even international marine conservation ecosystem. We hope our message is delivered with patience, understanding and compassion. We do our best.
NORTH WEST HIGHLAND SURVEY PARTNERSHIP & MISSION BLUE HOPE SPOT Building collaborative partnerships and networks has been our key focus. Our current project is to build wider survey partnerships across the whole North West Highlands from Skye to Loch Eriboll. It takes an ecosystem of people and groups to protect the ecosystem and we believe that sharing knowledge and building interconnectivity is at the heart of success. Locally we have built cross-sector partnerships and networks within the MPA area to share knowledge and resources for the well being of the ecosystem as a whole. We are extending that to a wider North West area now to help support others to survey, build knowledge and create a sense of shared custodianship. We hope together we will apply for the MISSION BLUE HOPE SPOT.
COASTAL COMMUNITY NETWORK: We are active members of the Coastal Community Network (and work with others within The Aquaculture, Seaweed and Sea Bed Reform Group). The Coastal Community Network unites coastal groups in Scotland together to share information and amplify our voice. We are now part of the #OurSeas national collective action campaign on the 3 Mile Limit. We are also connected to The Salmon Aquaculture Reform Network Scotland. (SARNS)
SUPPORTING UNIVERSITY STUDENT AND MARINE SCIENTIST STUDIES: (work in progress) We wish to attract University and Masters students to Wester Ross to do studies of their own. We have worked with an Edinburgh University marine student as well as other volunteer marine scientists to help monitor maerl and other habitats. Working with marine scientists help us decide what to monitor and tells us what we are seeing. We welcome more connections with Universities and student groups as well as others along the coast to share ideas, stories, data and help each other.
#OURSEAS we are part of the 45 groups campaigning for the return of something like the 3 Mile limit and seabed reform.