It Takes an Ecosystem to Protect an Ecosystem!
PROTECTION: Sea Change was instrumental in achieving a ban on scallop dredgers within Wester Ross MPA alongside the low impact fishermen and all those who supported our public petition and ‘neighbour hood sea-watch’. Restored nature has the potential to produce more jobs if properly managed over the long term. The MPA is 600 square kilometres and now in recover. Maerl has legal status and is the keystone species in the area alongside herring. Our surveys on maerl play a critical role in helping to protect our ‘maerl MPA’ from salmon farms and other threats.
CITIZEN SCIENCE SURVEYS: Since 2015 Sea Change has coordinated a number of survey’s with our survey partners. We devised a drop down go-pro system on a metal rod and used this to explore habitats. This was then followed by scuba divers with video camera surveys. Our week long 2016 survey was included in Scottish Natural Heritage’s 2018 report on the MPA (published in 2019). A Seasearch report on a number of short surveys in 2017 is included in the national data archives already. We are due to publish another report later in 2019 on our 3 x 25m maerl transects which are helping us monitor recovery. For example we shared our concern from our September 2018 survey with SNH that some maerl in the MPA is ’stressed’ and this will encourage further research and monitoring.
We also started a comparative study between a 1981 survey around Tanera and the Summer Isles and a 2018-2019 survey exploring the same dive points which we hope to complete in September 2019 as our third weeks dive on this. We have also done many more explorations into other MPA habitats which will be reported as part of this report as an addition. During a dive week in June 2018 and March 2019 we set up a total of 3 x 25m maerl transects to monitor recovery. We hope to do more free dives and kayak surveys soon.
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 extended maerl bed) in the Summer Isles and have also confirmed many other maerl beds and their condition on video 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.
STORYTELLING & FILM we have been working with some great cameramen divers who have produced wonderful footage for films to share our discoveries and citizen science widely. Being able to source good quality footage is vitally important to help us tell our story and encourage more custodians and sea protectors. With film makers and artists within the group we revel in sharing the sheer beauty of the underwater ecosystem – as extraordinary as any rain forest.
Some of our films have been seen by thousands of people which helps share our message in a positive way and build awareness whilst adding to the scientific knowledge of the area. They also encourage others to join us in surveying. Many more ordinary people are getting involved in citizen science surveys and SNH is now supporting groups with a programme of Inshore Participatory Monitoring which emerged out of the this growing need at grassroots as well as technological innovation. We attended SNH’s workshop recently at SAMS in Oban.
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND SOCIAL MEDIA Sharing our consultation responses, films, photos blogs 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 also will be publishing a Guide to the MPA and screening our films at festivals and events. We encourage people to write responses and letters to MSPS and engage more in the political process. There is a case to be made for the fact that ‘pluralistic ignorance’ is holding failed policies in place. If more people speak up then we can achieve a great deal.
INTERCONNECTIVITY: Building collaborative partnerships and networks has been key – it takes an ecosystem of people and groups to protect the ecosystem. Locally we have built cross-sector partnerships and networks to share knowledge and resources and work collaboratively for the well being of the ecosystem as a whole.
Our plan to build collaborations between members of the public, scientists and fishermen to share knowledge and resources was an early intention read out in the Marine Debate in the Scottish Parliament in 2015. We are proud that we have begun to achieve this at a local level with our network of survey partners. We work with wild fisheries, low impact creel and dive fisheries, scientists, students, dive groups and many others to support change.
We are now part of the much wider national movement for collective action on the 3 Mile Limit. We are also an active member of the Coastal Community Network (including the Aquaculture and Seaweed group and others). The Coastal Community Network unites the many voluntary coastal community groups together to share information and amplify our voice.
LOBBYING Since 2014 as volunteers on our own funds we have attended events and collected huge amounts of local evidence and lobbied and met the Government, our local MSPs, Parliamentary Committees and Scotland’s marine and conservation agencies 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 no financial vested interests. This work continues with the current ‘National Discussion on the Future of Fisheries’ and the ‘Priority Marine Feature Review’, amongst others.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC REPORTS Working with some generous and highly professional economists, we have produced two socio-economic reports which we believe help prove the common sense notion that protecting nature can creates jobs and wealth. An economy built on nature is sustainable in the long term. Our argument takes the salmon farmers and mobile fishing sector on with the facts. Their justification for overlooking their impact on the environment is jobs. The Government makes political decisions on reports which very often serve big business and the commercial sector as they only look at the BENEFITS of commercial exploitation. Rarely do researchers producing reports for the Government agencies document the actual COSTS to jobs and incomes of this same industry and the losses over the long run from environmental degradation. Our job has been to plug that gap and do just that – as well as attempt to calculate the COSTS to jobs and incomes.
We have turned Big Industry’s arguments upside down, using local knowledge and real case studies. Our argument is for real people, real jobs, real tax benefits for residents and locals, built on a clean inshore and productive sea. We need to manage our seas to recover fisheries long since gone. Nature is our asset – work with it and it produces jobs. We need a diverse economy rather than reliance on a few monopoly style industry’s which damage alternative ways of job creation. Diversity and true sustainability is the essence for resilient local communities.
SUPPORTING STUDENT, UNIVERSITY AND MARINE SCIENTIST STUDIES: 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 – such as potential impacts of climate change or the impacts of extra nutrients from fish farms. 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.
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. 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 point of view with the 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. 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 hubris. On a national level we share ideas with other community groups and individuals and help support each other. We have become part of a national, even international marine conservation ecosystem ourselves.