Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Staying Positive In Environmentalism

Although I have been away from this particular blog for some time, I have been writing, volunteering and very much in touch with the conservation and environmental world.
Recently, I entered a blog contest from Change Agents UK and Green Futures answering the question:
What is the value of positive communications around sustainability, and why it’s a more effective way of encouraging people to change their behaviour?’
Writing my entry really made me reflect on the importance of staying positive in a world that really does thrive on negativity and scare-mongering. I hope you think that this is worth a read, and all comments are welcome.

My entry was shortlisted to the top 5. The winning entry can be found here and is brilliant:

Here is my entry - I hope you enjoy the read. Please note I was restricted to 600 words for the purpose of the competition - I could have written a lot more!

" Environmentalism links into all parts of life. Eco-tourism can boost the economy. Environmentally friendly homes have high property values - great for the housing market. Entire institutes are dedicated to conservation. Included in this extensive list is human psychology. Everybody is aware of the environment and sustainability, but why do so many choose to ignore and dismiss it? The answer certainly isn't simple or single-veined, but one thing's for sure. Campaigners' pushy and downbeat attitudes, coupled with scientists' bombardment of bad news haven't exactly made people leap up, knock on sustainability's door and scream, "What can I do to help?"

Unfortunately, until the core values of our consumer society change, most people will ask: "What's in it for me?" when asked to commit to sustainable living. Being positive and emphasising the benefits is crucial here. Have you ever seen anybody that was bombarded at a stall with pictures of mangled animals or a scorched earth, followed by a lecture from a campaigner? Maybe you're even guilty of it - I am! How often do you think that person has left and committed to the cause, implementing a lifestyle change? More than likely they've made an embarrassed £10 donation and hurried away angry, moaning about the cause to their friends. The result? £10...

Identifying the values of a person, finding what's important to them, is vital when applying positivity to sustainability. Preaching about the long-term benefits of solar panels to somebody who can barely afford bus fare is just a waste of time. Perhaps they're a family person - great! Outdoor activities can help children deal with behavioural and emotional problems1 . Thrifty - fine! Installing an energy efficient boiler and recycling are two ways to save money2. Approaching any personality-type with a negative and forceful attitude will only put them off and provoke anger. Using negativity as a shock tactic rarely works either. Telling somebody that all our fish stocks will be depleted by 2048 as we don't eat sustainably3 won't change habits, they will merely be overwhelmed and think 'I can't do anything about that'.

Indeed, some people may clearly have no interest in sustainability, even if you put on a 2 hour play demonstrating how the earth will implode if they don't start having a shower instead of a bath. In all honesty, lecturing them will probably not implement change until a) everybody else in the world does, or b) it becomes law. So why bombard them with negativity? It will probably only reinforce their views of 'hippy nonsense'. Positivity is the way forward. I recently took my mother to the Centre of Alternative Technology in Wales, which is brilliant for people both familiar with, and new to, sustainability. There are tips on how to live sustainably and save money, a lift powered by water and all types of machinery powered by clean energies. And all whilst having fun! The place is constantly busy, something I probably couldn't say if activists greeted you at the entrance, handing out leaflets of doom and gloom. What's more, since going there, my mother has come round to the idea of having a composter!

Sustainability CAN be fun and with practice, will come naturally to households and businesses. Growing vegetables with the kids and taking inexpensive nature treks can be a joy in itself. And with more people searching for eco-friendly options, those businesses that adopt environmentally friendly ethos can reap huge benefits and reach a new market. How's that for a positive?

Positivity for our planet works every time. "




3. Biello, David., 2006, Overfishing Could Take Seafood Off The Menu By 2048, Scientific American Newsletters, November 2 edition.

And for the boring stuff:
***Please note : I am in no way sponsored by, or affiliated with, the organisations mentioned in this post. This is a personal blog and opinions here do not represent those of any other parties mentioned. All credit for this blog competition is to Change Agents UK and Green Futures.

Friday, 18 November 2011

A Summary : Tasmania Whale Strandings

As many reading this will already know, major marine news as of late has included the mass stranding of sperm whales along Tasmania's west coast.
In brief...
A large pod of whales washed ashore, many still alive, in various remote places along the Tasmania west coast (Australia). Work started almost immediately to free beached whales and return them to deeper waters and two individuals trapped inside Hells Gates were freed, but 22 at Ocean Beach died. Whilst escorting the two survivors through Macquarie Harbour to the open sea, two dead minke whales were also found. The total death toll from the stranding was 26. 65 pilot whales also died in New Zealand due to strandings in a remote location, the tip of Farewell Spit.

But the question I am particularly interested in is why?
Whale beachings are 'relatively common' in Australia, especially in summer months, but scientists are not completely sure why they occur.
In recent years, studies have linked strandings to high intensity sonar which occurs underwater. However, findings are not conclusive. Certain beaches also have more occurances of strandings than others. This is due to the shape and make-up of the beach. Sand banks can cause marine animals to be caught in too shallow water, with receding tides ensuring the animal cannot return to deeper waters.
Naturally, we also turn to climate change to explain these events. Southerly and westerly winds cause colder (and more nutritious) waters going from the Antarctic to southern Australia. The attractiveness of these waters attracts whales closer to the shore than in previous years, increasing the chance of stranding.
It is vital that more information is gained about these events, as strandings become more frequent. Is there any way we can assist in reducing the likelihood of these events? Future studies need to focus on the variables (climate, location, species, season) surrounding the strandings, to find common links. We also need to focus on the individuals that are returned to the water, and their chances of survival after being seperated from their pod (with in many cases, most individuals in the social group being killed due to strandings) and possibly suffering from stress or injuries due to being beached.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Indonesia's Plans to Privatise Coastline

I recently read how The Ecologist has discovered plans by Indonesia to privatise areas of coastline for aquaculture - 90,000km of it.

A new law known as HP-3 is soon to be passed, allowing all of the commonly-held land around coastal wasters (including the seabed up to 12km offshore) to be bidded on. As with auctions, the land will become the property of the highest bidder, and leases will last up to 60 years.
Many generations of people in small communities around the waters are sustainable and survive through small businesses and catching their own food. These include fish farming and mussel collecting. However, they now live in poor conditions, with industry growing around them, land becoming 'untouchable' by themselves and less stocks to catch. Industrial developments not only put a strain on biodiversity and ecosystems, but on the people's lives, as water becomes murky and disease spreads.

You can read more on the law here:

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

One at a time - Isle of Man's first marine nature reserve

More great news today - Ramsey Bay in the Isle of Man has been announced as the island's first Marine Nature Reserve after a three year consultation with the community and support from organisation Friends of the Earth.
The designation means that the bay will be protected from a number of activities that damage ocean ecosystems including aggregate extraction, gillnetting and dumping dredging materials. Fisheries will also be safeguarded (angling activities / events will be strictly 'catch and release') and it will be a centre for marine research. Any applications for development in the area will have to be approved by DEFA and are subject to an EIA.
The brilliant news means that Ramsey Bay can begin to restore damaged ecosystems and boost the numbers of many marine populations, such as eelgrass and pink maerl beds. Previous underwater studies had revealed the bay as a highly complex and diverse biotope. In August, scientists from the Fisheries Directorate of DEFA carried out surveys using seabed mapping equipment and cameras on underwater sledges to help produce detailed diagrams of the species and habitats there.
Now, the area will be subject to regular dives to monitor populations and the seabed.
Let's hope this is one MNR announcement of many to come...

Monday, 10 October 2011

A Great Discovery

A new species of sea sponge (yet to be named) has been discovered off the coast of Norfolk - by amateur divers no less!
The divers were carrying out a survey on the world's longest underwater chalk reef (20 miles long) when the discovery was made. The Seaweed East survey explored eleven locations from Essex to Northumberland between 1st and 10th August 2011. Not one, but hundreds of bright purple sponges were present and the surveyers understandably presumed that they were a similar Mediterranean species and had migrated to Britain. But after being inspected in detail, the sponge was identified as a distinct species by Dr Claire Goodwin from National Museums Northern Ireland.
Many details about the new organism have yet to be found out, but we do know that it feeds on water particles and lives half a mile from the shore of Sheringham. It is also thought that the unusual colouring may be due to the increasingly polluted marine environment.
Kudos also goes to the divers, who in the course of their six month survey identified 250 different marine species. It is now hoped that at least a portion of the reef will become a Marine Protected Area or a protected reserve under European law (this has been opposed by local fishermen however).
It makes me even more eager to start those diving lessons!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Update : Marine Protection Zones

The creation of marine protection zones around our coast is something I feel very passionate about. Last year, I was lucky enough to work with some hardworking people at Marine Conservation Society on their project Your Seas Your Voice. The project was to encourage people to vote for Marine Protected Areas, and nominate places along the English coast that they thought were ecologically important enough to warrant protection. This all came from the 2009 Marine Bill, which pledged to make plans to protect our waters.

Now, protection for the most important sites is a step closer. Proposals have been revealed to create over 100 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), which are vital for our sea's ecosystems. Many marine flora and fauna are threatened each year due to overfishing, dredging and other activities, but if the proposals are approved, more than 25% of English waters will have protection from some or all of these activities.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: "Today has seen our ambition to put in place special protection areas for marine life off the coast of England take a significant step forward. The thousands of species of sealife and habitats that live hidden under our waters need just as much protection as those that we can see on land."

Currently, less than 1% of our seas are protected.

So what next?

The MCZs will be scrutinised by a panel of experts from conservation, science and the government. Then, the government will make a final decision on the zones in 2012. The same will also in Scotland a little later, as their Marine Bill was passed only last year.

As an end goal, we should have a network of protected areas all along the coast which are ecologically coherent. Natural habitats and threatened species should be safeguarded, but the government also want to make sure recreational activities and commercial fishing are still viable.

"We will scrutinise the recommendations carefully," pledged Peter Ryder (chairman of Marine Protected Area Science Advisory Panel) "And in October will provide our scientific assessment on the extent to which the resulting composite network of MCZs and existing Marine Protected Areas is likely to achieve the goal of ecological coherence."

I personally can't wait to hear more. Already we have seen the creation of these areas threatened by the lobbying and opposition of surfing groups, fishermen and mining companies. Hopefully, the discussions can meet with an amicable conclusion.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

California and Shark Fin Soup

Today I write as yesterday the bill (AB376) to ban the sale, trade or possession of shark fins in California was approved by lawmakers.
Now it is down to the governor to fully decide whether this change in legislation will go ahead.

This will include the ban of shark's fin soup, a Chinese (and controversial) dish that many conservationists blame for the decline in shark numbers. In some Asian cultures, the soup is considered a delicacy, so as you can imagine there was uproar by some individuals over plan to ban its sale and at points it appeared that the approval may not go ahead.
State Senator Leland Yee described the bill as 'a racist measure', speaking:
"I think what is most insidious about this particular bill is that it sends a very bad message, not only to us in California but to the rest of the world, that discrimination against Chinese Americans is OK".
Others said that it was discriminatory as only shark fin sales would be banned, with nothing to stop somebody from taking the rest of the shark.

But researchers have refuted this, saying that fishermen often cut the fins off live sharks and dump the bodies into the ocean to die because there is little demand for shark meat. Senator Joe Simitian said "It is the fin that is the problem, and therefore it is the fin the bill addresses".
Luckily, despite the negative claims, it was eventually agreed upon with a 25-9 vote and sent to the governor.

As most of us know, sharks are a large ocean predator and therefore play a highly important role in ecosystems. With any luck, California introducing this legislation will prompt other states and even countries to follow suit.