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.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Friendly Foods

I always try to buy food with the environment in mind. Our household is full of organic milk and cheese, tofu and lentil-based vegetarian foods - although my meat-eating husband tolerates this quite begrudgingly! I always wonder if everybody ate like I do, would it actually make for a more sustainable society? Or would it just shift the ecological pressure over to grains and crop agriculture?
An article on The Ecologist website has stuck with me over the weekend and so I wanted to share it. It focuses on greenhouse gas emissions (from the fertilisers used to produce the food down to the production of the final product) and the biggest culprits. Unsurprisngly on the list were animal products such as beef and lamb, due to their high production of methane whilst being raised, fed, sometimes bred and finally slaughtered. I was astonished, however, that lamb produced 50% more emissions than beef, as the general public view is that it is beef and pork that are high methane producers, and as the animals are also larger in size, I always presumed more waste would be produced and more energy put into their upkeeping, resulting in higher emissions. But, turning the tables, lamb produces less meat in relation to live weight. Cheese was another eco-devil (the process to make it is lengthy and utilises a lot of milk), along with salmon.
'Green' foods were found to be lentils, rice and tomatoes, but I was rather disappointed with the lack of recommendations on how to change our eating habits based on the research. Research should not only be done to criticise, but to recommend and bring rise to positive change.
The full story can be found here:

Monday, 25 July 2011

Google + (and a little food for thought)

I was invited to Google + today. It seems to be great for networking and I would be very interesting in meeting like-minded people, considering it is so hard to find anyone with similar interests to me in Stoke.

You can find me by simply typing Katy Malkin in google, or google +.
You will also find links to my Facebook and Twitter there.

I shall probably update again after this Saturday, when I have been to a skill sharing meeting with Friends of the Earth in Birmingham. I am piloting their Gamechagers programme and have only been to the first meeting and regional gathering so far, but it proved to be extremely interesting. At the moment they are gearing up for a big energy campaign, and it got me thinking. Are we trying to treat the syptoms or causes of climate change? There is so much talk at the moment about geoengineering but what about treating the problem of overpopulation? There are barely even talks on how to combat this, let alone actions.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Survival of Seagrass

I saw interesting article from The Ecologist today that I wanted to share. It was actually the beginning of this piece that shocked me most: "Every hour, an area of seagrass meadows the size of two football pitches is lost." Wow. The rate of biodiversity loss never fails to amaze me (although I do sometimes wonder how they work out these statistics having done studies myself).
The other point being made here was the lack of attention seagrass receives. We have keystone species and habitats such as the amazon which are heavily focused on when raising money and awareness about environmental issues, but I'm sure the average person on the street couldn't tell you what seagrass was, let alone give details on its status. And yet approximately 1 BILLION people live within 50km of a seagrass meadow.
Seagrass may not be charasmatic or glamorous like other marine environments such as coral reefs, but it is still an important habitat in its own right for many species of fish, turtles and many others.
Personally, I believe another issue here is that people don't really see the ocean as threatened, or in need of environmental protection. They think that because we don't primarily exist in water we can't possibly be doing it much harm. They are much more inclined to take responsibility for woodland loss, or air pollution.
However, we should remember the importance the ocean has in transportation, ecotourism and its aesthetic value. It is shrouded in biodiversity and unlike land, it has masses of unexplored territory. Species are being lost that we are not even aware exist.
Should we accept defeat and explore these parts before they are lost forever? Or fight for their survival?

Monday, 6 June 2011

A Small Summary

I apologise for the lack of attention to my blog recently. Due to finishing university, weddings and other things in life, time got away from me. I have however, been keeping up with the news...

There have been the obvious big news stories - legislation changes and disease outbreaks, but I have also noticed a focus on the effects of climate change and other human activities more recently.

One study from the University of Miama has demonstrated how ocean acidification and the increasing ocean temperatures will reduce ecosystem biodiversity, especially in coral reefs - and not in hundreds of years, SOON. Another described how arctic ice is becoming so thin certain animals will not be able to reside on it for much longer, causing mass extinction.
There was also an interesting piece on possible POSITIVE effects of climate change - see here:

Most of the news stories I have read are extremely negative and accepting. Shouldn't these types of articles aim to create physical change and give people such insight they perhaps change their daily routines to be more eco-friendly? I think there have been enough studies now to show that global warming and the like, is in fact happening, and instead of speculation about it or plain ignorance, people may need to be forced to be more environmentally friendly. Nevermind, O2 emission targets by the government, laws need to be adapted. There needs to be harsher punishments for people who can't do the simplest of tasks, such as recycle. Huge taxes for people who drive 4 x 4s when it isn't required. Even the work place should be made to encourage carpooling or walking to work. It sounds harsh but nobody is willing to change voluntarily.

Otherwise, we will still be drowning in speculation and vague targets when the world comes crashing down.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Every Little Helps

I woke up to a nice email today - Tristram Hunt (Labour MP for Stoke on Trent) has signed EDM 1601. This is obviously not down to myself, but I did feel a little triumphant, being one of (hopefully) many lobbying MPs to support this.
For those not in the know, in May, the Natural Environment White Paper will be finalised and
released, and I, among others, am sceptical about if this will actually be enforced or not. NEWP outlines how the government intends to protect wildlife and prevent biodiversity loss. It is ambitious, and can assist in meeting targets for renewable energy, sustainable farming, planning and nature investment. To succeed, the paper requires MP support. The related Early Day Motion (1601) aims to send a message to ministers - to NOT water the paper down. Currently, the EDM is tabled by Martin Horwood MP and
sponsored by MPs from the main political parties.

As I'm sure many agree, it is time for the government to make a clear commitment to haltbiodiversity loss, restore our natural environment and encourage people's connection with nature - 29% of priority species are already lost, to throw in basic statistics. We also need to start committing to the EU to begin restoration
by 2020. This white paper can only be effective if the objec tives set out in it are not weakened by other departments when it is sent for approval by DEFRA. Hence, the need for MP support.

As an unrelated afterthought,  after reading all the hype about the London marathon this year, I was considering applying to run next year. I wouldn't exactly call myself unfit, but I have never ran that distance before. Then there is the big decision to make: which charity would I run for? For me, it would be a toss up between Marine Conservation Society and Friends of the Earth, although Greenpeace may come into it...

Sunday, 6 March 2011

19 year old rubber ducks

I saw a story yesterday about a shipping container that was lost at sea in 1992, carrying 28,000 toy rubber ducks. The ducks are still being washed ashore now, identified by unique batch numbers.
The main point of the article was that this accident has taught us great amounts about ocean currents, as well as demonstrate the seriousness of plastic pollution. The toys have been found in Hawaii, Alaska, South America, and Australia to name but a few, and thousands circulate in an ocean vortex known as the North Pacific Gyre (along with other rubbish). Before the incident, scientists didn't know how long it took to complete a circuit of the Gyre.
But I wasn't sure if everyone was missing the point here. Yes, we need to use alot less plastic, and it is great we can learn something from the accident, but another crucial point? These things wouldn't happen if we made our goods in our own country (obviously there are exceptions) with our own resources. Not only would it help local businesses and our own economy, but think of the cost of shipping, staff, fuel...? The list goes on.
I forget, the world's being run by a bunch of, ahem, quacks.

Friday, 4 March 2011

New design for offshore wind farms

Despite some organisations opposition to them, it is obvious that wind farms are the future for energy production. The UK has renewable energy targets to meet, and now new designs are being drawn up for 'supersize' wind farms that maximise on energy production.
Thanet wind farm was opened last year as the world's biggest offshore wind farm, but even at 300 megawatts it is nowhere near enough for our country. It is hoped that Thanet alone can generate 1/3 of UK electricity by 2020, but this is a big ask.
Now there is a rush to draw up plans for even bigger offshore wind farms - not only designs, but fixing problems that current offshore wind farms have. Due to the strong wind and wave power at sea, the turbines break down often and are difficult to fix. At what point do they become cost-effective?
Watch this space...

Monday, 28 February 2011

Infectious Fish

Now, we have all heard of the strange craze around spas where you pay silly amounts of money to have your feet nibbled by tiny fish to get rid of dead skin.
These fish pedicures are carried out by Garra rufa fish, toothless carp that can feed from dead skin.

However, the BBC have now reported that it may be a health issue, where not only infections can be passed on through open wounds when the same water / tank is used, using the same fish can also aid the spread of disease.

From an environmental point of view, what will this lead to? These fish being disposed of after every use? 'Fish Doctor' farms where Garra rufas are constantly bred?

More importantly, is it really moral to use fish to satisfy our beauty needs?

Maybe something good could come out of investigating this health concern, and this fad can be wiped out and seen as a strange point in history.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

World Environment Day

Just a quick note to plug WED really.
This year it is being hosted by India, and for those that don't know, it is a chance to encourage people to consider the environment more, re-evaluate the way we live .etc.
People can pledge to plant a tree, raise money for appropriate charities, walk or cycle to work and organise clean-ups.
They are also giving out info and materials for anyone who wants to promote it or get sponsors.
Here's the link:

Friday, 25 February 2011

Forest U-Turn

Last week, the forest sell-off outrage made me wonder if it was all just a moral panic or actually potentially a good idea.
Now apparantely, David Cameron never liked the idea anyway (why was it going to happen then?) and the public didn't like it because they imagined all these big companies like Tesco buying the land, cutting down all the trees and selling the timber, and finally building environmentally unfriendly business in their place. But was it really necessary to completely scrap the idea?
The original plan was to "give the private sector, community and charitable groups greater involvement  in woodlands by encouraging a 'mixed model' of ownership."
Firstly, there weren't really many businesses interested in the land. For one, the space of a forest is far greater than the biggest Tesco Extra you could find so there would be hectares of spare land. Secondly, timber is just not a profitable trade in this country anymore. That's why we improt most of it from other countries - because it's far cheaper to, and their prices surpass anything our country could feasibily. The wood produced and sold in this country is predominantly a byproduct of coppicing. Instead of scrapping the idea, why not put safeguards in place to ensure it was only sold to environmental charities and the like? It was mainly organisations such as the National Trust who were interested in the land anyway, and they would be conserving it, not destroying it. With regard to this, the public are just as bad as the government. They are happy to slate everything the government does or proposes, but not many people have any alternative ideas. And how many people actually thought it through before they signed the petition? It's just another case of - 'oh my god, the government's ruining everything, we must stop this.' We don't trust the government, but we would rather them be in charge of our forests than NGOs which have proven forestry experience? This has resulted in a workable proposal being completely disregarded - why does it always have to be YES or NO? It could have been altered to allow the forests improved management. Now I'm not a Lib Dem or Conservative supporter by a long shot, but I wish people would stop and think - instead of jumping into the deep end of attack.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Congratulations to Sea Shepherd!

I couldn’t be writing my second blog post with better news: Japan’s government has decided to suspend their annual Antarctic whale hunt, possibly for the rest of the season. This is mainly due to pressure from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who have thoroughly earned this victory. From following them avidly on Facebook and their website ( ) it is obvious how hard they have worked – from physically tracking down the whaling fleet to ‘sailing’ their campaign straight into Time Square.
According to reports, whalers have cited “harassment” as to why they have suspended the hunt, and have said it is only temporary until safety measures are put in place. But how exactly can you stop an environmental group blocking your loading ramps or simply ‘being’ in the same waters as you? Rumours are that they may try to take out an injunction against the Sea Shepherds, but a Japanese Fisheries Agency official has said they are “studying the situation, including the possibility of cutting the mission early”. If so, around 900 whales are saved for another year – fantastic.

Moving on to smaller issues, I am to give a brief talk tomorrow on the reintroduction of the Eurasion Beaver. This got me thinking – who decides which species are allowed to effectly ‘return from the dead’? The Eurasian Beaver has been extinct in our country for centuries as it was hunted for meat, pelt and a secretion called castoreum that was believed to have medicinal properties. Now, the reasons for reintroducing the beaver in Scotland are that it is a keystone species in forest and riverbank biotopes as it has unique coppicing, foraging and damming behaviour. Not that I don’t support beaver reintroduction, but surely any organisms brings benefits to an environment? Why are certain species favoured over others?
Most reintroduced species are birds and mammals, even though invertebrates are vital and connected to most species’ survival. Reasoning for introduction always seems to be random – the species could look pretty (flagship species) or mean something to people’s culture. Surely enough campaigning can get any species introduced?
“So what about the depressed river mussel?”, one of my lecturers always says.
I believe a better system needs to be brought about to decide which species are prioritised. There has been little research on the benefits of insects or amphibians as keystone species, and they are also some of the most ignored groups when it comes to conservation and reintroduction. Maybe the less informed public needs to take a step back when we make these decisions - after all, how much money has been wasted on the unsuccessful breeding of Giant Pandas?

Finally, a news story that almost beggars belief…
After a 2 year investigation, The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution have decided that:
1. One person living in a house on their own is less energy efficient than many people sharing a property.
2. The government needs to deal with energy problems
… and a lot of other wishy-washy statements with no constructive comments on how we can deal with these problems, just basically DO IT.
No wonder they're the latest victim of spending cuts.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

The Beginning

I guess I started a blog for two reasons:
1 - So I could share news / things I found interesting with any like-minded people.
2 - For selfish reasons. Writing has always been therapeutic for me and considering I haven't told anybody about this blog yet, I suppose it's a diary of sorts.

I've always found blogs are mainly for tortured artists and fashion types, so maybe it's a breath of fresh air for someone to post about 'the environment' (broadly speaking). I am still envious of 'real, qualified biologists' that don't have the time for things like this; I'm eager to finish my degree, get a relevant job and be one of them. Easier said than done!

To end this short first post Oscar-style, I'd simply like to say a big thank you to my husband, Ben, who probably without realising it, encouraged me to begin writing a blog. Appararently I raise some good points when I rant about the state of the planet. Well, we'll see.