Sea Life, Our Life Marine Conference
held in Ullapool October 2018
Ullapool Seasavers and Noel Hawkins, Scottish Wildlife Trust kicked off the conference with a look at the complexities of marine interactions
More than a hundred people gathered in Ullapool on 15th October 2018 for the Sea Life, Our Life’ marine conference sponsored by Crown Estate Scotland and Ullapool Harbour Trust and organised by Highland Environment Forum.
The audience included people from community groups, aquaculture, fisheries, wildlife groups and government agencies, all gathered to hear expert speakers on subjects as diverse as marine litter, plastics in seabirds, marine planning and oyster production.
The audience was fascinated to learn about the research into basking shark behaviour that is being undertaken by the University of Exeter and Scottish Natural Heritage, which is beginning to reveal new insights into their movements and behaviour, including previously unseen underwater group interactions.
Kelp beds are important feeding grounds for basking sharks, and essential ‘breakwaters’ that protect vulnerable low lying west coast islands, but hand harvested sensitively kelp can also be one of the seaweeds that produce a high value product. Ailsa Mclellan of Okran Oysters, inspired delegates about her plans for this as part of her sea farming business in which seaweeds would be reared alongside the oysters for which they already have a successful business selling to a high value local market.
The value of local knowledge was touched on throughout the day, from the groups that run community-based marine surveys and litter picks to research commissioned by the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Association to find ways of reducing marine mammal entanglements in their creels.
The value of local passion for their marine environment was exemplified by the children who set up Ullapool Sea Savers and who presented at the conference alongside Noel Hawkins of Scottish Wildlife Trust, Living Seas. The children drew the audience’s attention to the many competing uses of the sea, and the challenges that must be met to ensure that the sea is able to continue to support internationally important habitats such as flameshell beds and maerl beds.
Topher Dawson, a Trustee of Ullapool Harbour Trust told delegates of their own work alongside fishermen to reduce plastics in the sea. So far 30 tonnes of fishing nets and gear and 1500 damaged fishboxes have been collected and sent for recycling. Litter is now also separated on the ferry, so that the amount of non-recylable waste leaving the ship is reduced.
Jenny Grant, Highlife Highland Ranger has been working on the theme marine plastics with the primary schools at Gairloch, Poolewe and Shieldaig. The project was called Food in My Belly and the children learnt about what seabirds and mammals eat, both good and bad. As a result they created a wonderful display of art-covered cotton bags and posters for the conference.
The importance of bringing people together to work to ensure that our seas and coast can remain in good heart alongside providing benefits to local business and communities was something that was highlighted throughout the conference, and will continue to be a theme of the many conservation groups and agencies who are part of the Highland Environment Forum.
Scottish Government Marine Litter Policy : Morag Campbell, Marine Scotland
Morag provided details of the marine component of the National Litter Strategy : 'To develop current and future measures to ensure that the amount of litterentering the marine and coastal environment is minimised to bring
ecological, economic and social benefits.' which is being undertaken through five themes
- Consumer and Industry behaviour change
- Reducing sources of litter
- Contributing to the circular, low-carbon economy
- Improving monitoring to enable evaluation
- Strengthening co-ordination in the UK, EU and globally
Developing a Regional Marine Plan for the Clyde : Sinead Sheridan, Clyde Marine Planning Partnership
Sinead described how the Clyde Coastal Forum had evolved into the marine planning partnership with over 20 members including representatives from: planning authorities, industry/business, environmental bodies, NGOs
and recreational organisations. She noted that this broad representation is highly beneficial, as members encompass a wide range of perspectives, which encourages stakeholders to consider other perspectives, listen to each other and build respect. Ultimately this leads to better outcomes
Community involvement in marine surveys : Owen McGrath and Caitlin Orr, Scottish Natural Heritage
Owen and Caitlin introduced Caitlin's graduate place ment work to work with communities and existing and interested groups to co-produce a resource that enables them to undertake marine biodiversity monitoring and survey.
The surveys will look at ecosystem health and habitat and species, with the aim that these will help in acheiving good stewardship and may influence policy and the potential for community ownership.
Seabirds and Marine Plastics : Elizabeth Masden, UHI Environmental Research Institute
Eliabeth introduced the UHI Environmental Research Institute's (ERI) desktop research into seabirds and plastics. It is estimated that 56% of seabird species worldwide are affected by plastic, through injestion, incorporating material into nests and entanglement. The research looked at the NE Atlantic and focussed on nest incorporation
and ingestion and found that of the 69 species 36% have been studied, and that 74% of these had evidence of plastic injestion. A field study was also undertaken by Nina O'Hanlon of plastics in the nest materials of gannets. Amounts varied considerably - from 2% to 100% of nests. In northern Scotland nearly all the nests with plastic contained threadlike material - which is most likely to be derived from fishing.
Creel fishing: Working together to reduce entanglements : Ellie MacLennan, British Divers Marine Life Rescue
Ellie outlined her work with creel fishermen to find ways to reduce entanglement - work which was commissioned by the Scottish Creel Fishermen's Association. The aim of the work is to:
- Capture fishermen’s knowledge and experiences
- Encourage better reporting
- Provide opportunities for fishermen to become involved in entanglement research and disentanglement efforts, and a platform for exchanging ideas and advice
- Have better understanding the socio-economic impact of entanglements
- Assess the risk and impact of entanglements to marine animals at an individual and population level
Ullapool Harbour Trust : Our place in the marine environment : Topher Dawson, Ullapool Harbour Trust
Topher described the many areas of work undertaken at Ullapool Harbour, including being the 6th most important port in Scotland, by value, for fish and shellfish - of a value of £21M per annum.
The harbour is involved in a number of environmentally-minded activities including the use of solar panels, air source heating, and an electric vehicle charge point. They are also working alongside fishermen to recycle over 30 tonnes of net and gear and 1500 broken fishboxes to date, and waste sorting on the ferry.
Oysters and seaweeds: Sustainable sea production : Ailsa McLellan, Ockran Oysters
Ailsa has a vision of having a 'multi trophic' or '3D' sea farming business in which seaweeds would be reared alongside the oysters for which they already have a successful business selling to a high value local market.
New insights into basking sharks : Suzanne Henderson, Scottish Natural Heritage
Suzanne drew attention to the basking shark research that is being undertaken in association with the proposal to had a Sea of Hebrides Marine Protection Area.
‘Working with the primary school children brings home just how interested they are in the wildlife that surrounds them, and how concerned they are about its future. We adults have a great responsibility to look after it for them.”
“Working alongside these dedicated children is an inspiration to me, a constant reminder to me that each generation is only a steward of the land and sea and that we have a responsibility to make sure that we look after it for the next one. The issues are often complex, and are not always easy to resolve.”