This weekend Blue Planet II came to the end of its run, and I’m quite put out that my weekends will no longer end with a dip below the waves to gasp at what an astonishing world we live in. Underwater lakes, sleeping whales, stripy pyjama sharks, very clever octopuses and the brave tern chicks heading out to run the gauntlet of predatory trivalis were some of the highlights for me, but I genuinely thought the whole thing was astoundingly good.
The thing I appreciated most of all, however, was that Blue Planet II didn’t skirt around the fact that the habitats it showed are in danger of being lost forever. Its conservation message was clearer and more urgent than any bluechip that had preceded it, with climate change, bottom trawling, plastic, ocean acidification, ship strikes, deep sea mining and coastal development all getting a mention. Last night’s episode was purely devoted to ocean conservation, to which I tip my hat to the BBC in gratitude. My niggle is this – although Blue Planet II was a call to action, it was pretty vague about what, exactly, that action could be. Sometimes it seems that the oceans are facing an inevitable death by a thousand cuts, and that the power to change things is out of our hands. But that’s just not true, and, though we may not have the power of a Defra minister or an influential lobby, the individual actions of all of us really can make a difference.
So if you were left angry or upset at the end Blue Planet II, but were at a loss of how you can physically help, here’s a wee starter guide to saving our blue planet (II).
(1) Reduce your personal use of plastic. Start addressing the easy stuff, like microbeads, water bottles, coffee cups, excessively wrapped fruit and veg- this post has a few tips on how to easily make a start. If you’re already doing those things and searching for more advanced ways to reduce your plastic footprint, blogs like Litterless are full of tips and ideas. Give feedback to supermarkets- don’t let a survey or comment box pass you by without grabbing the opportunity to highlight that an awful lot of the packaging they use is wasteful and unnecessary.
(2) Help to remove the pollution that’s already there. 2 minute beach clean is a simple but brilliant idea, where you take two minutes out of your next visit to a beach to pick up a few bits of litter. You can obviously do this anywhere, but a lot of beaches now have their very own 2 minute beach clean boards with a litter picker and carrier bag (there’s a map of all of them here). They’ve also just launched an app so they can start collecting data both about the amount of litter that’s out there as well as the collective impact of small actions. If you’re more of a collecting-litter-as-part-of-a-group person, the Marine Conservation Society has a big network of volunteers that organise beach cleans – this link will take you to a list of all the ones coming up in the future. Every September there’s also an enormous Great British Beach clean, where data from over 339 beaches feeds into long-term monitoring. Or maybe your bit can be as simple as picking up that stray bit of fishing line the next time you’re by the coast. Every time you do, you rid the ocean of a piece of plastic that can be fed to a seabird chick, eaten by a turtle, or entangle a marine mammal. That’s got to be worth the tiny bit of hassle.
(3) Lend your voice to an NGO by joining one– they’ll do all the campaigning you wish you could do but don’t have the time to. Societies like Surfers Against Sewage and the Marine Conservation Society will respond to parliamentary inquiries and provide expert evidence, and will lobby for changes in the law that will help solve these problems. Yes, the world of lobbying is dark and full of terrors- and sometimes it can feel like nothing we say is getting heard. But one of the key things to remember is that the more people an NGO speaks for, the more impact they’re likely to have. Want them to speak for you? Join them! MCS is the obvious one, but the RSPB also do excellent marine work, as do the Wildlife Trusts.
(4) Sign the petitions. For a deposit return scheme, for a ban on balloon releases, for a 5p tax on straws, for fishery reform, for a coherent network of marine protected areas. Will a single petition change the governments mind on any of these issues? No. Does it keep up the pressure, keep the issue in the news, and eventually build up to a tipping point where governments/companies feel like they have to take action? You bet it does.
(5) Do your bit to tackle climate change. Thing is, we all know the drill here. Bike to work. Eat less meat. Take the train instead of that short flight. Insulate your home. Switch to an energy supplier that only uses renewable energy sources (for some reason not many people seem to be aware that these exist- they are friggin’ awesome, and something to look at if you’re personally looking for ways to divest from the fossil fuel industry- Ecotricity and Good Energy are UK suppliers). Do you have to do all of these things, all of the time? No, but just imagine the smugness factor if you do.
(6) Help get scientists the data we need to conserve species. There are tonnes of awesome citizen science projects that are easy to get involved with and provide really important data that can genuinely shape policy or get governments to act. To pick a few:
The Great Egg Case Hunt – run by the Shark Trust, the great egg case hunt is a project that has helped scientists map the distribution of the UK’s shark and ray species. We have over 10 species native to UK waters (including the humongous, critically endangered flapper skate), and the egg cases of a few species (which you may have heard of referred to as mermaid’s purses) are regularly washed up onto the strandline. All you have to do to take part is take photos, ID them using the guide, then submit your records via the website.
Seagrass Spotter – run by Project Seagrass, this is an app that can be used, globally, to upload seagrass sightings. We actually have a good number of meadows here in the UK (they’re even home to seahorses!) but they remain a little known and under-reported habitat. This app seeks to change that.
2 Minute Beach Clean – as previously mentioned, 2 minute beach clean just launched an app to help monitor beach litter, and litter picked at the MCS’s Great British Beach Clean goes into an extremely useful, long term dataset that has tracked peaks and troughs in marine litter over the whole of the UK coastline.
Seabirdwatch – a ‘desk based’ one for rainy days, or maybe whiling away ad breaks? The aim of seabird watch is to turn thousands of camera trap images from seabird colonies around the North Atlantic into useful data about kittiwake and guillemot breeding behaviour and survival. You just click on all the adults and chicks you can see in each image- very simple, and highly satisfying.
Penguinwatch – I feel like I don’t need to sell this one- it’s the penguin version of the seabird one above. Penguins are awesome- go help them.
I promise I’ll get off my pontificating stool in a second- but lastly, I wanted to say this- it’s the choices that are made by all of us that got us into this mess- and it’s the choices made by all of us that will get us out. For Percy, for the grouper and the octopus, for the clown fish on the carpet anemone, even for that terrifying bobbit worm- we must do better. I, for one, am going to try.
N.B. These photos are from RSPB Bempton Cliffs, taken a couple of summers ago. If you want to see place that will inspire you to keep doing the things in the list above, you can’t do much better- it’s one of the best wildlife spectacles in the UK.