As I grew up by the coast - the mystery and magic of the sea overwhelmed me and led me to a career in marine biology.
Living in South Devon my life revolves around the tides and seasons. Whether it be diving, kayaking or rowing - catching fish, spider crabs, working on Learn To Sea or playing on the beach with my daughter.
This blog shares with you my knowledge, thoughts and experiences of the sea. For more info go to: www.mayaplass.com
On a lighter note - when I went for my run along the coastal path I was very excited to see the Sea Thrift in flower. Obviously being a coastal monkey this has to be my favourite flower - it sets the cliffs alive with colour and texture! It reminds me of the connection of land and sea - living on the edge of both. Surely, the best place to be!
Ok I have to get something off my chest because at the moment it sits like a lead weight in my belly. This is my confused thoughts exorcised...
In 2008 I set up Learn To Sea. Learn To Sea was born out of my desire to encourage marine education and because I felt frustrated working on environmental projects within county council. I was unsure of what contribution they had on our environment and what contribution my daily 2 hour drive to Exeter and back made to climatic change. There was something, probably quite alot, that didn't sit right with me as I alluded to in an earlier blog.
When I set up Learn To Sea my biggest area of confusion was not on content, direction or aim or even the dreaded policies, guidelines and insurance jargon - that was fairly evident that I just had to work through it. I knew I wanted to educate about our seas and had an approximate formula to do so and the drive. I was willing to adapt and evolve the business into whatever worked the best with greatest result. My confusion was over funding issues. The majority, if not all, marine educators are funded projects - they rely on short term funds for specific projects or long term funds from statutory responsible organisations which were always under review every year and always with the potential to diminish or even disappear every / most year/s. This culmination of potentials would mean that you would have to spend a considerable amount of time or staffing on project funding - whether that be searching for funds, filling out quarterly submissions or other arduous forms. They also meant that you had specific milestones to ahieve certain outcomes of your 3 year projects. But it would also mean a salary. As an individual person making my own way I just didn't have the time and I didn't feel it fitted my situation. I wanted to evolve. So I am a business not a charity and on a rare occasion I am disappointed about the assumptions that brings.
As a business I have to make sure I offer a service that provides and others will support through word of mouth. I am representative of my business and what I put into my business - it will benefit our seas and coast. Even if not now then hopefully in the future. It gives me drive that I am solely responsible for the outcomes and successes of my project. It, quite simply has to work well or I won't be able to carry on working doing what I love best and inspiring others to do the same. So I am happy at the scale and function of my little business.
I am sure many funded projects are highly specific and have wonderful quantifiable results and success stories. But for me this is kind of counter my belief system. I like to think life evolves, my journey from childhood has evolved. As I learn from one mistake I learn from another success, as I meet one person who puts up a barrier I meet another who opens a door. I love the lack of definitive projections for my future. I love the fact that next year my life may take a wildly different turn from the previous as I make conclusions from my 33 years of experience in this life in this modern day world in the UK and which step I take next. I love the term synchronicity and that "life is pregnant with the potential for change"...that excites me and means there are some amazing opportunities around the corner for me, my environment and our world.
So when I set out to realise my dream for Learn To Sea, it was a culmination of time in academia and also my life and professional experience which meant I was, in some ways, ready to go. But the thought of not allowing my baby to grow at it's own pace and with formulated guidelines on what it should achieve by what date seemed foolish to me. I was also juggling being a full time Mum to a then 3 year old. I needed flexibility - Learn To Sea needed flexibility and I was working alone. (...this is the making of a lengthy blog)
So I got some initial funding through the good people of Unltd for capital costs for Social Entrepreneurs to help set up the project, something in my financial situation I could have never done. I then let my little baby start it's journey and it's been so varied - few bumps on the head but generally the progression has been foreward. It doesn't make me rich but it reportedly enriches others and therefore enriches my life. And I have a very patient husband who supports my marine madness. We have a subsitance life with little additional costs. It has resulted in small projects, school trips, a personal life changing trip to Midway and the opportunity to talk about & share what I love most on national TV. I feel like it has been a great success - not in conventional business financial terms but in some of it's outcome.
So, the reason I am divulging all this personal experience is that I am often left confused. Despite saying what I said at times I feel like the fool. A short while ago I applied for some funds - £5 000 to do some project work which, in my opinion, would have achieved alot. I was told that the funds were too small - I should have applied for more. My initial work experience in Argentina was of a country whose marine biology institutes were running off one PC, a lot of passion and dedication and very little money. I wanted to achieve and evolve at a pace which was beneficial for me and my business that didn't require masses of money.
I don't want to ask for excessive costs I want to get stuff done. I apply for small funding streams to achieve small worthy projects and hopefully encourage conservation. I then talk to colleagues in the industry who are getting into 10,000s of pounds worth of funding or even millions to run projects. I congratulate them, I am glad that they are able to help reach deprived areas to talk to people about our watery world or achieve brilliant research. But I am concerned about wastage. Why does each project need a new laptop - where did the last one go to for the previous post that sits in the same desk. How many staff members are being supported through those funds and what proportion of those funds are allocated to actual work - actual outreach.
This has been instigated by an appeal for a new project which I was called up about. The project is HLF money and will potentially/possibly train teachers, provide resource boxes to schools and facilitate outdoors education (and maintain job posts where funding has been lost). But my simple questions are - how can schools afford to take their kit and go on a field trip? How can teachers take time off to go to any training days? It's a battle for schools to keep teachers in schools with funding limitations. They are so limited with time and funding. They are so stretched as to what they have to achieve when all they ever wanted to do was teach children...me too!
So why can't all of these funds be given to schools to give them the opportunity to pay for transport, to get outside and learn from experience, to let nature teach them the ways of life and let their learning evolve into something beautiful? Let them make their choices of their own experiences...
But then I hit this point where I think I am diving into Maya's world - where people remind me - "Yes, in an ideal world. But this is second best.." Why do we have to put up with second best? Why can't we do the "ideal" thing - have unrealistic objectives and work towards them. It is not impossible to expect to live in an ideal world - we just have to work on it. The very first step is to recognise our shortcomings and move forward. But maybe I am naive and life still has alot to teach me...I'll keep you posted on that one!
I don't feel I have personally, fully evolved in my understanding of this situation to know if I am correct or not but this is my view at this point of time. Maybe, I am a fool but a happy one. I would love to hear your opinions on the whole funding issue - is it time and money wasted or is there a new alternative?
Now I have exorcised my mind I am off to exercise my body - coastal path run...
I have just been asked by my University - Plymouth to write about my career and experience from studying marine ecology there. I am so touched that they considered me and am just taking a moment to think about what I have achieved. At times I feel like I am achieving so little when I am banging my head against walls trying to encourage more marine education, eek out small funds for courses, tyring to remember all the vast oceans full of knowledge there is to know about our seas but in my mind if I have inspired one person to follow a career in marine biology or support marine conservation through sustainable living etc then I feel I have achieved what I hoped to. Sorry that sounds really cheesy but it's the truth. This is what I wrote...
"My love of the sea started young - rockpooling and playing on my local beach and with this my fascination of the ecology of our seas grew. I chose to do a course in Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology at Plymouth University because it would help answer many of the unanswered questions I had about our marine environment. I wasn't disappointed! I chose Plymouth because of the quality of the coastline and also the potential of work with many marine institutions in the area. I worked part-time at the National Marine Aquarium during my studies. The best part of the course was the diversity of understanding it gave about our marine environment as a whole. The opportunities for learning on field trips locally and most importantly the inspired knowledge of the lecturers.
I went on from my degree to study for an MSC in Integrated Coastal Zone Management with a work placement in coastal Argentina. Following on from this experience and my new understanding of the marine industry - I then worked in environmental management within the local council which was a really useful and enjoyable start to my career. In 2008 I finally realised my life ambition to set up a marine education facility - Learn to Sea. This has been an amazing experience and incredibly rewarding to offer local people and tourists of all ages an opportunity to share my knowledge and passion for the sea. I really believe that marine education is a fundamental requirement of marine conservation.
My work as director of Learn To Sea has also given me various other incredible opportunities. In 2010 I was asked to be guest presenter for BBC Autumnwatch which was a wonderful opportunity to share my knowledge of the seas with a larger audience. I also was selected to take part in an international marine education leadership course on Midway Atoll, North Western Hawaiian Islands. It was an invaluable experience to draw down for my work within marine education - particularly marine litter. I never expected my career would be so varied and exciting although I obviously hoped for it. Who knows what the future might bring! If you are passionate for the sea and want to follow a career in marine biology I wholeheartedly encourage you!
The course acted as a springboard for my career and a network of contacts for work in the future. It also, through it's diversity, gave me an opportunity to see what aspects of marine ecology I really wanted to follow. My school careers advisor advised me not to follow a career in marine biology for fear of lack of employment, I am glad to say that I have categorically proven him wrong!"
As an old uni friend reminded me don't forget trips to "Jelly Jazz" made you what you are today! And he is absolutely right because my career was established through my learning but my thoughts, understandings and perspectives from an amazing group of inspirational and wise friends and family that have inspired me along the way...what a journey it is and it's not over yet! Feel so flipping lucky!
Marine conservation what does it mean? Today it means balancing ecology, economy and sociology to maintain biodiversity. But it has slightly different origins - and originates from way back in the 14th Century. "Latin servāre meant ‘keep, preserve’ (it was not related toservus ‘slave’, sourceofEnglishserveandservant). Amongthecompounds formed from it were praeservāre ‘guardinadvance’ and, using the intensive prefixcom-, conservāre. This passed into English viaOld French conserver. Amongst its derivatives are conservation (14th c.), conservative (14th c.) (first used in the modern political senseby J Wilson Croker in 1830), and conservatory (16th c.) (whose French original, conservatoire, was reborrowed in the 18th century in the sense ‘musical academy’)."
The bit I like about this is the translation from "GUARD IN ADVANCE" . But is this really the case with conservation - in many ways modern conservation is thwarted with some of the problems associated with modern medicine - treat the problem not prevent the illness. Marine conservation is so valuable, there is no denying that. We are now recognising that we did very little to protect our ecosystem before degradation set in. Now we know that biodiversity loss, habitat loss, extinctions and ecosystem change is making the world a very different world than the one our ancestors new. This is a common problem - what is the "baseline" which forefathers/mothers should we look at for a description of "healthy ecosystem". Prof. Callum Roberts has written a fantastic book about our seas and how they used to be decades and centuries before us - dolphins blocking harbours, tuna baring caught off Scarborough - things have changed - our seas are pretty empty and our species are small! "The Unnatural History of the Sea, Prof. C. Roberts".
Now, just as we hit crisis point - we are ready to do something but we have to act fast. The Marine Management Organisation is responsible for setting up a network of Marine Protected Areas in UK waters. They are the organisation that will be responsible for legislation, planning and marine protection. They are based in Newcastle - they are a brand new organisation that are finding their feet. I hope they look to some of their older established siblings of NOAA in the USA for some great examples. (They include marine education in their remit.)
When I visited Midway Atoll in the North Western Hawaiian Islands, I was absolutely amazed at the quantity and quality of fish there. It has been a fisheries exclusion zone for over a decade now and boy does it show! The "ulua" or giant trevally are really giants! The ecosystem is recovering because it has this conservation in place and the apex predators ensure it's a healthy ecosystem. It is a fantastic example of brilliant marine conservation in action. It is a paradise and a mecca for marine conservation. In some ways it is an easy area to manage - Honolulu is approx.1200 miles away so the potential for fishing boats to reach this area is small. The enforcement is not such a complex issue. So is Midway protected - have we safeguarded it for the future? No.
The problem lies in our global system being under pressure - ocean acidification if the trajectories are true will have major impact on coral reefs. They will die. The slowly acidifying waters will mean that the function of creatures will be impaired some creatures will be unable to grow their calciferous shells because of the high pH. There is global pollution that will impact the flora and fauna and climate change that pushes creatures into new regions. It can only be protected if our global society decides to protect our land, atmosphere and ultimately seas. Whatever we do to the land is felt in the sea. What we do in sea is invisible to land. It is the seas downfall and also it's beauty which makes conservation of the seas so difficult. We cannot see what is going on below the surface - we have to "Learn To Sea" through better understanding and knowledge.
Here in the UK we will witness a really positive move forward in our protection of seas. It is positive... there is no denying that. But are we too late? MCZs will protect important nursery grounds for bass, commercial fisheries and important species and habitats for biodiversity. Will we be able to enforce them, will we be able to protect them from those who have greater economic gain from exploiting them than leaving them alone? In today's time of economic limitations, I honestly doubt that.
BUT if we would only recognise that in our modern society that relies on seas and oceans for transport, protein, recreation, oxygen, oil etc etc we as a society know so little about our seas. If you ask the average man/woman/child on the street where oxygen comes from - trees/plants is the answer. This is a massive failing. They don't realise that half of our atmospheric oxygen comes from phytoplankton. The sea is our lungs, it is our heart and without it we will not survive. We must know and understand the value and importance of healthy seas and oceans. If we don't understand this there will be little support for any protected areas whether it be from government officials, fisherman or the general public.
We all need to be educated about our seas. If not we can carry on putting in protected areas but acidification, marine litter, climate change and overfishing will alter our marine ecosystem to such an extent that our seas will be as uninhabitable as our planet. But the biggest killer of seas - IGNORANCE.
Please support marine education and ask for your school, local council etc etc to do the same. It's time that we learn to sea.