Thursday, 26 April 2012


Am I the only one that gets a bit of brain squeeze looking up seaweed life-cycles? As I am sure you do look up seaweed life cycles...or just generally any reproductive cycle of any creatures, plant or animal? Well I do... we are all different and that's what makes up special, right? Anyway, even if you don't look up life-cycles, you may well have come across these terms and had to stop to translate.

I do not say (and do not intend to say) monoclinous in every day conversation. As a result, I do not remember what it means. I have had a child and as a result of that lovely experience, I have lost half of my grey matter. My daughter is my memory bank and walking, talking lovely personal organiser. She tells me what I went upstairs for and why we're in town. I cannot be expected to remember what monoclinous means when there are days when I have clearly forgotten my own name.

I plan to work at providing some simplified terms for you but in the meantime - make your own suggestions and comments. The more absurd they are the more welcome they are to grace the comments box.

Here are some of the terms that I would like to see less of:


















I could go on but I won't, I have a book to write and laborious text on life-cycles to translate.

Please do comment...

Ha!  I just did a spell check and guess what? None of the words are recognised - what a surprise!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Foul bottoms and mackerel.

Recently, I was asked if I, as an ecologist, ate fish. This hasn't been the first time that I have been asked. There have certainly been times when I have questioned whether I should eat any seafood or not from a sustainability perspective. These dilemmas become even more important as you have children and you start questioning your own practise, wanting to deliver the right messages. During the winter months we rarely eat fish or seafood. We might occasionally have some leftover frozen pollack that we make into fish (slightly broken & crooked looking) fingers.  Mostly, we eat sustainable seafood that we catch and as the seasons allow.  Now in early April I can almost smell the plankton bloom in the air, which means only one thing - mackerel!

As the air temperatures warm, living on the south Devon coast our coastal community starts prepping boats for the fishing season. This might include scrubbing fouled bottoms. This is an exceptionally more interesting job than it sounds and involves mechanically removing, with elbow grease or a power hose, any creatures that have started growing on our (boat) bottoms over the cold months. It usually consists of an assemblage of algae, barnacles and odd strands of purple laver. I always hope that one year I might find something really unusual! However, a foul bottom is never a good thing. This spring there was a boat which has stayed in the water for 3 or 4 years without much attention. When this boat was taken out of the water there were enough mussels attached to her hull to feed a large wedding banquet. She would have hardly made it out of the estuary with her heavy bottom.

Now that our little community has put the time and effort into getting geared up for spring we wait to hear news of the first mackerel. I am already imagining the meaty, oily red meat of the first mackerel of the season. As they are such fast swimmers they have a lot of red meat which is packed with blood vessels. This means they can move  through the water at great speeds both towards prey and away from predators. It also makes them an incredibly oily, nutritious and delicious fish.

The first fish of the season is something to look forward to. The excitement of feeling the mackerel tugging on the fishing line, the sight of the incredible rainbow coloured skin as they surface. Followed by the taste of that same crisp skin, some of which has got stuck to the grill which hazardously lies perched on rocks over the driftwood fire. The fish tastes so much sweeter for eating with oily, sticky fingers that glint with the small scales which are stuck to your fingertips from the gutting process.

We don't have to travel to get our fish, we catch only what we need, we don't catch other fish in the process and we savour every morsel of flesh. We appreciate what we have, knowing that our lives are so enriched through the entire process of fishing. We are also very lucky to be able to live on the coast and go fishing so we make sure we make the most of this opportunity. We teach our daughter about plankton and mackerel migration. She understands why the belly of the mackerel is lighter than the top side. She knows how to gut a fish, where the gills are and she likes dissecting fish eyeballs. She is 6. She knows that if we do not do all we can to look after our coast, we will not be able to to eat food straight from nature's larder..when tide, time and weather allows!

Having the chance to catch fish, inspires me and drives me to protect our seas and oceans. I would still feel the same way if I didn't eat seafood but I remain further indebted to the sea as a result. I feel strongly that my daughter's young experience will make her recognise the value of our coast and seas almost effortlessly. This lesson is not something you can teach but something which I think experience helps to understand and that is why... "Yes, I eat (sustainable) fish as a marine ecologist."