Guest post by Matt Brierley, a wildlife filmmaker writing about his experience of creating Trouble in Paradise, the story of the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project.
I don't know when you last had your life governed by lunar activity. (I’m presupposing there are no werewolves reading this). For me, however, Spring 2013 was largely determined by the moon.
I needed to film a tidal phenomenon. On a very low tide - when a fat full moon hangs in the night sky like a dripping ball of butter – many of the Isles of Scilly join up.
This English archipelago has more than a hint of truly tropical about it. But for the ground and burrow-nesting seabirds there’s trouble in this island paradise. For a group of dedicated conservationists these tides have fed into a complicated decision-making process, a solution so ambitious it’s a global first.
It’s 4.30 a.m. three hours since I stopped filming the moon, I’m under canvas, and every part of my being is craving sleep. High tide is 5.17. By then I need to be taking one image a minute, and do that for six hours. If things go well, I’ll get nine seconds of footage never seen before.
Mind over matter, I’m up Samson Hill as the sun explodes over the horizon, all very Lion King. Perfect light. Brilliant. Then the batteries die.
If you get chance to sit through a whole tidal cycle, give it a whirl. It’s oddly therapeutic, a reflective pause amongst life’s rush. Especially if you had the foresight to bring extra batteries.
Six hours later, I’ve got mind-boggling shots that have spelt jeopardy for seabirds, explaining some of why it’s the island community of St. Agnes and Gugh, surrounded by deep water, that have united against a dark force.
Across the globe, other island communities are watching. Because if they manage this… well, seabirds could be saved on a global scale.
It’s the new moon, as dark as dark can be, and I’m back on the islands. On a cliff top an eerie call plays out of a battered tape deck to tiny sparrow-sized storm petrels, in the hope they’ll flutter into a near invisible net. Ringing by these local birders answers all sorts of important questions. And a release will enable me to film England’s only breeding storm petrels.
Flying only on the darkest nights, to avoid gull attack, seems smart - but recently the ground hasn’t been the safe haven it used to be either. There’s an ominous scuttle in the bushes.
Then, from the skies, the gentlest of thuds, and we’re in business. A bird few people have ever seen blinks into existence on my monitor. Bingo.
There’s so much more of the story to tell. Inspirational people, jaw-dropping scenery, seabirds shown as never before. The biggest coming together of people to save seabirds and restore an island paradise.
Enjoy the film!
Oh, and watch out for six hours compressed to 9 seconds of magic, and spare a thought for the sleep-deprived man that one May morning remembered his batteries. But, alas, forgot his sunhat.
What’s the value of the marine environment?
Putting a value on something that you can’t directly buy is always going to be tricky. What if i asked you to value your favourite view? Would the retail price of a framed picture to hang on your wall be about the right price? Probably not. The personal value is more likely to be much higher and linked to your memories of the place and how you felt when you visited it.
How about the value of something that helps you to earn your living, and without it you’d have no job and means to support yourself? Pretty high I’d guess.
Both those statements can easily be applied to the marine environment. The vista and wildlife that so many people enjoy has a value beyond the financial. But equally, to those who rely on it for a living through tourism and industries like fishing, its value is the means to provide a living.
It makes sense then, that something so important is protected and managed effectively, and the activities that take place in it are sustainable in the long term. If you don’t look after the environment and its rich wildlife, all the added benefits we rely upon for the economy and recreation will be lost.
With this in mind we looked around Wales for an example of where environmental management of the marine environment actually enhanced the local area. Without being biased, we think that RSPB Ramsey Island fits that description pretty well.
Ramsey is an example of how nature conservation can provide not only a rich and unique environment for wildlife, but also a variety of economic and social benefits. The area’s wildlife is a key part of the wildlife tourism offering of the area and a vital attraction for visitors to wildlife tourism. The St David's area. Ramsey and the surrounding marine area is an excellent example of different stakeholders working together to deliver for the marine environment, which in turn supports sustainable business.
But that’s enough of me talking about how great it is – have a look at this video we made.
So how do we achieve these benefits more widely? Well it really isn’t rocket science. We just need a strong steer from Welsh Government, and a desire to manage our seas in a sustainable way – a way that recognises the role of the ecosystem and protects it. The sea is a vibrant living resource, but needs careful management and protection of sensitive areas.
This doesn’t mean we can’t make a living from the sea or enjoy it – it just means we need to get the balance right. It’s something the RSPB , the Welsh fishing industry and other stakeholders are working hard on, all we need now is for Welsh Government to help deliver it too.
The Welsh Government will be consulting on marine issues in the New Year, so watch this space for more information about how we want your help in the coming weeks and months.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your memories and stories of your link to the Welsh coast or see photos of your connections with it, please share your comments and images below.
Gareth Cunningham, Wales Marine Policy Officer.
I have been at the 3rd International Marine Protected Areas Congress in Marseilles where there has been a lot of excitement over the recent developments in very large MPAs around the world. Having the largest MPA in your jurisdiction has become one of the more enlightened international games of one-upmanship.
The UK is exploring following up the 564,000 km2 Chagos MPA with another one of its overseas territories, Pitcairn Island. This would create an MPA that would be 836,000 km2 in size, and probably add a decimal or so for the global total which stands at 2.85 million km2. The opportunity to create large MPAs in the few remaining isolated and sparsely populated parts of our ocean is important not to miss.
However, as well as protecting and future-proofing more isolated areas of the globe, it is also important that we focus efforts on reducing the impacts of damaging and unsustainable activities on the more intensively used waters back home in the UK.
The acronym ‘NEOLI’ may well be one that will soon become a common term amongst those of us who work in Marine Protected Areas. It has been coined by a group of scientists who have just conducted a vast global field study of MPAs. They discovered that the most important aspects of a successful MPA were sites that were No-Take, Enforced, Old, Large and Isolated and have called these ‘NEOLI’ factors. The study will be published in the ‘Nature’ journal later this year. Besides the question of why they passed up on the friendlier sounding LEONI, I wondered what chance we have of achieving these in the UK.
In our more crowded European seas, combining all these factors together is inevitably going to be more challenging. We just don’t have the space to be able to create large, isolated, no-take MPAs. Identifying sites for MPAs in the UK involves delicate planning and trade-offs between many other sea users. However, in place of isolation, we can use our more advanced level of scientific knowledge to ensure that we are protecting those places that are important for biodiversity.
The other advantage that we have in the UK is the institutional strength and capability to ensure that our MPAs are well managed and enforced. Our network looks impressive in terms of numbers and coverage, but good enforcement and management is still lacking in many sites.
Investing in effective enforcement will mean that MPAs will fulfil their potential and deliver the resilience and ecosystem benefits that they were designed for. One day they will be old too, and the UK will be on its way up the NEOLI list.