Friday, 11 November 2016

Great British Beach Clean is Great News for Seals!

Sea Champion Natalie is also a Sealife staff member and works at the Seal Sanctuary in Gweek, Cornwall. Here she tells us what it was like to help organise a Great British Beach Clean and just how important it is for the seals too.

"As an Animal Care Assistant at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, ensuring our local marine habitat is as clean and litter-free as possible is of great importance to me. So I was thrilled on the 19th of September to help organise a “Great British Beach Clean” at Gwithian, Cornwall, as a collaboration between the Seal Sanctuary and Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

With some trepidation, as the clouds and rain rolled in, I travelled to the beach with Dan, my colleague, where we met Jules from MCS and she talked me through the methodology of the survey and explained why we record the litter collected within a 100m transect. 

Despite my worries that the weather would put potential volunteers off, before long a group of 15 of us were grabbing our gloves and bin bags and setting off along the beach, heads down, searching for litter. Despite the miserable weather, spirits were high and it was a wonderful opportunity to meet similarly conservation-minded people and even engage in a little competition to see who could collect the most rubbish and the strangest item! 

A huge fishing net was found by volunteers at the GBBC in 2015 at the same spot

Before long we were finished and weighing bin-bags and collecting in survey sheets. It was truly satisfying, seeing just how much we had collected from a small transect of beach, but also quite shameful that as a society we treat our marine habitat with such disrespect. 

Each year at the Seal Sanctuary we rescue, rehabilitate and release approximately 60 grey seal pups, including those who have been net-entangled (you can read a case-study about one such seal, “Iron Man” here). Net entanglement is a real issue for seals as it may prevent them from diving, hunting and hauling out effectively, and can create nasty deep wounds, especially in growing pups. Gwithian is one of the beaches we use to release our successfully-rehabilitated seals each year, so it was particularly saddening to see just how much litter, including net, was found on the beach. 

Seal haul out spot at Godrevy, just around the corner from the beach

However, the story is a happy one! Just 15 volunteers gave up an hour of their time and removed 276 items of rubbish from a beach; 276 items which could easily have ended up in the sea and entangled or been ingested by a seal, or affected any number of marine organisms. Not only that, but the results of the survey data can help us to tackle the problem at its roots, hopefully meaning that in the future there will be less litter in our seas and less to pick up from the beach. Great news for seals and us humans! 

Uto the seal at the Gweek Seal Sanctuary

I would thoroughly recommend beach-cleaning to everyone! Jules and Dan have shown me just how simple it is to organise and successfully run a beach-clean. It’s an opportunity to meet lovely, like-minded people and there really is no feeling like going to sleep at night knowing that you have done your part for local marine life (including those lovely seals!)."

A big thank you to all the Sea Champions that took part in the Great British Beach Clean this September. It was a huge success with a whopping 364 events taking place all over the UK and 5995 volunteers coming out to help. The Great British Beach Clean Report 2016 with all of the details will be released later in November so be sure to keep an eye out for that and share it widely to help us to raise awareness of marine litter issues. If you’d like to take part in a beach clean or are thinking about organising one yourself then head on over to our Beachwatch webpages for more information and details of cleans coming up. 

To find out more about the Gweek Seal Sanctuary, especially if you’re interested in visiting them then check out the Sealife website.

The Marine Conservation Society has just launched an exciting new "Ocean Devotion" campaign in partnership with the Sealife Trust and Sealife Centres. We're fighting for more and better managed marine protected areas. Show your support and sign our petition here:

And if you’re based in Cornwall be sure to take action our campaign to Save Fal Bay!

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