Posts belonging to Category Climate Change/Environment

A sad day

DolphinsI think I would be safe in saying that most of us sea kayakers love the sea and the creatures in it. Nothing is more thrilling than witnessing wildlife up close from your kayak and I have had the privilege of seeing everything from otters to basking sharks to seals to starfish. It is one of the main reasons that I love kayaking. Unlike some lucky folks, I have yet to be accompanied by dolphins whilst out on the water, a dream that I hope to realise in time.

Many humans feel a special affinity with dolphins. This may be in part due to a recognition of, and connection with, their consciousness and levels of intelligence which are not far removed from (and may even exceed) our own. Scientists have recently concluded that dolphins should be considered “non-human persons”. Quoting from the linked article:

“The studies show how dolphins have distinct personalities, a strong sense of self and can think about the future.”

“What Marino and her colleagues found was that the cerebral cortex and neocortex of bottlenose dolphins were so large that “the anatomical ratios that assess cognitive capacity place it second only to the human brain”.”

With this in mind, it is with horror that I learn today that the massacre of dolphins that occurs annually in Taiji, Japan (as documented in the film, “The Cove“) is proceeding apace, with 52 bottlenose dolphins and 6 risso dolphins butchered within an hour in the last day. As anyone who is familiar with the film will know, this is an act of utterly depraved barbarism. As dolphin families who have been herded into the cove struggle to stay together against the hatcheting inflicted by their brutal captors, mothers are separated from their babies, and all are mercilessly hacked to death. Some are left on the quayside in the throes of agony, gasping their last breaths.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is one of the few organisations who bear witness to this atrocity and I am grateful to them for keeping the world informed and refusing to allow the Japanese to hide this shameful “tradition”. And on that note, the pitiful argument of upholding tradition is soon refuted by the knowledge that there are many human traditions that have thankfully largely been abandoned (such as slavery) as intolerable and morally corrupt.

We must not forget, of course, what makes this annual capture and butchery especially lucrative is the marine aquariums who select and pay for captive animals who are then taken to the likes of Sea World for a life of confinement in chlorinated tanks, reduced to performing tricks for “captive” audiences of tourists. The proceeds from the actual slaughter pale in comparison. Indeed, it is hard to believe that there is much of an appetite for mercury-laden dolphin meat, and certainly not much outside of Japan.

If, like me, you feel sickened by this butchery, there are a few things you can do:

  • Contact the Japanese ambassador/consulate general for your country, detailed here.
    The Consulate General for Japan in Edinburgh’s details are:
    Consulate General of Japan in Edinburgh
    2 Melville Crescent Edinburgh EH3 7HW
    Tel: +44 (0)131 225 4777
    Fax: +44 (0)131 225 4828
  • Boycott all marine aquariums
  • Contact the press and request that they cover this important news story
  • Support Sea Shepherd
  • Tell everyone you know.

One is not a great one because one defeats or harms other living beings. One is so called because one refrains from defeating or harming other living beings.”
~ The Buddha, Dhammapada

The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwards-somersault through a hoop whilst whistling the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, but in fact the message was this: So long and thanks for all the fish.”
– Douglas Adams , The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Summertime, and the living is … busy

Paddling across the ClydeI think it might be a Scottish phenomenon but, when the weather improves, suddenly life gets very busy. What should be the lazy days of summer are filled with a mad compulsion to get out and make the most of the weather before it changes back to wind and rain (which, let’s face it, could happen any minute).  Indeed, it took me a few years of living in permanently sunny climes to resist this urge, to realise that it never rains in California and therefore there was no urgency to, say, complete all my outdoor activities in the space of 3 days.  Back in Scotland, however, we cannot take anything for granted, therefore, when a spell of good weather appears, one feels the need to cram in all gardening, kayaking, hiking, biking, house-painting, window-cleaning etc etc activities at once. Indoor activities, such as housework and working for a living, tend to get neglected. If you’re not careful, it can get stressful.

Of course, not getting out on the water during a spell of good weather, in particular an actual stable high pressure system is, I’m fairly certain, a criminal offence.  With this in mind, we have been hitting the sea on a regular basis by way of outings of varying locations, durations and companions.

Friendly porpoise

Friendly porpoise

Back and forth across the Clyde

A highly memorable trip was one undertaken by just Alan and myself. That statement is no reflection on our excellent paddling friends, but relates to the fact that it was our wedding anniversary and the conditions were, in all respects, perfect. We put in at the bottom of our street and headed across the Clyde to Inverkip. We were only a few minutes into our journey when we saw a couple of porpoises swimming nearby. I anticipated that, upon sensing our presence, they would hasten away as porpoises usually do. But these two were different, they proceeded to approach us, getting closer and closer until they were within a few feet of our kayaks. They were quite unperturbed and, I imagine, were probably intent on feeding on whatever delicacies abounded in that vicinity. I actually prefer, however, to imagine that they were saying “hello”. Anyway, it made my day.

Inverkip Power Station wildlife haven

Inverkip Power Station wildlife haven

Eventually, we parted company, bidding our porpoise friends farewell, and headed across the river. Towards the eastern coast, we came across the famous 78-foot yacht, Drum (formerly owned by Simon Le Bon and now Arnold Clark), looking very smart indeed. Upon reaching Inverkip power station, we rediscovered the little wildlife haven there, where we encountered eider ducks, nesting cormorants and starlings, shags, guillemots, masses of tiny moon jellyfish and more. We heard some clanking sounds and I understand that some dismantling work is now being conducted. It has been rumoured for some years now that the landmark chimney of the unused power station is to be taken down and that, indeed, the power station will be demolished to accommodate 800 new houses which will make the village of Inverkip a very busy place indeed. Of course, it remains to be seen.

Collecting rubbish ... could be here a while

Collecting rubbish ... could be here a while

Departing Inverkip, we made landfall on a quiet stretch of coast just ahead of Lunderston Bay where we had lunch. Being sensitive to such matters, we began to notice various bits of plastic on the beach. Alan then dug out rubbish bags and started his own one-man beach clean-up. After a short time, which involved delving into the undergrowth (mistake), it became clear that this could evolve into a task of mammoth proportions, requiring a small team of assistants and a bin lorry. Not having those on hand, he did what he could with some input from me. Every little helps.

Returning to Dunoon

Returning to Dunoon

We stopped briefly at the very busy Lunderston Bay in order to deposit the collected rubbish, before proceeding north to the Cloch Lighthouse which is always a photogenic stopping point. The sun had shone brightly all day and a bit of a breeze had got up as we paddled back across the Clyde to Dunoon. This made the conditions pleasantly interesting and we felt invigorated by the time we reached Dunoon for a tea-stop at the Yachtsman’s Cafe.  What better way to celebrate our anniversary!

Ailsa Craig must wait

After our recent sojourn on the South Ayrshire coast, the fire of ambition had been lit for a crossing to Ailsa Craig. And so it was planned that we should make an attempt during a continuing spell of settled weather. The day did not get off to a good start for me. Alan was away conducting a training course, and I had to undertake the arduous task of organising myself without a support crew (solo paddlers will have no sympathy, I know). I opened the curtains at 6 am that Sunday to find a small roe deer staring back at me having, I soon learned, consumed half of our garden already. OK, I exaggerate, but he had made significant inroads. Suffice to say, this summer’s roses and strawberries are now cancelled, but thankfully, the veggie plot remains intact. Who knows what apocalyptic scene would have greeted me if I’d got up at 7 am. In the process of chasing the deer, I lost a cat. (I spent the majority of the journey down to Ayrshire absorbed in frantic texting to Alan who co-ordinated communications with our neighbour and … well, to cut a long story short, the cat was behind the TV. Fortunately, I wasn’t driving).   I managed to turn my attention to paddling by the time we reached Lendalfoot.

Setting out for Ailsa Craig

Setting out for Ailsa Craig

A bit lumpy

A bit lumpy

At this point, we noted that it wasn’t quite the balmy, windless day that we’d hoped for. Nonetheless, we gamely set out for the unmissable lump of rock that dominated the scene.  I noted that conditions were not entirely calm and a small doubt crossed my mind – the all-too-familiar thought of, “Well, this is fine … but what if it gets worse?”. This was heightened by my awareness that 2 coaches in our number had taken up the rear and were having a bit of a conference. My spider senses anticipated a possible outcome and, indeed, Lewis called us to a meeting where he explained the realities of the conditions in which we found ourselves. Basically, the sea state suggested that there was more weather activity further south and local knowledge indicated that the wind would increase as the day went on, making the return crossing in particular a potential challenge. Being that the crossing is 2.5 hours long and fairly exposed, and not being in the mood for any epics, those words of wisdom were certainly good enough for me. Everyone else seemed to manage to hide their disappointment very well as we settled on a coastal paddle instead. As Dave said, Ailsa Craig isn’t going anywhere  – unless of course there’s a tectonic plate shift (hey – I’ve seen the putrid trash movie “2012”, you know).

Heading south

Heading south

We paddled northwards to Girvan and had lunch on the beach. Then, as we headed back south, the wind duly did get up and conditions became a bit more challenging, but in a very good way. Albeit that it was a long drive for a coastal paddle, it did provide us with some practice in bigger swell than one usually experiences further north on the Clyde. I always hugely appreciate the chance to broaden my abilities in the company of proficient potential rescuers good friends.

Alan adjusts my Isel

Alan adjusts my Rockpool Isel

A short hop to Bute

Alan was back on the scene last weekend, with the weather still holding, albeit a little breezy. We intended to go across to Bute on the Saturday, and even had the kayaks on the car roof, but the wind and a total lack of oomph on my part made us turn around. By Sunday, my energy levels had improved and, we thought, so had the wind. The crossing to Bute was very tranquil to the point of  – apart from the spectacular scenery – well, a tiny bit boring (did I just say that?). We paddled south along the Bute coast for a bit, then swapped kayaks and returned to Craigmore for a tea-stop. Alan had been coveting admiring my Isel and had requested a test drive. Even although its design is intended for a smaller person, he did manage to squeeze in and get a flavour of the delights of Isel ownership (of which I have raved extensively). Upon enjoying a cuppa in the tearoom, Alan, who was facing the window, noticed that the weather was changing in front of him. The flat calm had been replaced by a vigorous breeze. There was even some surf on the beach! Torn between waiting to see if it would settle, and making a run for it, we decided on the latter, just in case matters got worse. If we were going to do wind, I wanted my Isel back and Alan graciously obliged. We jumped into our kayaks, reversed into the surf and turned to face the elements.

Who ordered wind?

Who ordered wind?

The northwesterly breeze would be fairly described as a quartering wind and provided us with some decent waves to negotiate as we battered our way eastwards. We adopted a PLF (paddle like … fury) strategy, keeping close together and, before we knew it, we were in the shelter of the Toward shore. Being that Alan and I have not spent a lot of time in such conditions all on our own, our reaction was perhaps understandable – yes, high-fives and big grins all round! It felt like a small step forwards in our self-sufficient paddling evolution, and one that we really enjoyed.

And in between trips, we’ve been hopping over to the Royal West club in Greenock for practice evenings, the most recent one involving lots and lots of rescues: self-rescues, assisted rescues and rolls, including Alan’s first ever (and entirely unheralded) re-entry and roll.

So, to summarise, we’ve been busy spending the days paddling, and this is very much a good thing. With the news of the unending Gulf oil catastrophe which will affect us all one way or another (and which, especially as kayakers who love the sea, leads us to a place of deep despair), all we can do is turn our attention to what we have now, to moments filled with beauty and wind and saltwater and birds and porpoises.

“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am ageing and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them.”
Annie Dillard

Say no to dirty coal at Hunterston

Some background info, courtesy of the RSPB:

“Developers are planning to build a huge coal-fired power station at Hunterston in North Ayrshire. If built, this would have a devastating impact on one of the best areas for wildlife on the Firth of Clyde and destroy a huge part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Inter-tidal habitats like this are vital for wading birds, such as redshank, and curlew. They also act as ‘service stations’ for thousands of ducks, which use them to top up on energy during their long migrations.

Coal power stations like this are the dinosaurs of the energy industry, because they pump massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. The developer will have to fit technology to help capture and store these carbon emissions. But these technologies aren’t yet commercially or technically proven at this scale, and crucially, would only be required to deal with a small proportion of Hunterston’s emissions. Millions more tonnes of CO2 would be released – so much for Scotland’s ambitious targets to stop climate chaos.”

And think of all the lovely pollution!

If you object and would like your voice to be heard, click here to fill out and submit the RSPB’s prepared template.

Around Inchmarnock

Heading to InchmarnockThe word was out that we would be going for a paddle around the island of Inchmarnock, which greatly pleased Alan and me as we’ve had had a notion of just such a trip for a while. Inchmarnock lies to the west of Bute and is south-east of Ardlamont Point on Cowal. In other words, it’s right in our back yard. The island has an interesting history and we studied up the night before by consulting with the trusty The Scottish Islands by Hamish Haswell Smith, and of course the Sea Kayak Photo Blog.

Our launch point was the appropriately named Carry Point in Kames, as we duly carried our kayaks to the water over the rocky beach exposed by the low tide. A couple of our number borrowed Julia’s robust C-Tug trolley to trundle their heavier vessels over the rocks, a feat that impressed me greatly (note to self: this trolley could be handy!). Overnight the Met Office had been busy removing the previously forecast gusts from their predictions and it was now set to be a calm day. This came as a disappointment to Dave who was testing out a Rockpool GT. Never mind, we stoically endured the tranquil conditions as we headed south to our destination.

Arran Mountains

Arran Mountains

The crossing to the island was set against the beautiful backdrop of the Arran mountains to the south-west, which always makes for good photos. After about an hour’s paddling, punctuated by some much-needed kayak adjustments for Dave, Inchmarnock finally increased in size and we became aware that the island is, in fact, inhabited, a fact that I’d failed to appreciate despite (or because of) my recent hasty studies.

The natives were nervous

The natives were nervous

The inhabitants appeared to be quite nervous and, as we landed on the pebbly beach and started digging out our respective lunches, we became conscious of being avidly watched. My approach to take photos was met with stumbling retreat and it became evident that our hosts were not accustomed to visitors, especially ones clad in bright yellow. Our audience was in fact a motley crew of Highland cattle and I have since established that they are residents of an organic farm on the island, themselves deemed to be “organic”. At least I hadn’t started giving them names …

Geese overhead

Geese overhead

After lunch, we proceeded down the east coast of the island and the wildife count began to increase at a great rate of knots. Seals were aplenty and my progress was slowed by my attempts to photograph them all. I have now established with some scientific certainty that the sound of a camera lens focusing, no matter how quiet, is audible to seals and is a signal to immediately dive.

Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea stop

Inchmarnock is popular with the greylag geese set and we saw many of them flying (and heard them honking) overhead, as well as on the water and on the island itself. There were lots of little goslings following their parents around and we were reminded that, despite the chilly temperature, it was well into breeding season. We also saw: oystercatchers, curlews, plovers and more, and lots and lots of herring gulls. I marvelled at the clarity of the water, with news of the horrific and ongoing massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico playing on my mind. My heart aches for the people and wildlife who will suffer as a result and it is to be hoped that it is somehow stopped soon and that it does not enter the Gulf Stream to make its way northwards. We can never take for granted the beauty that nature has gifted us.

A spot of hail

A spot of hail

Having rounded the island and paddled up the western side, we stopped for afternoon tea at an idyllic beachlet on the north-western edge before setting out on the crossing back to Cowal. During the journey back we saw our second porpoise of the day, a sight that is always a thrill. We went through a few different seasons during that crossing – from spring sunshine to winter hail and even some chilly gusts after all. And then we were back at Carry Point, the tide having come in and thus making it not so far to carry this time.

A spot of sunshine

A spot of sunshine

The thing that strikes me so often on such excellent local trips is that they are precisely that – local. When growing up in Scotland, my main ambition was to go travel and see the world. Certainly I’ve done a little of that and it’s been all very nice. But maybe it’s ironic that I now want nothing more than to explore my own country. And all I really need is a kayak … and maybe a trolley.

All the rusted signs we ignore throughout our lives
Choosing the shiny ones instead
I turned my back, now there’s no turning back
No matter how cold the winter, there’s a springtime ahead

Thumbing My Way, Pearl Jam, Riot Act

Fake plastic seas

Julia and Pam off InnellanAs much as I’d like to post about numerous exciting paddling trips since I last blogged, I’m afraid such trips have been a little thin on the, er, water due to my succumbing to a cold bug which I have now generously passed on to Alan. I did manage to go out on a pioneering all-girl paddle with Julia last weekend, which consisted of a pleasant (albeit chilly) outing  in local waters. The promising conditions of the previous week had been replaced by something much more akin to November weather, where icy winds and rain prevailed. Nonetheless, we bravely soldiered through the elements (and the volcanic ash), Julia with her gammy knee and me with my sniffles. Alan was still off the water due to his injuries, but helped us with the kayaks at either end. Together, we are a team!

Julia off KirnJust when I’d thought that the little lightweight cold that I’d had nearly 2 weeks ago was history, it took some anabolic steroids and came back with a purpose. And so I have spent this week hacking and snuffling. Not only that, with the warnings of my MS nurse ringing faintly in my ears, I realised that my eye had gone a bit “wonky” again. Consulting with Dr Google, I have confirmed that the common cold can aggravate MS symptoms. I have certainly learned something. Hopefully, it will all go away soon.

Not being out on the water has left me with too much time on my hands to surf the Internet and come across the following stories. If you are in any way attached to the concept of saving the planet for future generations, then I warn you – they make difficult viewing:

I’m not going to lie to you – this depresses the bejesus out of me.

Why is  humanity the only species that is so intent on trashing its own nest? Not only that, we’re taking everyone else – all our fellow earthlings – down with us.

It’s all so overwhelming at times, it feels like our pathetic little gestures to help the environment are pointless. But are they? As I view the videos above, I’m tempted to conclude that picking up the odd plastic bag out of the sea is meaningless. If, however, by doing so I saved one animal’s life, it is definitely worth it. If it simply stopped garbage from washing up on a pristine Hebridean beach, it’s worth it. So, I will keep on plucking the plastic bags and bottles out of the sea when I come across them, I’ll refuse plastic bags at source (the supermarket), as well as the ubiquitous, all-pervading plastic bottles.  And, who knows – going out on a limb here – maybe if enough of us keep doing this, we could turn the plastic tide.

I’ve blogged before about the rubbish in our seas, and the situation will only get worse. Unless of course our ability to produce these insanely vast quantities of plastic junk is somehow limited. In the recent past, both the US Department of Energy (see p.8) and the US Joint Forces Command (and Richard Branson!) have warned that we are about to enter into an era of ever-diminishing availability of cheap oil. With plane-free skies courtesy of the (unpronounceable) Icelandic volcano, we were perhaps given a slight foretaste of the future in recent days. As much as our lack of planning for this inevitability will make it in many ways painful for humanity, Mother Earth may well breathe a small sigh of relief.

“And it wears me out, it wears me out.”
Fake Plastic Trees, The Bends, Radiohead

The Whale Warriors

As someone who is known to just about fall out of my kayak in excitement upon the briefest of glimpses of marine wildlife, I was naturally inclined towards reading the book, The Whale Warriors by Peter Heller. Billed as, “The battle at the bottom of the world to save the planet’s largest mammals”, it chronicles the experience of the author (a National Geographic journalist) aboard the anti-whaling vessel, the Farley Mowat, during one of its campaigns in Antarctica. The Farley Mowat belongs to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an organisation known for its direct approach to stopping the slaughter, in violation of international laws and treaties, of hundreds of endangered whales each year. Led by a co-founder of Greenpeace, Paul Watson, the Sea Shepherds have been labelled everything from eco-pirates to eco-terrorists to (scariest of all) “dangerous vegans” by their whale-slaying, dolphin-butchering and seal-clubbing adversaries. Sea Shepherd counter that they do not violate laws and have not injured anyone.

From the back of the book:

“In the face of unrelenting Force 8 gales and 35-foot seas thick with ice floes, Heller’s shipmates risked their lives for what they believe: that the plight of the whales and the overexploitation of the ocean will soon bring about its total collapse – and that life on earth hangs in the balance.”

Stirring stuff. And indeed, the book makes for a rip-roaring read. The fact is that Sea Shepherd is doing the job that should be done by international governments. While we are busying ourselves worrying about MPs’ duck ponds, the world’s fisheries are facing impending collapse within our lifetime. That’s a sobering thought. Plus Japan is doing all it can to circumvent the protection afforded whales by self-allotting their own “lethal research” quota (of 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales in 2009) with a view to “assistingwhale populations. This exploitation of the infamous “research” loophole is transparent baloney of course, and is merely used as an excuse to slaughter whales – by harpooning, electrocuting and then drowning them – for whale meat. So why aren’t the world’s navies taking action against this atrocity? Because it would upset trade relations. It’s that old culprit, short term economic progress (at all costs).

To quote from the book,

Countries around the world pledged to protect the whales and codified that promise in treaties and laws, and yet the protections meant nothing …. In reality, the whales of the Southern Ocean, of all oceans, were as vulnerable as if there had been no treaties at all.”

“The whales could not advocate for themselves. They had no allies on the entire planet who were willing to intervene at all costs, even their own death – except Watson and Sea Shepherd.”

Quoting again from the book, Dr Roger Payne (a whale researcher) states:

“… a society which does not kill the largest, most complex animals around it for the most mundane purposes is likely to have a more luminous future than one for which all animals are but fuel for its meat grinders.”

“Considering … how much we could learn from them about living, … to kill and eat them is not much different from using the works of Shakespeare to light your fire. The sonnets make good kindling and lots of people have probably used them for such, but such people, I suspect, haven’t left much of a mark on history.”

And as if a riveting book wasn’t enough, there’s also a TV series, made for Animal Planet/Discovery and presently airing in the UK (I believe the US has moved on to Series 2 already). If you don’t get Discovery, you can always buy the DVD. It is compelling viewing.

One last quote:

“In the November 2006 issue of Science, a report by an international team of scientists studying a vast amount of data gathered between 1980 and 2003 declared that if current trends of fishing and pollution continue, every fishery in the world’s oceans will collapse by 2048. No more fish sticks. No more snorkeling along reefs with schools of fish. No more fish cat food. No more fish. The oceans as an ecosystem would completely collapse.”

And no more kayaking with the seals, the sea-birds, the dolphins, the whales et al.

It so happens that a film has recently come out tackling this very issue: “The End of the Line”, the first major feature documentary film revealing the impact of overfishing on our oceans.

I’m having a big problem right now accepting the reality that I am part of the last gasp generation that is watching this happen. It’s taking me all my time not to sign up here.

They shoot seals, don’t they?

In my ongoing attempts to save the seals/seabirds/whales/dolphins/trees/planet one blog entry at a time, I want to highlight this latest piece of information, recently exposed in the news.

“”We believe there is a mass slaughter of seals in Scotland, up to 5,000 each year.”

Mark Carter, of the Hebridean Trust, said the general decline in seal numbers was particularly noticeable around fish farms.”

Following on from my earlier blog post about the massive decline in seal numbers around Scotland, this is obviously a source of grave concern. Whilst fish farms might not be the sole cause, and without getting into a discussion on all of the environmental issues surrounding the growing number of fish farms in Scotland, it’s clear that there is no room for any additional, unnecessary losses in the seal population.

I have written to my MSP to encourage him to pay heed to this, particularly in relation to discussions on the forthcoming Marine Bill which, it is hoped, will be geared towards protecting all marine wildlife. A few appropriate letters to supermarket chains wouldn’t go amiss either. I’m sure that economic concerns will be cited in defence of the fish farms, but recent events (environmental and otherwise) must surely demonstrate where a standpoint that favours economic and profit-related considerations at all costs, including the survival of a species, can lead.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Mahatma Gandhi

The plight of Scottish seabirds

Guillemot adult and juvenile on Clyde

Guillemot adult and juvenile on Clyde

You learn something new every day, and today I learned that a puffin chick is called a puffling (awww …). I found it out when reading this heart-warming article. Other news about the Scottish seabird population has been more heart-rending than heart-warming, as it relates to the huge decline in numbers as a result of yet another disastrous breeding season. The RSPB reports that its coastal reserves have shown that kittiwakes, Arctic terns and Arctic skuas reared almost no chicks to fledging in the far north in 2008. Other affected birds are guillemots, razorbills, and puffins. The cause is believed to relate to a reduction in the availability of small fish with which the birds can feed their chicks. Seabird chicks therefore starve in their nests, or adult birds choose not to breed at all. Lest we all get too depressed, the RSPB are always good at tempering bad news with good, and they also report that seabirds that eat a bigger range of food from a wider area – such as gannets and cormorants – are doing better. Being a glass is half empty type when it comes to environmental news, I find only a small amount of solace in this.

Other than tapping away at a laptop and sharing the woe on the blogosphere, what can be done? Is it too late? Some might say that it is, but I like to think it is not too late to at least make an attempt to turn things around and to help preserve what is left. It takes a village – so how about a village of sea kayakers? I would hazard that most fellow paddlers have, at some level, come to know and appreciate the company of seabirds while out on the waters, therefore, who better to speak up and advocate for our feathered friends? Of course, you don’t have to be a sea kayaker to participate. The RSPB and the Marine Conservation Society have been working hard to promote a Marine Act for Scotland that would protect all Scottish marine wildlife. And if we must speak in the language of government and business, this would also help the Scottish economy, being that Scotland is Europe’s number one wildlife-watching destination. The horrible irony, however, is that some of the measures being proposed to promote renewable energy via marine power (and help avert the climate change that is causing the loss of zooplankton that is in turn causing the loss of small fish) are themselves a potential threat to marine widlife.

The official consultation period for the Marine Bill is over, but that doesn’t stop us from maintaining vigilance and contacting our elected representatives to encourage them to ensure that the marine environment of Scotland, and indeed the UK, is comprehensively protected for future generations – of seabirds and people.

08/02/09 Addendum: Ministers go back on promise to protect UK waters

Massive decline in seal numbers around Scotland

Common seals, Kyles of Bute

Common seals, Kyles of Bute

Reading this news was not the best way to start the week. It’s disturbing in any number of ways, but especially for sea kayakers who have enjoyed the company of these gentle creatures on our travels.

Lately, it’s been feeling like awaiting a storm to hit. Between the global economic crisis, and the equally/more ominous environmental crisis that are both building, it’s hard not to get depressed. I remember what it was like to live somewhere that was frequented by hurricanes. During the days preceding the storm’s arrival, we were warned of its approach and we avidly listened to the forecasts and analysed the indicators (heightened surf, evacuation of ships from the main port etc). There was a sense of unreality, and something like disbelief that anything bad would actually happen. I’m reminded of that feeling now. Perhaps that’s why, when news like this occurs, there is still a sense of shock. At some level, we’ve all been hoping that the storm doesn’t actually exist, or will somehow miss us, or at least our lifetimes.

I still find it hard to accept that there seems to be insufficient room on this planet for both humanity and our fellow creatures. At times it seems hopeless. Yet, we can still all do our own little bit.

Bunking off to Cumbrae and Gigha (Part 1)

A momentous event occurred this week: it stopped raining and blowing a gale for the first time in living memory, or at least in several weeks. A high pressure system finally managed to muster up enough oomph to nudge the all-too-prevailing low pressure out of the way for a bit. This left us with no choice, but we simply had to bunk off work take an official, well-deserved 2-day holiday. It did feel a wee bit like skidging school as we sneaked out the house, surreptitiously securing our kayaks to the car roof and wending our way seawards. We’d originally thought about camping out overnight, but a lack of forward planning/organisational skills narrowed our options and we decided to explore two quite different locales each day instead.

Arran mountains from Cumbrae

Arran mountains from Cumbrae

On Monday, we paddled around Great Cumbrae. Somewhat amazingly, especially considering that we are members of an Ayrshire kayaking club, we had never done this before and therefore felt that it was high time. Yet again, we found ourselves in flat calm conditions. If Nordkapps have feelings, I’m sure that ours would be experiencing anxiety, or even depression over having such soft marks as owners and being deprived of the conditions upon which they thrive. It’s not that we’re avoiding a more challenging environment, it’s more that we’re saving it for company (preferably of 5 star ilk with good rescue skills). Certainly though, a little more chop wouldn’t go amiss, however, the winds have tended to veer from gale force to non-existent of late, with not much in between. And so it was as we paddled our way around Cumbrae to Millport, a place I haven’t been since Sunday school picnics of yore.

We continued south and experienced some highly momentary excitement as the wake of a motor vessel caught up with us. But we soon returned to boring old idyllic, almost tropical, conditions as we made our way around to the western side of the island. This is where matters took a bit of a disappointing turn as we encountered endless amounts of rubbish in the water on the approach to Fintray Bay. It looked like someone had emptied a huge bin full of sweetie papers and crisp packets directly into the river. I have read recently that an excess of jellyfish signifies a degraded ecosystem, and – albeit coincidentally – there were certainly plenty of Lion’s Mane jellyfish in the vicinity of the rubbish tip that we paddled through. This all fed a building sense of despair which was compounded by the discovery of a dead guillemot floating in the water (a seabird whose future is in jeopardy – see recent news item). Like an icebreaker travelling through the Arctic, we managed to cut a path through the jellyfish up to Bell Bay where we stopped to enjoy the view and have a bite to eat.

Isn't she lovely? Nordkapps at Bell Bay, Cumbrae

Isn't she lovely? Nordkapps at Bell Bay, Cumbrae

I do find myself continually pausing to admire and photograph my Nordkapp LV whenever we land on a beach. It reminds me of an occasion in the past when, upon visiting the Grand Canyon, we were amused to see an enormous articulated RV (recreational vehicle) pull up to a scenic viewpoint. The driver jumped out of the cab and, while everyone else was turned to face the amazing scenery presented by the Canyon, he turned in the opposite direction to gaze with awe at his big rig and then take some photos of it. It is just a tiny bit troubling to note that I can now relate, however slightly.

Heading back to Largs

Heading back to Largs

We completed our trip by paddling around the north end of the island, affording us good views of the large pipe-laying vessel, the Solitaire, which has been anchored off of Cumbrae for some days now. Soon we were back over at Largs which was still happily bathed in sunshine.

And today Cumbrae is in the news. Continuing on a cheery environmental note, the scientists at the University Marine Biological Research Station located there are issuing warnings concerning the threat of invasive Japanese wireweed which has spread rapidly up the west coast of Scotland. Users of the sea are being asked to report any findings. I’m not entirely sure to whom, but I imagine that Scottish Natural Heritage would be a good start. Whilst I do take serious issue with certain environmental matters relating to Japan, I’m not convinced that the combined threat of Japanese wireweed and Japanese knotweed is part of a plot to entwine the world in weed. I do, however, wish they would confine their exports to the more traditional cameras and tellies … or at least send us an antidote.

With continuing good weather, albeit in more autumnal temperatures, we set off early on Tuesday for Tayinloan and a visit to the island of Gigha. More to follow …