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.

Back on the Clyde

Passing Toward Lighthouse

Passing Toward Lighthouse on the River Clyde

Whilst it’s wonderful to venture further afield, slipping into the Clyde from the Cowal shore remains a treat. We have proven that you don’t have to go far (which is just as well, considering the cost of petrol) to have a pleasant day out paddling. We had a brief burst of summer at the weekend, with temps in the sweltering 20s! So we decided to hop out for a bit of skills practice. Here’s what we found off the shores of Innellan and Toward:

> Lots of curious grey seals popping up for a look at the strangely noiseless, yet garish small human craft floating past them.
> A juvenile common tern waiting on shore while its parents fought aerial wars with a seagull.
> A host of other terns, guillemots, gannets, eider ducks (by the hundred!), cormorants and gulls.
> A handful of Lion’s Mane jellyfish.
> The Rothesay ferries, ploughing back and forth.
> Yachts trying to maximise the small puffs of wind available.
> Poignantly, a trail of roses cast on the water – in memory of a loved one perhaps.
> Two other paddlers who had just finished circumnavigating Bute.
> Plastic, of course: plastic bags, Coke bottles etc, which we did our best to clean up (it starts with one).

Not bad for one afternoon on our doorstep.

We spent some time at Ardyne Point practising hanging draws, cross bow rudders, edging and sculling. Alan unexpectedly practised capsizing, and we performed a successful assisted rescue.

I find that there is a clear connection between my yoga practice and my kayak practice. For example, when sculling, if I over-think the action, I fail to achieve any flow as I tend to jiggle the boat too much, or shoot forward. On Sunday, as I sculled my way over to rescue a plastic bag, I found that if I instead focused on the “third eye”, as it’s referred to in yoga, and allow my mind to enter the flow of the water whilst balancing in the support of the water, I am far more successful. I must now try to extend this learning to other aspects of kayaking, such as rolling.

By the way, that plastic bag that I mentioned was emblazoned with a statement about how the Co-op doesn’t test its cosmetic products on animals. It just seems a shame that their (and everyone else’s) bags end up choking other animals.

Plastic crap – now the most common surface feature of the world’s oceans

I’m trying to save the trees
I saw it on TV
They cut the forest down
To build a piece of crap

I went back to the store
They gave me four more
The guy told me at the door
It’s a piece of crap

Piece of Crap, Neil Young, Sleeps with Angels

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the conversation during our Arctic trip often turned to the environment. During one such interesting discussion, our skipper, Mark, voiced his concern that the attention focused on global warming was overshadowing the equally grave issue of global pollution. Those whose lives are closely aligned with the sea perhaps have a greater awareness of the extent to which humanity has fouled its abode.

I am reading the thought-provoking book, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. In the chapter entitled “Polymers are Forever”, referring to a study of beach samples by the University of Plymouth, it states,

“About one third turn out to be natural fibers such as seaweed, another third are plastic, and another third are unknown – meaning that they haven’t found a match in their polymer database, or that the particle has been in the water so long its color has degraded, or that it’s too small for their machine which analyzes fragments only to 20 microns – slightly thinner than a human hair.”

“This means we’re underestimating the amount of plastic that we’re finding. The true answer is we just don’t know how much is out there.”

“When they get as small as powder, even zooplankton will swallow them.””

It is with incredulity that we then learn that many cosmetic/toiletry products contain “exfoliants” which are actually plastic beads.

“”They’re selling plastic meant to go right down the drain, into the sewers, into the rivers, right into the ocean. Bite-sized pieces of plastic to be swallowed by little sea creatures.””

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