Scotland’s International Marine Conference – 20 and 21 February 2019

Day 1

Last week I attended Scotland’s International Marine Conference 2019. The conference focused on current national and international actions to protect the marine environment with delegates from both Scottish, UK and international government representatives, scientists, research groups, industry representatives, marine conservation representatives, consultants, and grassroots community organisations who are tackling the growing problem of marine litter on the sea shore.

As First Minister Nicola Sturgeon highlighted in her keynote address, management of the seas is fundamental to everyone in the country.

Other Keynote speakers included ocean advocate, swimmer and UN Environment’s Patron of the Oceans, Lewis Pugh, who recounted his incredible, daunting and somewhat chilly 1 km swim at the North Pole highlighting the impact of global warming. It should not be possible to swim at the North Pole yet there was open water, enough to swim a kilometer, which shows the damage we are causing, however the focus of his talk not was the damage, but to encourage us to not give up on this challenge and to continue to fight and protect our incredible blue planet.

The first afternoon of discussions centred around the issues our oceans are facing from climate change, pollution and human activity. What marked this conference as unique to me was the collaborative approach, with speakers from all sectors; government, research, industry and conservation and communities. A notable highlight was Government scientists referencing Marine Conservation Society Beachwatch data as the best data set available on beach litter and how it is essential to their modelling and policy work. I mention this to showcase the importance and the capability of citizen scientists and that their work has real world, important application!

After discussion sessions finished we enjoyed a whisky tasting by Glenmorangie. They are working with Marine Conservation Society and Heriot-Watt University to restore native oysters back to the Dornoch Firth.

Day 2

The second day focused on the impact of marine litter. I took part in the Marine Litter Sinks with presentations that highlighted the appalling impact and looked at some of the reasons why certain locations are litter sinks. The community action groups and conservation presentations are on the front line of marine litter. What resonated with me was these communities are working so hard but due to location and marine processes are dealing with same issue again and again and again. Again what set this conference apart was that side by side with the impact of marine litter, there were presentations looking at potential solutions to address this global problem. Sometimes these were in the same talk and sometimes other presentations were giving people reasons why they have certain recurrent issues. Loch Long is one such Marine Litter Sink, but now the Scottish Government is working in partnership with communities and conservation organisations.

After lunch I attended the Pre-production Plastics (Nurdles) session which included scientists who work specifically on this issue, a research group from South Africa who organised clean up of the great nurdle spill in Port Durban. They took action when the authorities were slow to tackle this….and the following year 1 billion nurdles started washing up on the shores of Australia in what has become known as The Great Nurdle Disaster.

We had a fantastic presentation by the plastics industry on the initiatives they are using to encourage responsible transport and storage of nurdles and from environmental charity Fidra who work in concert with the public, industry and government to address the plastic waste and chemical pollution in our seas, on our beaches and in the wider environment. Their work is solution focused and the success of their work is an important take away message – we need to work together to tackle this issue – check out the video below for information on one of their citizen science projects – The Great Nurdle Hunt.

A panel Q&A session rounded off the conference and of all the questions the one that stuck with me was the question, paraphrased below, put to the whole panel:

What one thing would you do this year to change plastic pollution?

All panel members answered but this answer, paraphrased, was my favourite:

I would have every person living in Scotland take part in a beach clean. To connect the inland communities to what those on the coast are facing and to bring home to every politician what is happening on our coastline.

This is a powerful statement and one I think we can take definitive action from back here in Guernsey and here is why – did you know that if all the participants of the Cornish beach cleans had been paid minimum wage last year it would have cost £376,000 to pay them.

Three hundred and seventy six thousand pounds! Relying solely on the good will and social responsibility of community action is not sustainable. We need to work smart and through collaborative activity tackle this together.