Challenging Habitat Blog

Hello my friends, it is time to introduce my new venture to you.

I have left the University of Plymouth to set up as a freelance science communicator and environmental educator. Based on over 20 years of experience in academia, I’m leaving the large institution to work with smaller groups of people and organisation.

That’s exciting!

‘Challenging Habitat’ remains a title that is close to my heart because of its flexibility of imagination…it means different things to all of us, and that’s just right for my new business.

Check out what that’s all about at https://challenginghabitat.com/.

This blog will remain a space for my personal ruminations.

A couple of years ago I got involved with the charity Seas Your Future and to incorporate elements of ocean science and citizen science into sail training on the tall ship Pelican of London.

It is the UN Ocean Decade and eco magazine is publishing a series of stories and a special issue to mark the occasion…this is one of my contributions that tells our story.

Starfish from a Scottish loch, August 2020

What? Not enough CO2 ?

There is too much CO2 in the atmosphere.

There appears to be not enough CO2 in industry, at the moment.

Perhaps the question how to get the suppliers of CO2 back into production, so that carbonated beverages and meat remain plentiful on supermarket shelves, is the wrong one to ask.

I’d like to ask:

How much CO2 is produced and released by the food and drinks industry?

Can we develop processes in the food and drinks industry that don’t require CO2?

What’s the future of the gas industry and CO2 production in a decarbonised economic anyway?

Time for R&D and an opportunity to look afresh at a broken system, renew, refresh, replace…rather than just patching it up and waiting for the next breakdown.

On the river before the rest of the household stirs.

Reflections on a summer of sun and rain, new and old, labour and fruit, adventure and stability, whirlwind activity and calm.

So many good things and experiences to be grateful for and nourish the mind.

I’ve lived in the UK for 28 years and today I passed through a popular holiday town in coastal Devon.

I had heard of amusement arcades and all-year fairgrounds and the nostalgia that leads one generation to take the next one along.

What I hadn’t realised is the totally unreformed indulgence in the plastic-fantastic world of tackiness that is promoted as ‘good fun for all the family’.

Plastic fantastic in front of an amusement arcade.

The next generation will not thank profiteering entrepreneurs for wasting precious resources on producing and shipping half way around the world worthless plastic toys for 5 minutes of amusement, while the world is burning and flooding with the effect of man-made climate change.

The irony of it: a ride in the shape of a recycling van next to the offerings of plastic toys that aren’t recyclable…

When are we going to learn that some things are not justifiable anymore?

(And don’t get me started on the massive impact of the growth in SUV numbers, most of which never go off road and into the mud or on the ice.)

We all know that life is full of uncertainty and most of the time, we don’t notice it too much, let alone worry about it. We’re used to it.

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Everyone on board has received basic sail and safety training and we’ve had quite an interesting start to our voyage.

Sea cadets Ollie taking the helm.

Out of Cumberland basin and under the Clifton suspension bridge, down the Avon and into the Severn Channel…

Jo Morley from City to Sea, with whom we are collaborating on the Darwin200 voyage saw us from Bristol’s shores.

…where the ‘fun’ started, with a lot of people looking and feeling decidedly ropey.

(no pictures!!!)

A night sail under starry skies, bioluminescence in our wake and seasick feelings were left behind.

We rounded Land’s End in the morning in the company of common dolphins, gannets and a fulmar.

Sails set and the voyage becomes more sustainable.

We’re all busy with the watch routines, setting and handing sails, daily cleaning and helping in the galley.

That’s an important learning process for the three young scientists, who will lead the citizen science programme during the Darwin200 voyage. Their understanding of how the professional crew is working the voyage crew will help the smooth running of the scientific programme.

I am here to hand over the citizen science programme I wrote for Seas Your Future to the science coordinators, recent graduates of ‘salty’ degree programmes with decidedly biological flavours.

Discussions with Rachel, Miles and Hannah are stimulating and every day, we’re learning something from each other.

Pelican has been in Albion Dockyard for maintenance and is now ‘shipshape and Bristol fashion’, an expression that, according to our captain Ben Wheatley, was coined here, as a reflection of the superb craftsmanship of shipwrights in this historic dock.

Before leaving, we commissioned a TriLux fluorescence sensor on loan from Chelsea Technologies. For me, it is always a delight to ‘play’ with a new instrument, and this one did not disappoint: easy to operate, no-nonsense data logging and seamless plug-and-play with our laptop. ‘Shipshape’, too!

The science coordinators Rachel, Miles and Hannah on the poop deck of Pelican, discussing the method of our first deployment of TriLux for a depth profile in Albion Dock.

We’ll use TriLux for spot sampling of depth profiles along a Secchi disk to determine key algal parameters involved in photosynthesis (chlorophyll a and phycoerythrin), as well as turbidity.

TriLux sensor, cable and Hawk data logger from Chelsea Technologies.

We will contribute our data to the Secchi Disk Foundation, who research the global distribution of primary producers that underpin the marine food web.

Going to sea again – a special treat in a time when UK covid lockdown is pealed away layer by layer, like the skins of an onion.

We are aboard tall ship Pelican of London in Albion Dock, with just a shed and the dry dock’s lock gate separating us from the SS Great Britain.

An awe-inspiring adventure of sail training and citizen science awaits a young voyage crew: a 13 week long circumnavigation of the British Isles!

We will study the natural environment and invasive species, collect litter from the beaches and study sea weed for signs of climate change.

The data we collect will support a range of organisations, such as the Sea Watch Foundation, Marine Conservation Society and Secchi Disk Foundation, in their efforts to understand the most pressing issues of our times: climate change and biodiversity loss.

Follow Seas Your Future and Darwin200 to learn about the powerful combination of sailing and science to transform our connection with nature and perspective.

Working from home during lockdown saves me and my carbon footprint a daily 1.5 h commute and I have more flexibility with when and how I start my day.

Some mornings just beckon a walk along the river! And today, I was rewarded with the magic sparkle of a light frost on bluebells and mist over the water.

Today Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in England eased a little, with ‘non-essential’ shops opening, along with outdoor catering, hair salons and zoos….

I didn’t go shopping.

In fact, not being able to go shopping for so many months showed me how little stuff I actually need.

This is liberating, and even if it means that I don’t contribute to the recovery of the economy just yet.

At least not with ‘stuff’.

I did invest in solar PV for our house last year, so I did my bit for the green economy.

And when I’ll physically go into work again, I’ll simply shuffle the comfy leisure wear in my wardrobe to one side and rediscover the nice things hidden in there that I have not worn for a year.

This will be even better than shopping: it’s like going into a shop, in which I like all things on the rails and they all fit me 😂.

Perfect!

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