Challenging Habitat Blog

Watch a summary of the circumnavigation and big thanks to World Parks on YouTube:

Just after the 8am news on BBC Radio Four, an elephant entered the studio of the Today programme.

During the interview with the education secretary, it remained there, unmentioned.

The interview was about adjusting school exam practice and grading, to take into account the disruption to learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Proposed adjustments are to be made for all students, irrespective of the actual level of disruption experienced in a particular school or students’ access to IT and additional tuition.

The reasonable question how universally applied adjustments would help to level out the differences in learning experience for students in different regions and varying access to educational resources remained unanswered.

Over and over again, the question how the proposed adjustments will be fair, was ignored.

And this is where the elephant comes into sharp focus: it is not fair, will not be fair and never has been a level playing field for all children in Britain, nor in the world, for that matter. Never mind the particular circumstance of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current educational secretary just maintains a tradition, and that elephant remains in the room.

Some students excel in spite of the disadvantages they experiencing, others struggle to fulfil their true potential. This is our common loss, a loss for the whole society.

Featured Image: C Braungardt, South Africa 2009.

(Apologies to all elephants!)

Every cityscape is enhanced when viewed through the rigging of a tall ship. OK, perhaps that’s only so these days when we’re aboard voluntarily!

Plenty of people turned out to see Pelican of London arrive in the historic docks outside Merseyside Maritime Museum.

And I am happy to join the ship today and lead the science education programme for the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, the new contingent of young people are undergoing Covid-19 security before stepping on board while we wait in the sunshine getting to know each other.

Follow our journey of discovery, thrills and learning around the northern part of Britain on this blog and @plymenv @darwin200

A few days ago I shared my excitement about my involvement with the organisation Darwin 200 and the UK launch of its Ocean Science and Conservation programme [LINK].

The tall ship Pelican of London has safely arrived at Folkestone this morning, where the Darwin 200 UK programme will officially begin tomorrow.

Expect some media coverage in the coming 7 weeks, starting with the University of Plymouth press release [LINK], and fabulous pictures, videos and ocean science data here:


12 weeks in lockdown and I’m looking for the silver lining…

What are we learning?

About the value of life?

About the value of health and looking after mind, body and spirit?

About the value of relationships and society?

About receiving and gratitude?

About giving, kindness and generosity?

About our relationship with nature, our being part of nature?

About what we think need and what we think we want, or do we, really?

About status and money and power and priorities and values and meaning and motivation and what we want our taxes spent on in future.

My friends Kai, Kodai and Gen Benjamin of Varied Heights wrote and recorded a ‘food for thought’ song on the current global situation.

Check it out here:

LOCK(DOWN/UP) – Original Song

Happy fetching a stick out of a cool stream. So simple. Just living the moment.

Lockdown has forced (most of) us to simplify our lives. Bare essentials. For some, less than that.

Is there, among all the pain, something to learn, to adopt, to carry on doing, or not doing?

What is important, and I mean really really really important, other than enthusiasm for life, health and wellbeing, family and friends, community and nature?

As I enjoy a quiet walk in the English countryside among hedgerows Nature decorated with white, blue and red (pink, actually, but today, for symbolic purpose let’s call it red), my mind drifts, inevitably, to Victory in Europe Day.

The different meanings it holds for people.

The different experiences I’ve had on such anniversaries as a German living in Great Britain.

My parents were kids of 8 and 11 when WWII ended, came from different regions and backgrounds and both related to me their deep sense of liberation from tyranny and fascism the events around the 8th May 1945 brought.

There was great hardship for my dad in the months leading up to it, as he walked West with his mum and little sister, away from the Russian advance. Yet still, he felt liberated by the Allied Forces – too strong were the horrors of Kristallnacht in Breslau burnt in his young memory, too clear the messages he picked up from illegally tuning into the BBC.

And as a young child in rural Bavaria, my mum experienced the fear of the tentacles of the tyrannical regime all around her, she saw people from her community arrested and disappear. Hush! Not one wrong word!

Where does this leave me today?


Yes, the Fallen on all sides are now commemorated in official ceremonies. Yet the notion that ordinary Germans, too, have been liberated from tyranny and terror, that they, too, were longing for this moment, is not represented here.

I’ve had various upsetting encounters on D and VE Days over the years. Some people, even some I thought of as friends, have taken these anniversaries as license to distrust and hurt me on the basis that I am German. No matter who I am as an individual, my country of birth makes me suspicious. An easy target, as the indefensible cannot be defended. A welcome deflection from one’s own nation’s troubled history. Still a common villain, a ready enemy, when one is in need to feel better about oneself.

Or perhaps it’s just years of conditioning, unreflecting thoughtlessness, no harm intended?

The emotionally charged, and driven, BREXIT has heightened my sense of not belonging on days like this.

Yet, I love living in the Southwest. Largely, people live and let live, largely, they are friendly, good neighbours and colleagues and some make very good friends. Largely, I feel as integrated and positively contributing to society as anyone can wish for. 363 days a year.

Still, I won’t be joining my neighbourhood’s well-meant invitation to join them for a socially distanced 2 minutes silence followed by strawberries and cream today. Today, Let the British have their British commemoration among each other. I was asked to wear white, blue and red clothing.

I would want to wear white only.

White for peace.

Peace matters. Everywhere and to every individual. Ther is not enough in the world today – even though our focus is elsewhere.

So, I am pausing my walk here, by the river, and stand in silence for peace.

And I remain hopeful that enough of us will come together for discourse and working together, in small and in big ways, for the common good.

A force against the polarisation and the populism that keeps people apart.

We are stronger together, more resilient, happier.

In August 2019, environmental and ocean scientists from various universities, including myself and Richard Sandford from the University of Plymouth, loaded a lot of scientific equipment on board the tall ship Pelican of London for a week of sail training and science education. I wrote about this in a previous post called ‘You take care of what you love, don’t you?

Now we are preparing for more: the ocean science programme “Sea the Future” is coming to Plymouth in the Mayflower 400 year of 2020, for 4 x 10 days of sail training and environmental marine science in April/May and September.

Check out what’s on offer at Sea the Future website and watch the ocean science video, and check out more about marine careers and training on the website or get to the facebook page or instagram.

I hope to see you aboard sometime!

For a change, something really positive here…

We are the business of inspiring young people to be curious and ask questions, to get into nature and experience the small and big wonders of it, to make sense of how the planet works and how we interact with it, to seek and find solutions for the mess we’ve made of it, and to feel empowered. In short: I teach environmental science together with colleagues of diverse expertise at the University of Plymouth, and we like to think that we are making an important difference, however small.

Pelican of London sailing off Plymouth, August 2019. (c) C Braungardt

Tall ship Pelican of London sailing off Plymouth, August 2019. (c) Charly Braungardt

In partnership with the charity Adventure under Sail, we’ve piloted an outreach initiative that makes a difference for teenagers: with ‘Sea the Future‘, we combine personal development through sail training with the exploration of nature through marine environmental science and simply being, now.

And nature rewarded us amply: a star-lit night, dolphins hunting, illuminated by bioluminescent dinoflagellates, they looked like ghosts in the water, leaving trails of silver as they swerved, leaped and dived. For some of the 20 teenagers, this was the first live encounter with dolphins, and for all of us it was special and unforgettable.

The week’s journey touched us in many ways and the direct experience of so much beauty (from tiny plankton to fish, birds and mammals) and so much evidence of our negative impact on the marine environment (from plastics and sewage to noise and over-fishing) inspired the young people to do more to protect the oceans…but that’s best heard in their own voices, summarised in Jamie’s video of our voyage by Shield Media Services.

Dolphin at the bows of Pelican

Dolphin in the bow wave of Pelican. (c) Charly Braungardt

And what better metaphor for the global community coming together to build a sustainable future, than working as a team on a ship, literally pulling on together on many ropes for one common purpose?

What we love, we are responsible to take care of !

Watch the video Jamie from Shield Media Service produced about this amazing adventure:

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