Marine Conservation Zones – A report

The Photographic Angle & Royal Photographic Society Environmental Awareness Bursary 2014

The Marine Conservation Zones

Project Report

 

This project began from a strong desire to share passion of marine life, and a wish to reach and educate as many people as possible, about the important life that is right on our doorsteps, and so often ignored.

The idea of this project was to travel as many places as possible, and show a variety of marine life, that was either in the process of being awarded the marine conservation zone status, or may have already been awarded it. The label of MaC_Sams_02-1rine Conservation Zone varies from each site, their protection specifics are decided upon through assessment of the habitat and species within it. When this project began, there were already some 27 zones in place, and now, 1 year on, there have been 23 more added to this number. Considering the huge amount of coastline we are privileged to have around England, this number of 50 zones is still fairly low. The decision on the final round of zones is still not confirmed until 2016, and so you could say that this part of the project is still ongoing.

The other main driving force behind an underwater project was not to just highlight the areas that need protection, but also just to engage viewers with the ocean. It’s no secret that in recent years a growing number of children, and adults, C_Sams_05-1are disconnected from nature. Furthermore, it’s arguable that many people are even more disconnected from marine life, and what’s under our seas, purely because it is ‘out of sight, out of mind’. By bringing the marine life out of the water with images, showing the colourful species and habitats, the project aimed to gain viewers interest in interacting with nature, and more specifically the ocean, more. Marine life is so intriguing that if one is only given the opportunity, it is easy to become hooked, to start to become fascinated with this underwater world, to love it, and to care about it.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 09.32.54With these thoughts began the origin of the Marine Conservation Zones project, however the practicalities of it were a little more complex. The huge variety in the designated zones, and the possibilities of documenting so many different sites and the complex life within them is almost overwhelming.

The potential for covering this project is huge, one that could be documented over many years and still leave much to be explored. To make it more manageable, more accessible, local zones were selected as the photographic sites.

Towards the beginning of this project, many of the areas visited for documentation were deeper, scuba diving sites, accessed via rhib or other dive boat. These habitats are visually different to the shallower shore sites, but often the life within them is found right up to the shoreline, such as the stalked jellyfish, or nudibranch species, which can be found from rock pools, to deep wrecks.

As the project developed however, it felt somewhat contradictory to try encouraging people to visit the sea, and yet be sharing images of depths and places only reachable through boats and scuba equipment.

With the limitations of poor weather, diving access, and this thought, it seemed right to continue investigating the shore based marine conservation zones; those sites which everyone can enjoy, not just the lucky few divers.

C_Sams_10-1 _DSC2436

When visiting certain areas for C_Sams_01-1the first time, such as Padstow and the Surrounds MCZ, it was clear the potential for imagery was vast. The natural shapes and colours within this one area were surprising even to myself, and hours could be spent just in the shallows of the coastal rock pools. From being inspired by the beautiful contours of the rock formations, next to the bright colours of the seaweeds, even in the cold of winter, confirmed that there are always surprises and things to see in the ocean, no matter where you go. Even when visiting beaches and rocky sites on moody, rainy, days, the marine life still held its colour and form, affirming my own love for this almost hidden world.

At this point, the project’s direction began to take a more specific path. By selecting more of the coastal zones, and focusing on the patterns and colours available within them, the images for this story began to follow a more distinct style.

Working in shallow water, not only meant a ream of beautiful species available (reefs are more active in the first 10m of water than anywhere else), but also opened up the possibility of experimenting with the light a lot more. The water surface was usually calmer inshore, and therefore acting as a mirror, reflections of the underwater world were something I grew interested in.

C_Sams_03-1C_Sams_04-1

C_Sams_06-1Moreover, I encouraged myself to not get obsessed in finding rare species. Even the common marine life can be complex in its physical form; the regularly viewed species can be showed in a new light when composed properly. The reality of finding rare species when diving/visiting these zones is slim, and the common species are always underestimated, it makes no sense to simply disregard something that is beautiful, because it is common.

I had originally begun to document not only the underwater scenes but also people interacting with them too, surveying, snorkeling and diving. I discovered that though these images were interesting, they weren’t as powerful visually as the more simple compositions, focusing on just the marine life. These images would feature in a larger documentation of the project, but a stronger sequence was formed from being much more specific in location and style.

The choice of a square crop as opposed to the standard rectangular image was for a number of reasons, to simulate a window, a view into the underwater world, and also to try and highlight the focal point of each image, more obvious in the species as opposed to habitat photographs. By constraining the image to the square shape, it highlights the symmetry within various images, and adds simplicity reminiscent of analogue photography to the overall aesthetic.

The aim of this series of images was always to show variety, in shape, colour, and species. I want there to be something for everyone to appreciate in the sequence, to appeal to as many people as possible. Ultimately, the images taken were through my own love and appreciation for these scenes. Through forcing myself to look closer at the marine life I may have gotten used to, I emphasised my C_Sams_07-1own passion for the sea, and can only hope that this is conveyed by the images too.

From here, I hope to eventually develop an exhibition of these images and this story, though I would like to continue to work on this project further. As mentioned before, it is still ongoing, and I believe there is much yet to discover. In the meantime, I will be sharing my stories, images, and knowledge of the story through social media. Photography is a wonderful tool for conservation and education; and just the simple fact of sharing snapshots of what life underwater can look like can encourage more positive thinking towards marine life, and eventually protection for it too. The first step towards protection is creating a reason to care, and that’s what photography can do. You can’t argue with an image, and every image in this sequence is a statement of what is accessible to everyone. Photography can change people’s minds about what may have been unknown before, and by focusing on these simple bright images, the underwater world is made available to everyone.

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MCZ update

The MCZ project has now got twitter, Facebook and tumblr pages!
If you’re on any of these please do support the project and give us a follow or like.

https://www.facebook.com/MarineConservationZoneProject

https://twitter.com/MCZproject

http://mcz-project.tumblr.com

 

I’ve recently been on my first shoot for the project, which was a seasearch survey dive in Mounts bay. There’s now a blog post on the new tumblr page with more information and images from this shoot, but here’s a couple of images as a bit of a taster…

_DSC2311 (St Michael’s Mount, Penzance, this was the topside view of our dive site)

_DSC2351(Female cuckoo wrasse, and spiny starfish in the bottom of the frame too)

 

Thanks to everyone for all the support for the project so far, I really do appreciate it!

 

 

 

My Marine Conservation Zone project – an introduction

So this is it! I’ve been awarded a bursary to achieve my goal of bringing awareness of the MCZs to as many people as possible, and to highlight our incredible, and underestimated, marine life in the UK. (Big thanks to The Photographic Angle in conjunction with the Royal Photographic Society for funding this).
I’m just going to try and briefly introduce the project now; it will develop and evolve along the way, but the main aims will be the same throughout.

 

Firstly, for the benefit of those who do not know much about this subject, the MCZs. (marine conservation zones)
Our oceans globally are in a critical state. In the UK we have some of the most fantastic coastline and marine life, and there is next to no protection for it.

“0.000001 – one hundred thousandth – is a number so small that to most people it seems like nothing at all. Yet four and a half years since the Marine Act of 2009 came into force – legislation that was heralded as the saviour of UK seas – this is the sum total of UK waters that is protected from all fishing for the purpose of nature conservation.”

Callum Roberts, The Guardian online.

 

In late 2012, we saw a number of 127 zones put forward to be considered for this conservation zone status, which essentially means they are protected from fishing and damaging activities, thus allowing the life to grow as much as possible without human disturbance. The life within these zones is considered to be of significance in either threatened habitats or species.

Out of these zones, DEFRA approved 27. And now, 37 have been put forward for consideration and an answer in 2015. So this is current news and something that is happening around us now. The third and final tranche of zones will be finalised in 2016. I’d love to stick this project out til the end, but we’ll see what happens!

As a diver, underwater photographer, and a general ocean lover, I have not been able to comprehend why this subject has picked up so little press and exposure. Therefore, I am endeavouring to do as much as possible myself. (I don’t think I’m exaggerating here, I’m basing this judgement on my own conversations with numerous people who don’t even know what the MCZs are).

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

Dr Seuss, The Lorax. (This is one of my favourites quotes I’ve ever heard, but it so relevant to any kind of conservation story, I’ve found it’s a good mantra to have when things get challenging).

 

We HAVE to care because the oceans are not just a pretty landscape, they are so much a part of our lives and we barely even know it. You may be thinking that you live in a landlocked area of the country, so this doesn’t apply to you, but we all need to care for our country’s coastline and oceans, or at least be aware of what’s actually there! The sea gives us so much more than we realise, it is a powerful energy that many people have an affinity with, many of us live and work around it, and the rest of us are a part of it from the fish that we harvest for our own consumption and for trade.

DSC_6784-1Facelina auriculata nudibranch, taken last year within the tranche 2 ‘Newquay and the Gannel’ zone area.

 

So that’s the cause, but the basic aims of the project are:

  •  to bring awareness and appreciation to British marine life
  •  to document approved MCZ sites; their environment and key species.
  •  to document proposed sites, habitats, and key species
  •  to also interact with those who would be affected by the zones (fishermen etc), and discover their thoughts.
  •  to use social media & an exhibition to promote protection, or at least education about marine wildlife around the British shores.

 

It’s a big task to take on, the biggest project I’ve undertaken, considering underwater photography is already a challenge and I’m committing to documenting a huge number of sites across the UK which I’ve never dived before and I’ll admit I’m a little nervous as well as excited.. But I feel strongly enough about the cause and am far too determined not to complete this to the best of my ability!

DSC_4361Pink sea fans, Eunicella verrucosa, a key species surveyerors are looking for within the propsed zones.

 

I also have a couple of favours to ask all viewers of this post…

I’m going to need a lot of help for this project. I plan on diving as many sites within the approved and proposed zones as possible, but for those sites further from my home in Cornwall, I will be needing advice about the local area, dive buddies, and other general information regarding sites and MCZs.

So please if you would like to help; if you live near a zone and would be able to show me around the site, if you know about your local marine life, have dived any of the MCZs, work in a dive centre, or a wildlife trust, or know someone else who may be able to help in some way, get in touch, I’d be really grateful! Contact details can be found via my website. Or if you simply have some thoughts or advice on the MCZ project then I’d love to hear that too.

I know a lot of people wonder how they can help conservation causes without donating money or directly campaigning, but simply talking about it and bringing awareness to as many people as possible is one of the best things you can do; education and conservation are inextricably linked.

I’ll probably be setting up a designated twitter and facebook page for this project, or may just take over my own pages with it instead, and could do with as much as exposure as possible, so simply tweeting, sharing, and liking will be doing a great favour to the project too!

 

I could talk about this subject for hours and pages, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Watch this space for more project development!

 

Good links for those who would like to read more about the MCZs:

http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/mcz – great interactive map showing existing and proposed zones with detail on each location.

 http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/news/2014/02/24/37-marine-conservation-zones-be-considered-consultation-2015 – list of second tranche zones under consideration for 2015.

https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/protecting-and-sustainably-using-the-marine-environment/supporting-pages/marine-protected-areas – more information about what the MCZs entail.