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.

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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.

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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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British marine life

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The images that didn’t quite make the cut for my MCZ selection. I love these though, the colours, and the lighting, however they didn’t quite fit into my series, and ultimately the images have to always work as a set.

The stalked jellyfish (top) is probably one of my favourites in this more fine art style of photography. Despite the fact it’s probably just out of focus, I absolutely love blurring and the backscatter here. The sand particles with this narrow DOF look like snowflakes, and I’ve mentioned this before with another image, how I think it really works and only compliments the ethereal scenes you come across underwater.

The second image is a female black faced blenny, and I was happy to achieve this image without any major editing; the spotlighting created from the strobes, and the black background from the aperture. Simple, and effective.

I like these two as a pair, the colours do reflect eachother, and fit with my common theme of black, darker images. The square crop turned out much better than anticipated too, in my next post I’ll try and share a comparison of the crops.

Back to blogging, (my life is now sharks).

Good morning world, I’m writing this from a cafe in Cornwall, drinking my fourth or fifth coffee of the day, just outside Falmouth where I lived up until recently.

I’m currently on a break from my new job & home, and am trying to use this time to catch up on all things that I’ve let slide whilst I’ve been working, such as writing, drawing, etc. I now live in South Bimini, the Bahamas, a tiny island only 50 miles from Miami, and very far away from the rest of the Bahamas, and also anything I’ve been used to.

I recently started working at the Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation, AKA the Sharklab, as their Media Manager, and it’s been a massive learning curve so far. (The reason I’m telling you all this is not to boast, but just to introduce what I’m currently doing, so that the Shark related posts that will inevitably follow, don’t seem too random and out of place.)

Anyway, back to Bimini. The Sharklab is a world renowned field station, now in it’s 25th year. There’s a number of permanent staff, and a rotation of volunteers, and we all live and work in very close quarters within the same building.

We work long hours, we get few days off, have minimal personal space, and we live on an island where there’s only 2 restaurant/bars, one very small store, and an airport. But, we get to work with sharks.
I’ve never been shark obsessed; I make no secret in the fact that I love all kinds of marine life, and could never choose a favourite, but since working at the lab, I love sharks a hell of a lot more. My experience with sharks was minimal before working here, I’d dived with them a few times, and thought they were pretty cool, but in all honesty I didn’t know much about them. Now I’m lucky enough to live surrounded by scientists, conducting numerous research projects on a range of the species we get around Bimini. I’m happy to say I’m learning a lot more biology, and loving being around active science and being involved in projects that ultimately contribute to marine conservation.

My role is varied, and I won’t go into the details of that too much, but a part of it includes generating media content, and documenting the work we do, i.e. a fair amount of photography. And this is what I’ll be focusing on in the coming weeks in this blog, sharing one or two images of a specific species, with a little about the story behind the image(s).

Shark numero uno…

The first shark I encountered in Bimini was a juvenile tiger shark.

I was lucky enough to arrive around the time of our monthly longline set. And before you panic, this isn’t the usual kind of longlining that you may have heard as being awful, this is shallow water, very small scale longlines, that are checked every few hours. You can read more about it on the lab’s website here (http://www.biminisharklab.com/research/researchtechniques).

Tiger sharks, Galeocerdo cuvier, are fairly common around here, and as a species worldwide they are listed as near threatened by the IUCN. We encounter juvenile, semi adult, and mature tigers, unlike some of the other species we work with around here.

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That’s my first ever tiger shark image, and definitely not one of my best, but it sets the scene for you. (It’s not always that calm and sunny out there as well!).

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This is my favourite juvenile tiger shark image to date, which is in fact a screenshot from a clip, filming the release of this individual after a work-up whilst one of our college field courses were visiting. A work-up varies on details, but involves taking data for each individual shark; measurements, DNA & isotope samples. Also, we tag our sharks with PIT tags, an ID tag like a microchip. They sometimes are implanted with acoustic transmitters, meaning we can pick up their movements on receivers we have around the island. I love the patterns on juvenile tigers, look at those spots on the tail! Seriously beautiful.

Since living in Bimini, I’ve worked with adult tiger sharks too, but honestly I don’t have anywhere near as many photos of these yet. This is something I’m hoping to improve upon in my future at the lab, and safe to say I’m excited to see what this adventure brings!

Part of my job is to run the social media pages of the lab – if you’d like to see more photos of sharks and learn more about what we get up to there do follow the following links:

https://www.facebook.com/biminisharklab

https://twitter.com/BiminiSharkLab

http://www.instagram.com/biminisharklab/

Thanks for reading! Lemon sharks will be featured next!

www.charlottesams.com

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.

 

 

 

Long overdue update & underwater river images

I have again been neglecting the blogging, but all quiet on the social media usually means I am ridiculously busy, rather than I haven’t been doing anything new.

The recent updates are that in a few days I will be a qualified Divemaster, which I have been spending most of the last few months training for. I also found out last week that I have been awarded an environmental bursary from the Royal Photographic Society, which is going to allow me to pursue and document a project which I feel very passionately about. I will be telling the story of the Marine Conservation Zones, and am so grateful for this opportunity to cover a subject I have been wanting to for so long. I will discuss this project further later on, when it gets underway in a month or so. I’m also off to China in 3 weeks, with my fellow recent graduates and a couple of our lecturers, to work on a collaborative project with a university in Beijing, and also teach some photography workshops. So, it’s all very exciting and busy!

However, the main purpose of this post was to share some images from a couple of months ago. I was commissioned by WWF-UK to document some underwater imagery of a particular chalk stream/river. I also had the pleasure of working alongside the awesome Andrew Parkinson, who had been commissioned to do the topside imagery, and who I must thank for recommending me for the project in the first place!

I won’t lie, I was pretty nervous about this project, because although I’m very comfotable working underwater, freshwater is an environment where I had limited experience, and the rules of underwater photography differ a little between freshwater and marine environments.

I was only shooting for a few days, but I think I still took around 3000 images! So obviously I can’t share them all but I would like to talk about a few.

The main trials I encountered at first was the finding of the species; various fish etc. Even when finding some of the fish, photographing them is a huge challenge in itself without the use of a pole camera. One of my set-ups was the image below, which involved the camera, in it’s housing, on a tripod where there were Trout upstream, the shutter set to interval, and myself on a bridge above, attempting to bait the Trout close to the camera with bread.

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This was the best shot I achieved with this set up and a bit of perseverance, the fish is visible but it’s not really what I was hoping for. So instead of wasting more time, this was abandoned, and other shots ensued…

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This shot of the banded demoiselle is one I had visualised since the recce of the site; watching these damselflies for a while you notice how they land for a little while on anything floating in the water, and as I was in the water, I tried stalking them. Most of the time this didn’t work, as they only settle for a minute, and flew off when I got too close, but I had one successful shot, which I am pretty happy with, especially considering it’s taken with a 10-17mm fisheye lens, so you can imagine how close I really had to be!

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Here’s a shot of Andy working in the river, behind the scenes kinda stuff! And yes, that’s him sat in the river with his rather expensive 600mm lens inches above the water…

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This is one of the more creative images I took, there’s a few more in this kind of style, conveying the “underwater Amazon” as this river had been aptly named. The reeds made a good subject, with their jagged shape, but actually most of the time I was shooting like this I couldn’t see the viewfinder, as I was holding the camera upwards, so it was a little hit and miss sometimes, and again a lot of preserving and repeating of the same shot.

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A last image for this post is this water crowfoot, shown from underwater. I was attempting to capture the reflection in the water level, reflections are great to work with, and I love the sheer amount of green in this particular shot! These flowers are common around habitats like this, and add a little colour to these underwater scenes.

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I will continue with the river work another day and share some more from this shoot, and there’s also a few different images on my website if anyone’s keen to see more – www.charlottesams.com

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Surveying & the Isles of Scilly

Yesterday I had a wonderful time, surveying on the Isles of Scilly steamship for ORCA. This involves a team of three of us volunteers standing out on the bridge for the duration of the crossing, surveying for marine life and rotating through various roles. I got up at 5am and we took the 7am ferry from Penzance, and left on the 5.30pm one, meaning a fairly long day but also lots of free time on the islands! If you want to find out more about ORCA and what they do click here.

The sea was so beautifully flat, and was ideal conditions for any sightings. The journey over was a little busier than the one back, but the total sightings of the day was as follows: 30+ barrel jellyfish (localised to the area nearer to Penzance), 1 sunfish (mola mola), 3 rissos dolphins (i was on the other side for these), a few grey seals, common dolphins (also missed these!), and plenty of various seabirds (Gannets, gulls, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars etc).

Note – please click on any of the images featured below to view them at larger size. 

Barrel Jellyfish from the ferry. I think this gives an idea of how calm the water was, no white crests in sight at all, wonderful! These jellyfish have been documented all over Cornwall recently in their masses, I’m hoping to see one whilst in the water next to photograph it in it’s environment and at eye level.

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Mola mola. Probably around the area because of the multitude of jellyfish, a brief but pretty awesome sighting. Sunfish are utterly strange looking fish, and this image just about shows their large flat body close to the water surface with the fin poking out, leaving behind gentle ripples. _DSC6537

 

So, the other half of the day was spent adventuring round the Isles of scilly, firstly by taking one of the wildlife watching boat trips to the western rocks (obviously we couldn’t get enough of being on boats looking for wildlife). This trip apparently only goes on extremely calm waters and is quite uncommon so was definitely worth it to see a different aspect of the islands.

Puffins ahoy! These little birds have begun to arrive on the islands now, was very good to see a few of the sea parrots about.

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A pair of  shags, carrying nesting material across the waters.

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Trying to get a bit of movement into the image; guillemots taking off from their perch.

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Guillemot & shag silhouetted.

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I also met up with photographer Ed Marshall on the island, (you should check out his work here) and he very kindly got in front of my lens whilst I was photographing this razorbill…but you can still see the razorbill, and they are really quite attractive birds. We were quite lucky to see them from such a close distance.

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Razorbills in monochrome. The sun had come out by this point and the light was quite harsh as it was nearing midday, so I found this image looked much better in black & white, simple colours to compliment the simple composition.

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This next blob is another sunfish, maybe not believable photo evidence but it’s true! To see two in one day was very cool. This was also followed by the appearance of some harbour porpoises, I chose not to include these images though as they were just a load of fin shots. But yes for some reason I still included this evidentially fantastic image of a mola mola.

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Back on St Mary’s, we explored a little more around the coastline, and came across some amazing rock formations. These boulders tsacked on top of one another had created a kind of a ledge with an overhang, looking straight out to the ocean – beautiful! It also made a kind of a frame around this scene, I promise it’s not just a bad panoramic.

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So all in all a really beautiful day, and thanks to Dan, Hazel & Ed for sharing it. I didn’t spend as much time photographing as I’d planned, but enjoyed simply being outside and walking around the island, and wanted to share that in this post. Hopefully I shall return to the Scillies some time soon for some underwater image making!