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Start-ling sea creatures, sensational shorelines & serene seascapes

Posted: Friday 1st August 2014 by Joan

What better week can there be in the year than National Marine Week. A great excuse - as if we need one - to celebrate our incredible seas, writes Maya Plass.

There is not a day that goes by where I am not reminded of how very lucky we are to have this fantastic resource on our doorstep and of our underwater world’s beauty, bounty and potential

Having lived by the sea since I was eight years old, I feel like I have been celebrating marine week every week for nearly 30 years!  Over this time as my relationship with the sea and our coast grew and I became more indebted to the sea so grew my passion and desire to conserve this wonderful and perhaps overlooked aspect of our British Isles.

Perhaps the best way to show just how much the sea is ingrained into my every waking moment is to give you a taster of my life by the sea in this last week.

What better way to kick off the school holidays than with a trip to the beach with friends?  As soon as we hit the sand everybody was entertained, from sunrise to sunset.  There were children and parents alike surfing, swimming and grinning in the waves, while other children (aged from 4 to 44) built sandcastles and Billy and Boo the Labradors of the group happily dug holes and play tussled in the sand for hours.

The next day my eight year old daughter and I decided to go on a kayak adventure. We paddled up the estuary to find our very own secluded and peaceful patch of shoreline.  We took out our packed lunch and while we ate she explained, in great detail, what her underwater house would be like if she were a mermaid.  I particularly liked the thought of oyster pearls being mermaid eggs and how the mermaid babies would emerge from the oyster shell once their tail had grown.  After lunch and a rest in the sun and further discussions on mermaid outfits we cooled off with a swim.  Niamh went on to time me as I swam to a boat in the distance. (I’m currently in training for competitive sea swims to raise money for marine conservation.)

After our family day I had a chance to be with my dive club buddies and explore beneath the waves.  We travelled out on our club rib to Eddystone lighthouse to dive the rocky reef surrounding the pinnacle of rock that the lighthouse is precariously built on.  

The sea was perfectly calm as we headed out nine miles from the “Ocean City” of Plymouth.  En route, we saw Shearwaters flying so close to the water that their wings practically skimmed the surface of the sea with such awe-inspiring precision.  

We also kept our eyes peeled and roaming for possible dolphin or sunfish sightings. 

It was a beautiful dive and my buddy Paul who has been diving for some 60 years told me that the spot we were to dive was one of the few places that he had ever seen Ling.  Ling is a fish that looks like the love-child of a Conger Eel and a Cod.  It has a long eel-like body but a barbel (a sensory hook) beneath the chin just like the Cod.  We dropped down the shot line and followed a rocky wall down to about 25 metres where the water was clear and life was teeming all around.  The moment that we reached the seabed a colourful Cuckoo Wrasse swam up to my mask and seemingly menacingly looked at me eye to eye as if to say, “What do you think you’re doing here?  You are out of your depth, lady!”

We defiantly swam on and moments later, while Paul was examining an attractive Bryozoan, I saw this huge head pop out of a rocky crevice.  At first I thought, “Conger!”  Then I saw the hook beneath the chin…I instantly grabbed Paul by the ankle and tugged at it over-enthusiastically.  I was so excited to get his attention that I failed to get my camera on the Ling.  Paul turned round to see the head retreating into a perfectly sized hole in the rocks – my first Ling!  I love the fact that I often return from a dive saying, “I saw my first…”!

After a subsequent morning of downloading a mixed bag of underwater photographs from my diving expedition, I headed off with my daughter and our dog Boo for a walk to a neighbouring village for a well-earned Cream Tea!  We walked the coast path alongside other happy ramblers and enjoyed the sight of miles of coastline stretching before and after us…varying from rocky cliffs covered in flowers to sandy beaches swarming with holiday-makers and beyond the shore a vast and immense seascape which I know from both rockpooling and my diving conceals a wealth of life and beauty more than we can ever imagine.  If only we could really see what lay below!  Would our relationship with the sea be different if we could see its riches or would it lose some of that mystery and lure that draws so many to our shorelines through the summer weeks?

As you can see from this not untypical week on the coast, as a family we are so very grateful for all that the sea provides.  The inspiration for creative writing, the physical health from the swimming and surfing, the new understanding from diving experiences, the seafood foraging and the list goes on.  While I do consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to enjoy these experiences we are never far from the benefits of the sea wherever we live in the British Isles.  That might be through the plankton-derived oxygen that we breathe to sustainable seafood from our coast to the sea-born weather systems and even medicinal cures discovered from marine creatures.  The sea is part of our lives on land more than we ever realise.

I hope that we all might get a chance during National Marine Week to connect with our sea and enjoy all aspects of the seashore from rockpooling to snorkelling or perhaps even diving.  Perhaps, this week might remind us of why healthy seas really does mean healthy you and me.  There is not a day that goes by where I am not reminded of how very lucky we are to have this fantastic resource on our doorstep and of our underwater world’s beauty, bounty and potential.  I also believe that with this privilege of living on the coast comes responsibility.  I have a responsibility and a duty to return to the sea all that I owe for the days, weeks and years of fulfilment that I’ve gained from a life aquatic...or at least amphibious. 

I hope that after time to connect with and love our seas during National Marine Week you too might join me in helping support the work of charities like The Wildlife Trusts to protect and conserve our seas and oceans.  The future health of our seas and therefore our quality of lives depends on it now more than ever before.

I wish you a safe and happy National Marine Week!

Maya Plass is a marine and coastal ecologist, who has contributed to and guest presented BBC Springwatch and Autumnwatch. http://www.mayaplass.com/

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