Posted by: orcaweb | August 22, 2017

Birds and Beach Cleans!

Hello! I’m Charlie, the fourth and final of this years ORCA Wildlife Officer Placements on board the DFDS King Seaways! I’ve had a fantastic two weeks with Lucy, learning all there is to know about the wildlife of the North Sea, as well as how ORCA operates, life on a DFDS ferry and working out how to use the crew lift!

One of the first things that struck me as we sailed into Ijmuiden for the first time is the massive amount of industry. After passing between some wind farms you can see the tall chimneys and smoke rising from the Dutch coast, along with a variety of cargo ships at anchor or on their way between ports. Having spent some time in the English channel I was aware of the high traffic volumes in this area, but when you see it every day you really begin to understand the vast quantities of shipping that goes on throughout our oceans.

It’s interesting to see the contrast between the wind farms and the huge piles of coal in the Ijmuiden port, it highlights the transition stage we are currently in between fossil fuels and cleaner energy. North of the River Tyne we can see the construction of new wind farms, but each time we arrive back in Ijmuiden it reminds us we still have a very long way to go to move away from fossil fuels and the pollution this causes.

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Aproaching Ijmuiden

One thing I will take away from this experience, which I hadn’t considered before, is how real the threat of pollution is to our environment. All of the figures and percentages about carbon emissions and plastic in our oceans, that we read online and see in the news, are real. Everyone knows there is plenty of rubbish in our oceans and most people know this is bad. However when you see balloons, beach balls and other miscellaneous objects most days it really puts it into context, until you see something and its effects its easy to turn a blind eye.

These thoughts have really highlighted to me how important the work of ORCA and other environmental charities are. It’s great that ORCA is making such a difference by inspiring others as well as collecting such vast and scientifically robust data. I’m really grateful to be contributing to such a worthwhile cause and am really excited to build my future career from my experience here with ORCA!

The weather continued to be relatively uncooperative this week – a lot of the time there was white water and some choppy waves. This makes sightings challenging, as the key features we look for are white water and dark shapes! But who doesn’t like a challenge!? With a bit of persistence and determination we have been lucky enough too see some harbour porpoises on both sides of the North Sea. I have also been really excited by all the diving gannets, they’re really spectacular to watch when feeding and we’ve been really lucky to have front row seats on a few occasions. The great skua that has cropped up in previous blogs has been seen on a few more occasions, which is really exciting. On Thursday evening this week we even saw a Manx shearwater, it was great to watch its distinctive flying pattern over the waves. So all in all I’ve had a great two weeks, but as always, fingers crossed for some flat seas!

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Couple of harbour porpoises

We’ve also been quite busy off the ship! On Tuesday 15th we joined a beach clean with Sandra and Geeke from the DFDS office in Holland. The Boskalis Beach Clean is an annual event in Holland where two teams clean the entire Dutch coastline over two weeks. Each team starts at a different end of the Dutch coast and we joined them for the finale at the central point near Ijmuiden. Over 200 people came together, which made a really friendly and positive atmosphere. Everyone was really keen to make a difference to our environment and it was brilliant to see how popular the event was and how many people care! In total this year they managed to pick up an astonishing 15,000kg of litter!

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Lots of enthusiastic beach cleaners!

The most common item was thin fishing line, this is used during trawling and breaks up along the sea floor. We encountered small and large strands, individual bits, and tangled masses of line and seaweed all along the beach. But this is only the bits that have washed up and there is a load more in the sea, unfortunately this will be the case until fishing practices change.

We also found a lot of yellow solid paraffin along the beach strand line. This had come from a ship, although the guys at the Boskalis Beach Clean were still unsure who, where, when or how. Paraffin is a fuel derived from petroleum; it has many different uses as fuel, lubricant and is even found in cosmetic products. It contains benzene that is a known carcinogen, and so can be extremely damaging to the environment when polluted in large quantities.

 

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Just 1  trailer out of the 15,000kg collected on the Dutch coast

We finished off the week visiting the CoCoast Dove Marine Lab.  Lucy gave a really interesting talk about cetaceans in the North Sea to the students. We then went to the cliff top for a land based survey and within a few minutes we had seen our first harbour porpoise! It was a very different experience surveying on solid ground, everyone really appreciated the talk and were really interested in ORCAs work on board the DFDS King Seaways.

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Land survey at Cullercoats

So I have definitely had a brilliant two weeks and time certainly does fly when you’re having fun. I am sure the next two weeks will follow suit and I’m looking forward to working with Julia, hopefully along with some flatter seas!

Charlie

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