Oh Shucks Guyths….

Repost from: Explore Marine Life With The University of Plymouth

What do our undergraduates go on to do after they complete their degrees? Meet Eve Angelina Sanders who left the SW for the bright lights of London to work for the Thames Estuary Partnership earlier this year!

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From September 2015 to June 2018 I studied at University of Plymouth on the BSc Marine Biology and Oceanography degree course. Although I graduated just over five months ago, I am now employed as the ‘Thames Citizen Fish Officer’ working for the Thames Estuary Partnership based at the UCL in London. My job requires me to develop methods for citizen scientists, helping them with things like monitoring fish nursery grounds, safeguarding the natural habitat for plants and invertebrates at different sites around the Thames Estuary and raising awareness of the wildlife in general. I love it!

Studying at the University of Plymouth did so much more than just give me the invaluable skills that I need for my new job. Alongside the engaging lectures, the teaching staff across the whole of the University of Plymouth’s marine biology sector were incredibly supportive and always willing to help where they could. This meant any questions I had (regarding not only the course content but also academia in general) were quickly answered. The practical side of the degree (field trip to a Swedish fjord in Kristineberg and the numerous research vessel trips in Plymouth Sound to study the physical, chemical and ecological aspects of the water) were a lot of fun and gave me the hands-on experience that employers in this field are often eager to see on a CV. Together I feel both of these course aspects (practical experience and the lectures) gave me well-rounded skills and a knowledge base which were crucial to me getting the job I’m in today.

Nurdle Cool at All…

Ok so a shit title from me.. Sorry. Desperate measures.

Ever heard of a Nurdle? Let me (no doubt) enlighten you… Nurdles are small plastic pellets that all plastic products are made from. Now, these bad boys on the beach and in the ocean are a real problem because toxic chemicals attach to them and wildlife are at risk of eating them. This causes thousands of wildlife deaths every year. See a nurdle? Pick it up to prevent a hurdle for wildlife.

For more information: https://www.mcsuk.org/beachwatch/events/gbbc?platform=hootsuite

 

 

Big Fish Little Fish – What Has Happened to Our Fisheries? 

‘Capture fishing’ is simply the removal of marine life from its natural habitat for human benefit (Swain, et al. 2007). Man did this sustainably for thousands of years, but along with an increase in global population levels, has come the habit of removing the largest fish from an area before moving on to the smaller specimens when the supply of larger fish has been exhausted (Pauly, et al. 1998). This process is known as ‘fishing down the food web’ and was first described by Daniel Pauly in his since famous paper published in 1998. Pauly’s paper went on to describe the likelihood of this causing major changes in the structure of marine food webs.

He was right. ‘Fishing down the food web’ is a problem, because over the long term the more of the large specimens we catch, the more we reduce the population of sexually mature fish able to reproduce, and that means we eventually seriously damage population levels (Barot, et al. 2002). We are, in fact, ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’.

It was the late Victorians, feeding a rapidly growing population that used up most of the stocks of large fish and left us with smaller specimens, but over the last 45 years, landings from global fisheries have shifted from large piscivorous (feeds on fish) fish, toward smaller invertebrates and planktivorous (feeds on plankton) fish, a scenario called ‘shifting baselines’ (Pauly, et al. 1998).

As a result of this long-term exploitation of wild fish stocks, negative evolutionary responses have occurred;; a reduced growth rate, age at maturation, body size and productivity (Swain, et al. 2007). A good example of this can be seen with cod. Over the years not only has the number of cod decreased but also the average body size of those caught has diminished (Barot, et al. 2002). Research has shown that the decrease in body size cannot just be attributed to the differences in age, because now even the older cod grow to a smaller size than they did previously (Barot, et al. 2007).

Subsequent to this decrease in size and abundance, fishing was ceased in several locations to allow cod stocks to recover. It was hypothesised that the fish would grow as big as they did before, but this was not the case. A study by Barot, et al. (2002) on Atlantic cod stocks along the coastline of America and Canada showed that both body size and age of cod at maturation had changed as a consequence of the selection pressure caused by fisheries (i.e. pressure to feed a hungry nation the most popular and cheapest fish available). Cod now reproduce at a younger age and at smaller body sizes (Hutchings & Rangeley, 2011).

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Figure. 1. Shows a young man in the early 20th century carrying his own body weight in cod.

We can now say with confidence that fish populations have changed dramatically over time with regards to distribution and abundance (Pauly, et al. 1998). It is essential we understand historical patterns of resource exploitation and identify what has actually been lost in the habitat, in order to develop and implement important recovery plans for depleted marine fisheries and ensure a sustainable fisheries system for generations to come.

© Eve Sanders

Beading Nuisance!

Although plastic was invented in the early 1900s, it wasn’t until the early 1950s that the world really developed an appetite for this exciting and versatile new material (Cole, et al. 2013). Back then, global demand was just 1.5 million tonnes annually. These days we’re using some 322 million tons a year of the stuff (Cole, et al. 2013) – that’s a lot of plastic. Recently, the media has been buzzing with shocking stories about the negative impact on our oceans of all this plastic and one type of plastic waste in particular; ‘microplastics’ has really caught the public’s attention. But how big a problem is it?

There are several sources of microplastics, perhaps the best known being those purposely made tiny ‘beads’ that are used in commercial products such as toothpaste, exfoliators and laundry detergents. These get washed down sinks and drains and end up in our oceans (Cole, et al. 2013). Another source of microplastic pollution is the huge amount of tiny fibrous microplastics that are shed when we wash our clothes. One average 6 kg wash can release up to 700,000 microplastic fibres alone (Napper and Thompson, 2016)!

The second source of microplastic pollution starts life as larger forms of plastic such as drinks bottles, food containers, toys and utensils. Once discarded these are broken down into smaller and smaller fragments (plastics that are 5mm or smaller in diameter are considered microplastics) (Cole, et al. 2013).

The main problem with microplastics is that they take years to biodegrade (450 years for an average plastic bottle!) making them a serious and long-term problem (Jambeck, et al. 2015). If current production and management of waste trends continue as they are, approximately 12 billion tonnes of plastic waste will be in our landfills or the natural environment by 2050, of which between 5 and 13 million tonnes being tipped into the ocean (Jambeck, et al. 2015), a staggering statistic!Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 14.03.17

The effects of microplastics on the marine environment are still largely unknown, but what is known is that microplastic pollution is found across the globe; even in the remotest places like the polar regions and the deep ocean (microplastics have been recorded at depths of more than 500 meters) (Jambeck, et al. 2015).

 

 

 

Figure. 1. A typical use of microplastic beads. Once spat-out and washed down the sink, they can end up in our oceans within a matter of days …

It has recently been discovered that microplastics are ingested by zooplankton, which form the base of the food chain and therefore are carried on up through to the larger predators such as dolphins and even blue whales (Cole, et al. 2013). Researchers have even shown that microplastics can be ingested by humans through the seafood and shellfish we eat (Cauwenberghe and Janssen, 2014). The same study showed the average European consumer to be ingesting 11,000 microplastics annually (the potential effects on humans are not yet fully understood) (Cauwenberghe and Janssen, 2014).

With all this in mind, it’s crucial that we urgently find solutions to the plastic misuse issue. Industry must do its part of course, but It’s down to all of us to clear up our act; to get better at recycling, not buy plastic bottles etc and to change our thoughtless consumption of plastics to ensure cleaner oceans for future generations.

© Eve Sanders (ToobysTravels)