I’ve always loved the environment — our mountains, rivers, seas, beaches, wildlife, plant life. But recently I’ve been really challenged to change my attitude — from one that just wants it to flourish and be protected from all the nasty stuff, to one that actually takes action and does something about it. So I was super chuffed to be able to speak to Michelle Ulyatt from DFDS about their marine conservation work with ORCA. Here’s what she had to say…
The North Sea has a fantastic variety of marine wildlife. The ORCA team and customers on our Newcastle-Amsterdam ships frequently spot harbour porpoises, bottlenose dolphins, white-beaked dolphins and minke whales. Rarer sightings have included a breaching humpback whale, pilot whales and fin whales. Earlier this year they spotted rare Atlantic white-sided dolphins, which are common in North Atlantic waters but rarely seen further west.
A large number of fish species live in the North Sea and they school and spawn in its shallow basin, so there’s plenty for whales and dolphins to eat. There’s also a wide variety of habitats from kelp forests to sand plains and rocky reefs, which gives lots of different species somewhere to live.
The North Sea is one of the busiest shipping areas in the world, and combined with gas reserves and wind farm development, this creates noise pollution. We’re very aware of this and our environmental targets include actions to reduce the impact we’re having through noise abatement measures. Litter is also a huge threat to wildlife in the North Sea, with mammals, fish and seabirds accidentally ingesting and getting entangled in marine litter — which can be fatal.
Are you seeing an improvement in the North Sea’s marine environment and wildlife as a result of your work?
Our ORCA partnership has really helped spread the word about the fantastic wildlife that can be seen in the North Sea and this in turn encourages passengers to want to take action and help the marine wildlife on their doorstep. Our marine wildlife programme helps educate them about the small changes they can make in their daily lives that will make a big difference in protecting this wildlife, such as recycling more to help reduce marine litter.
We recognise that as one of Europe’s largest shipping companies, we have a responsibility to protect the environment around us. We’re actively working to reduce our direct impact on the marine environment and we believe our partnership and work with ORCA supplements this perfectly. One of the key elements of our approach is to involve and engage our local communities with the work we do, so they develop a greater understanding of our business, and through ORCA’s education programmes, of the world around them.
We do a number of things to protect the marine environment we work in. Since 2007 we’ve worked with whale and dolphin conservation charity ORCA. Our partnership aims to inform and inspire our customers to understand and help protect the marine wildlife living in UK waters. We love ORCA’s annual Ocean Watch Week and work alongside them on this intensive survey of UK waters, monitoring marine mammal populations in late summer.
Scientists have predicted that by the year 2050
there will be more litter in the sea than fish
On board our ship, King Seaways, we have a wildlife centre which is dedicated to educating customers about marine wildlife. And we were honoured to have wildlife cameraman Doug Allen down for the launch in March 2015! Our wildlife officers are permanently resident on the ship between March and September, recording sightings of marine wildlife, running activities for customers, and leading outreach programmes to help educate the local community (including school children) about the marine environment.
We also host a number of volunteers on board King Seaways for month-long ORCA wildlife courses at sea. They support the permanent wildlife officers with data collection, observations and delivery of our Marine Wildlife Mini Cruise programme. All volunteers receive full training, so on completion of their placement, they are qualified as fully-fledged wildlife officers. If you’re interested in getting involved, contact Anna Bunney on the ORCA team for an application form.
Litter is one of the biggest threats to marine wildlife. Scientists have predicted that by the year 2050 there will be more litter in the sea than fish (by weight). That’s such a shocking fact, but we can all do small things in our lives to prevent this from happening. Marine wildlife easily ingests and gets entangled in this litter, which is often fatal. Just one example — the sperm whales that were stranded around the North Sea coastline in January last year had huge amounts of plastic in their stomachs, including a 13-metre long fishing net, a plastic car engine cover and a bucket.
- The best thing is to try reduce our use of single-use plastics — think plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic packaging and plastic cutlery. These items are only used once, but stay in our environment for hundreds of years.
- Re-use as much as possible.
- Recycling is also very important, so these harmful plastics are made into something else instead of ending up in landfill.
- You could join our ORCA partners on a beach clean to help remove litter from local beaches — just fill in this form to find out more.
- If you love eating fish, make sure you choose sustainable options (like those sourced for our on board restaurants) that have been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (look for the blue and white label). These methods of fishing are less harmful to the marine environment and help protect populations of food sources for our whales and dolphins.
If you’re interested in helping protect whales and dolphins around the UK and Europe, you could become one of ORCA’s marine mammal surveyors. Take part in a one day training course, then join them on the ferries, surveying marine wildlife. You could also join a beach clean on your local beach, which are organised by volunteers from the Marine Conservation Society.
Come along on one of our Marine Wildlife Mini Cruises from March to September next year and learn more about North Sea wildlife and marine conservation in our fantastic ORCA Wildlife Centre. Full details will be made available on our website early next year. You can also volunteer with ORCA or take part in our internship programme — more information is available on the ORCA website.
In the summer of 2014, our wildlife officer Anna was on board the ship with an elderly passenger. Anna said, “I was out on deck observing wildlife and helping an elderly lady. She cried when she saw her first whale. She was so ecstatic and sharing that experience with her has stuck with me ever since.”
Note: I received a free ferry crossing in return for this blog. All views are my own.