Friday, 28 May 2010

Rubbish, Rockpools & Singing Paddles!

Yesterday, we had our final After School Club session at Aveton gifford. It has been so much fun and the children a real pleasure to teach and be with!

Week 4. The children met Fred the Monkey and we talked about litter and the effect it has on our environment ad wildlife. They made "rubbish masks" and wrote a letter to their headmaster with suggestions on what to do to reduce the amount of plastic they use. Although, the shcool is an Eco School and already have an impressive attitude towards sustainability!

Week 5. We finally reached the sea on our virtual journey and we had great fun talking about rockpool creatures and discussing some of their gross habits! We then looked at some plankton under the microscope and made some seaweed presses. Finishing off with some final touches to their really impressive artwork!

Again, they made videos which can be seen on You Tube.

They also had the special priviledge of paddling down the Avon from Aveton Gifford to Bantham. They worked so well together and we had a brilliant time. We saw egrets, sheldrake & mullet and the oyster beds! They also made up a funny song about Bigbury's Sea Tractor...again on You tube!

Thanks Aveton Gifford Sea School for being such brilliant students!

Monday, 17 May 2010

News of Fred

If you remember , I said that Fred was off to visit the Marine Conservation Society - well he's been with then all the way to Mexico! You can read about his trip to an international marine litter conference here - GO FRED!!

The River Avon, "Source To Sea"

Aveton Gifford Primary school has been great fun! We have been on a journey from the source of the Avon to the sea at Bantham! I have 10 in the class ranging from ages 9 - 11 and they are all proving to be very entertaining & keen to learn about their local River Avon.

We've had 3 sessions so far and we've been filming the sessions - which can be seen on You Tube.

So, what have we been doing?

Week 1. We started talking about why the Avon was important to us and the children came up with lots of different factors...drinking water, wildlife, sewage treatment, swimming, kayaking, crabs, oysters & many more. We then talked about the Avon Dam built in 1957 and it's influence on our River and lives.

The children were challenged to find something in the room not connected to the sea - but we soon realised that pretty much everything has a link to our watery world - including plastic! We started painting our canvas too which the children will be entering into a local art competition. Each week they will add on new things that they have learned about the Avon.

Week 2. Before the session, I went to the local willow beds by kayak and collected some sustainably harvested willow. I imagine people have been doing this for centuries - the willow beds date back to at least 1884! I filmed the willow beds & some of my trip on the Avon. The children then used the willow to make willow fish - also on film! Whilst doing this we talked about sustainability and waste and how little waste there was from willow. I also showed them a willow lobster pot, as would have been made locally by fisherman. They then had the chance to update the picture.

Week 3. We travelled a little further downstream to the Bigbury Bay Oysters! Similarly, I travelled to see Richard March on his oyster farm to find out a little more about growing oysters. You can see some videos again. So the children were shown how to shuck the oysters & to a 1,2,3!! how to eat them! Sadly, for health & safety limitations I couldn't let the children eat them - but they were delicious! It was such a shame I had to eat all 5 on my own! They then learnt about other molluscs found in and around the Avon. They learned about some strange feeding habits & ways that they stop themselves from drying out. They modelled some great molluscs from clay which we hope might stick to the canvas!

So, sadly we have only 2 weeks left! This week we will be talking rubbish & the children will meet Fred the Monkey! Next week they will venture out to sea and learn about what we can see on the shoreline and further afield who knows what might turn up on Week 5!

It just always seems a shame that the 1.5 hour goes so quickly and we have only 2 sessions to go!

More videos will follow - this Week (Week 3) the children filmed some clips themselves - Steven Spielberg watch out!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Fred's Journey

I should also mention that Fred is also on a journey here in the UK. He has spent some time here in South Devon visiting various schools, Living Coast, going on boat trips and running marine litter workshops. He has inspired much change locally here in South Devon. One example, he has been working with Blackawton Primary School who are working on reducing their plastic consumption and making a plastic recycled sculpture...more to follow. But now he is off on new travels. He is with the Marine Conservation Society to help them with their "Adopt a Beach" campaign and then will hopefully be heading North to Scotland to help spread the word!

Fred and Maya go to Hawaii!

Well Easter came with some wonderful news for Learn To Sea and the project manager Maya Plass. In June of this year, Maya will be taking Fred back to his homeland of Hawaii and Midway Atoll. In December, I applied to go on the marine education leadership program in Hawaii and Miday atoll. It all came about thanks to the magic that is Fred the Monkey & his creator Ron Hirschi. He had visited Midway on the same program last year and suggested that I apply for a place. I feel very honoured to be the first international representative of the program.

It is an amazing opportunity. Here, I will see first hand the impact of marine litter on our marine wildlife and particularly the albatross nesting here. I will also get the chance to see the incredible marine wildife in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument - corals, spinner dolphins, green turtles, tiger sharks and great variety of nesting birds including the beautiful Fairy Tern. One of the most interesting aspects of the trip will be the people I will share my journey with. They are all (12 individuals) involved in marine eduaction or conservation and have some amazing and inspirational experience to learn from. I know that this trip will be an incredible journey in so many ways. Learn to Sea will benefit hugely from such a wonderful opportunity. It will allow an international perspective on our seas and oceans and offer an opportunity to learn from a culture that is so closely linked with the marine world.

On return, I will be starting a program of school twinning with a local primary school Blackawton with one in Hawaii and then Learn To Sea hopes to work on this with other schools in the future too.

So exciting times ahead for Learn To Sea. Before all of this takes place in June - more locally, on Thursday nex week. Learn To Sea will start it's program with the children of Aveton Gifford of taking them on a very special journey "The Avon from source to sea!" . I will blog details of this 5 week program as it happens!

Salcombe Sea Safari

Learn To Sea has had a great new aquatic adventure! Now, Maya has teamed up with Anna Turns from Whitestrand Boat Hire to run Salcombe Sea Safaris. Salcombe estuary is a very unique and special place - so much so that it's classed with the conservation designation - a Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI). It has a whopping 6 m tidal range and boasts some incredible marine wildlife. It has seagrass beds, corals - yes corals!, dolphin visitors, 4 of the 14 found Bristish intertidal fan mussels, mackerel and scallops all residing in it's safe and salty waters! (It has no river input but is a sunken valley - it's this sheltered salty area which makes it such a great home to so much wildlife.)

We had a great day out with some visiting families and were even able to show them some plankton from a special net which we had dragged behind a boat. The "soup" which we found was amazing - teeming with widlife which is shown in the image with the small pot. It had mini jellyfish (in image above), lobster looking creatures, fish eggs, phytoplankton - responsible for producing more than half of our atmospheric oxygen. I was even able to bring the plankton home and put it under the digital microscope and take some pictures - not great ones. But it does give you an idea of what's all around you when you take a dip!
Fred the Monkey & his albatross friend even made an appearance to talk about marine conservation & the effect of litter in our salty world. It's sad to think that there are places in the world where there is more plastic than plankton!

It was a brilliant day out, or "best day ever" as young Jake said. We hope to run more through the Summer holidays too!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Learn To Sea Awarded Grant for After School Club

Learn To Sea has kindly been awarded a grant by the Aune Conservation Association for an after school club to run for 5 weeks at Aveton Gifford Primary School. Here is the press release...

"Integrating land and sea: ACA awards education grant

The Aune Conservation Association (ACA) is very pleased to announce the granting of one of its John Crawford Environmental Awards to Maya Plass of ‘Learn to Sea’ for the delivery of a series of workshops in which Aveton Gifford primary school children will explore the Avon (from source to sea). It is hoped to run the programme after school later this year, with the possibility of subsequent extension.

Maya’s aims fit very closely with the ACA’s charitable objective of advancing the education of the public in the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment of the river Avon in the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. More specifically, the ACA hopes the programme will encourage, in the next generation, the passion and commitment to conserve our Avon.

The workshops will start with the question “Where does the land end and the sea begin?” Through various field trips and activities it is hoped the children will learn that there is no clear separation. At the very least, they will gain a greater understanding of the local river and it’s relevance to their every day lives.

Note to Editors:

More details of the Environmental Award scheme may be found at or by contacting Stuart Watts at 01548 810373.

Maya Plass can be contacted at or 07811 349966."

This is a wonderful opportunity for the children at AG and also for Learn To Sea.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Fred the Monkey

Fred is a very special monkey. He has travelled to many countries and seen many beautiful things and amazing marine wildlife. In 2009 he was with Ron Hirschi on Midway Atoll. This is part of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. ( , Midway is 1250 miles West of Hawaii in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is an incredibly important marine mecca and demonstrates some of the best marine wildlife that can be seen on this planet. It is home to Hawaiian Monk Seals, Green Turtles, Tiger Sharks and amazing coral reefs. Due to it's remote location it has very little impact from tourism, recreation or humans. For that reason it has amazing marine wildlife and is also a marine protected area. It is everything you would imagine from an atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

What you might not imagine is the daily quantity of rubbish that is washed up on to the shores of the golden beaches. Whilst, very few people have ever and will ever visit Midway, humans have still left their mark. The Pacific Gyre ( a vast current) transports, circulates and concentrates rubbish in to an area that is called "the Pacific Garbage Patch". It doesn't take long to find images of the Hawaiian Monk Seals entangled in nets and to see what effect it has. On the island, Laysan albatross' nest - here, they have found a safe haven undisturbed by humans where they can rear their chicks in safety. The albatross will soar for thousands of miles collecting food for their chicks. They love squid and will scoop it out of the water, return to their chicks and regurgitate the food for their offspring. What an amazing sign of devoted parenthood! But, as you may have guessed, the chicks are then accidentally fed lighters, bottle tops and rubbish. Many chicks do not make it past 3 months.

Some may say, "So what effect does that have on me?" Well, perhaps you can separate yourself from the fate of the chick but we may all be unwittingly consuming toxins from oceanic plastic. As plastic breaks down and is ingested by barnacles or fish any chemicals on the plastic can absorb in to the flesh and build up in the food chain. What will the effect of this be in decades to come? It's worth not leaving it to experimentation and try doing something about it now.

This is where Fred came in. Ron was so effected by this that his idea was to send Fred the Monkey around the world with a resource box to educate and inspire change on the issue of marine litter.

Fred is now here in the UK. He has already been on a New Year beach clean with myself and the Aune Conservation Association. Here, we found litter from China and a vast array of plastics from cattle medicine tubes to frisbees. He has also visited Blackawton Primary School to inspire the children there to create a project / idea to help with the marine litter issue. So, I will continue to update on Fred's progress but more can be found at

If you would like to hear more from Fred please do get in touch, or if you are interested in hosting him he would love to see the rest of the UK.

Top Photo: Blackawton Primary School children with some soaps provided by to show how we can reduce our plastic consumption by choosing household items without plastic packaging.
Top Left Photo: Fred with a beer holder caught round his neck after a beach clean on the Avon. N. B. No harm occured to any monkey in the taking of this photo. He was removed from this restriction without any harm or injury. I'm not sure the same can be said for much wildfowl in our estuaries and around our coast in the UK and all over the world.