Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Summer rockpooling finds

Luidia ciliaris with extendable tube feet - showing why they're speedy starfish!

Luidia cilaris besides it's smaller "cousin" the Cushion Star - probably a girl - they are male only in their first 4 years of life at which point they turn female!

My favourite Painted Topshell

One edible crab...the smaller shell on left is the moult  - his softer, bigger self on right.

A lovely Snakelock Anemone

Here's just a couple of pics of some of our finds that we came across during the Summer holidays The Luidia starfish definitely an unusual one for our shores...

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Dates for Summer Rockpooling Sessions!

Please find below dates for SUMMER 2011 season of Rockpool Rambles and Interidal Foraging Trips with Maya Plass (as seen on Springwatch / Autumnwatch and more soon - see www.mayaplass.com for short films). Other dates may be available so please contact if you have any additional requests.
Cost - £10/ person for 2 hour session - all equipment provided. Please ensure booking to ensure spaces - 10 children max per group. Over 8 year olds can be left unaccompanied - full insurance, risk assessments & CRB checks.

Date                                    Time                 Session     
Thursday 28/07/11         10-12am    Rockpool Ramble
Friday 29/07/11              11-1pm      Rockpool Ramble
Saturday 30/07/11        12-2pm      Rockpool Ramble            

Monday 01/08/2011        1-3pm        Rockpool Ramble
Tuesday 02/08/2011       2-4pm        Rockpool Ramble
Wed 03/08/2011              3-5pm       Rockpool Ramble
Thu 04/08/11                    3-5pm        Rockpool Ramble
Fri 05/08/2011                 4-6pm        Intertidal Foraging        
Sat 13/08/2011               12-2pm     Rockpool Ramble              

Mon 15/08/2011             1.30-3.30pm     Rockpool Ramble
Tue 16/08/2011              2-4pm                Rockpool Ramble
Wed 17/08/2011            2.30-4.30pm     Rockpool Ramble
Thu 18/08/2011              3-5pm                Intertidal Foraging        
Sat 27/08/2011              11-1pm             Rockpool Ramble            

Mon 29/08/2011           12.30-2.30pm     Rockpool Ramble
Tue 30/08/2011              1-3pm                Rockpool Ramble
Wed 31/08/2011             2-4pm                Intertidal Foraging        
Thu 01/09/2011              13.30-3.30         Rockpool Ramble
Fri 02/09/2011                   3-5pm             Rockpool Ramble
Sat 03/09/2011                4-6pm              Rockpool Ramble

For more information on Maya’s work go to www.learntosea.co.uk and www.mayaplass.com and to book a space call on 07811 349966 or email info@learntosea.co.uk 

Moor to Sea on the Avon - the final exhibition!

On Friday the four schools from Moor to Sea brought their fantastic displays to Aveton Gifford village hall for the final exhibition. As explained in previous blogs - the schools showcased their patch of the water catchment from (practically) Moor To Sea. As the visitors entered the hall they were taken on a virtual journey from moor to sea of the River Avon.
Local naturalist Gordon Waterhouse looking at South Brent Primary schools display in the upper freshwater reaches of the Avon.

Loddiswell Primary School's display of the lower river catchment

A pupil's plasticene model of the River Avon
Aveton Gifford's Multi Media display to showcase the upper estuary wildlife!

Thurlestone Primary School's colourful display - including sensory objects!

Caddis Fly Larvae

Rock covered in caddis fly larvae

A life size egret from a crafty pupil

So, we started in the upper reaches of the Avon with the display entitled, "Our Island". In South Brent the school's local patch of the Avon forks to form an island which locally is simply called, "The Island". The children from South Brent Primary School had created a beautiful display of their Island. They showed real imagination and skill with their poems inspired by their Da Vincian sensory exploration. They also illustrated their local wildlife which we saw on the day - the caddis fly larvae, the dipper, the nuthatch and the real stars - the Jay that swooped down onto the Tawny Owl. The children discovered that there were not many invertebrates in the area they kick sampled perhaps due to a suspicious looking outfall pipe from a neighbouring house. The tawny owl they drew had an opening flap to reveal a happily digesting mouse!

We then moved down from the fast flowing island to the more leisurely flowing river down at Aveton Gifford. Here, the children were delighted to find an array of invertebrates from freshwater shrimp, dragonfly larvae and damselfly larvae - the signs of a really healthy, clean river - as was the Dipper. Their display showed some really well drawn freshwater shrimp with all physiology in tact! They included a lovely poem with the description, "The Avon is magic, like a bold wizard." A wonderful description which really showed how much the Avon had inspired them!

Aveton Gifford Primary School had really gone to town - well to estuary I suppose. They had created an amazing display of multi media wonders. They had all been given homework to create something to contribute to the display. There were two powerpoint presentations showing amazing PC skills and fantastic content!  There were papier mache models of the river, swans, egrets and a life size heron! They had looked at the species they had found and written facts on each one. There was also some beautiful writing, poetry and pictures. As you might guess - this school became the winning school for their enthusiasm, content and efforts. Although, there were some close contenders! They had the upper estuary catchment to explore - which included succulent samphire, swans, egrets and seaweed plus freshwater streams teaming with tadpoles and the odd newt!

Finally, we had Thurlestone Primary School's colourful and artistic interpretation of their part of the Avon -  the saltiest, most marine of the 4 patches. Their display was full of pictures of fish, seaweed, sand eels and crabs! The wonderful "Peace" poem as previously blogged was also included. Following on from their sensory exploration they included some buckets of seaweed and estuary gravel to help bring the experience to life!

All four schools were incredibly impressive with their very different displays. They were very involved in their nature journals and I hope they will continue to use these to explore their local surroundings. It has been a wonderful experience to be involved in this project. It has been great to see that the children were able to explore their local patch of the Avon - all within walking distance. It has also been very encouraging to offer the 4 schools vouchers for field studies kit to use on future trips. The 3 schools received £50 of field studies kit and the fourth winning school £200 of field studies kit. This is really encouraging to think that the children will have better opportunities to explore their surroundings in the future!

Thanks to the Aune Conservation Association and South Devon AONB for funding the project, the 4 local schools for their inspiring work and the 3 expert judges Stuart Watts (chairman of the ACA), Gordon Waterhouse and Don Gaskins. It has been a real pleasure to take the journey from moor to sea with the school children.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Shield Bugs, Tawny Owls, Newts and very happy children.

Never work with children and animals. I categorically refute that statement. Every time I take a group out on to the shore or beside the estuary or river I am amazed by either one of them - normally both.

Yesterday, I took a school group out for "Moor to Sea". The school is situated  beside the upper reaches of the source of the estuary. Surrounding the estuary are a series of streams that create an amazing merge of freshwater and saltwater creatures. In the workshop the children discovered newts, tadpoles, hundreds of grasshoppers, crabs, samphire and much more besides. We'll be working up our poems and creative pieces tomorrow.

Today, I headed up to the upper reaches of the Avon - to meet with South Brent Primary School. We walked down from the school to what is locally called, "The Island" where the river forks to create an open grassy knoll which seems to be popular haven for dogs & their walkers!

We discovered caddis fly larvae, worms, shield bug, nuthatch, dipper, an array of insects and...wait for this...a jay swooping down on a tawny owl. I'm not sure who was more excited the children or adults! It's moments like these which are just so priceless.

When we got back to the classroom the children made some amazing descriptive pieces of writing, poems and stories. I asked them, "What was the best thing you saw today?"   a child's voice piped up - "shieldbug!"

...reminding us all that every creature is special.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Peace on the Estuary

The first school has now completed their sessions on "Moor to Sea". It has been an incredibly enjoyable experience and I really look forward to the other 3 sessions with the other schools further up the catchment. The children have "worked" really hard to heighten their senses and their ability to perceive their local environment. I think this poem quite clearly says it all. This is written by a 10 year old girl who wrote this on our beach session whilst concentrating on our senses and how the estuary made us feel.


Waves lapping against the boats
Water trickling and rippling
It makes me feel white, like doves so peaceful
Like at that moment it was like I could beleive anything
Like the most wildest and funniest things
It was like I was in a trance
Under a spell..."

Needless to say I was bowled over when I read her poem. I love the way in which she reflects she "could believe..the most wildest and funniest things" - a perfect description for all the weird and wonderful things we see, hear and feel beside the estuary. I am truly in a spell.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Moor To Sea on World Ocean Day

Today, was a truly perfect celebration of all that is salty for me here in South Devon. After sending my daughter off in blue, to tell two as part of her "wear blue, tell two" campaign I walked the coastal path to collect my first class for the "Moor to Sea" project. The sun was shining, the wind was powerful - creating white horses that pounded my favourite beach. Sometimes the sea feels so intensely passionate and today was no exception.

So, as previously blogged, "Moor To Sea" involved inviting my 4 local schools for an exploration of their local "patch" of their catchment from moor to sea. For today's school it meant the mouth of the estuary. This is, in practically all concerns, a marine zone. You will find many of the creatures that you find on a sheltered intertidal beach here. However, through the nature of the river cutting it's way through the landscape you have a better sense of the integration of land and sea.

I wanted today to be an exploration of the children's senses. Leonardo Da Vinci once said that the average human, "looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odour or fragrance, and talks without thinking."

In modern society we forget to explore, use and celebrate our senses and the interconnected nature of our world that results from them. This was not going to happen today with "Moor to Sea" and this is the essence of the project - as well as exploring the wildlife of the catchment.

The first hour was spent exploring our senses. Initially, the children closed their eyes took a deep breath and listened... They were left in silence to simply listen... They then put hands up and when I tapped them on their shoulder they described what they could hear.. "water lapping against boats....waves crashing against the shore...gulls...the wind whistling..." they were creating poetry as they spoke.

In their Da Vincan style "Nature Journals" they wrote their experiences, feelings, thoughts and questions. These notebooks were not a place to write or draw something right or wrong. This was their opportunity to explore their thoughts and contemplate their surroundings and ask questions of what they saw, heard and felt.

They then looked at their hand and then the landscape behind it - focusing their visual senses. They explored the sights around them and considered the impact of these things on our estuary.

We then meandered along the estuary edge, carefully, until we came to a local small "beach". They then spent some time touching objects and concentrating how they felt and how they made them feel.

They focused their sense of smell on elderflowers, seaweed dry and fresh and wrote their words to describe these.

Slowly, they were collecting a magical list of vocabulary which will go toward their creative piece that we will work on in follow up sessions.

After increasing their perceptions of their surroundings they collected objects / wildlife to discuss on the beach as an object that best represented their patch of the Avon. We looked at the wildlife and talked about how some of the things we sensed might effect them and and about their adaptations to the intetidal zone. Although, this science will be worked on in our classroom sessions later.

There is something very special about seeing a child slow down their every day excitement and focus on their beautiful environment. They independently, diligently wrote all their thoughts, feelings, experiences and developed questions they wanted answering. It was a pleasure to watch - doubly so because it was World Ocean Day.

Children should have an opportunity to really learn how to look, listen, touch, eat, move, breathe and talk with right mindfulness. It is a skill and quality which Leonardo Da Vinci proves can lead to great things. But it is also something which can be so much fun and such a pleasure to work on and is a great "tool" to connect children with their environment and begin to understand it through all it's many layers.

Happy World Ocean's Day folks.

I can't wait to work with this class again and the other 3 schools to create some scientific, literary and artistic genius...magic.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Rockpool Ramble with BTCV Youth Group

On another glorious sunny day, Learn To Sea was honoured to be part of the last celebratory day of a 3 year project running with BTCV (British Trust Conservation Volunteers). This project was a youth group based conservation project from Exeter.

We had an amazing start to the day - we met at the source of the estuary on the Avon. They were a band of enthusiastic volunteers. It's always good to greet a group that have bonded over time. In the van - the music was blaring with some "interesting" singing in the van and best of all Alvin had brought some chocolate brownies that he had made early that morning and that was the first offering of the day - BRILLIANT!

So we started off where all walks should "talking poo" to put it politely. We were parked just beside the sewage treatment works and a pig pen homing some  lovely juicy, happy pigs! Strangely enough there was no aroma... just sleeping pigs in their pen, exhausted from their morning of eating! We talked about the catchment and water run off, sewage related debris and water quality - which is so important for this estuary - home to the "Bigbury Bay Oysters". Which I knew we might be tasting later!

As we walked down the estuary - my favourite of all in the UK. We were greeted by egrets ( invasive but beautiful) and sheldrake and other avian treats.  As we were walking down the tidal road we came across a crab moulting which was a good opportunity to talk about their amazing ability to moult their shells in order to grow. But lunch was calling and what a lunch - as it was the last of the year, the group were treated to a 3 course meal at the Oyster Shack. We had delicious oysters "pic-n-mix" and I had mussels too. It was great to know they were grown and produced and depurated so locally. In fact Richard ( the oyster owner) was lopping branches off in his garden as we walked past! And I was able to point out the depuration tanks en route to the restaurant as well.

Many of the group had never shucked, eaten or digested an oyster - but they all tried and all liked! Nobody was ill - it is not that common to be ill from well kept, well depurated (cleaned in running water for 42 hours) oysters. It was fantastic to see so many enjoy what is an overlooked and under rated delicacy from our local waters.

 Alvin enjoying his oyster!

We then trotted off with full bellies for the next part of the adventure back upstream to move on to my rockpool beach. Which obviously isn't mine - it's for everybody to enjoy!

The rockpooling was very cool! But not so cool that we were bothered when some of our feet got wet!! It was a brilliant spring low tide so we had a huge area of intertidal rocks to explore. With time and tide waiting for no man we headed down to the lowest point of the tide. We were rewarded with some amazing sights of clingfish, devil crab, montagu crab, cushion star, brittle starfish, carnivorous dog whelks and some irredescent, illuminated looking Peacock Weed - my favourite! It goes dull when taken out of the water - like so much of our marine creatures their colour and vibrancy is nothing out of the water only special when left in situ.

It was, I have to say, probably my best day yet. It was a lovely crowd, a lovely home grown meal and a fantastic low spring tide.

I feel so very lucky to live where I do and it is such an honour to be able to share it woth other people - it makes it even more special! Thanks BTCV for the brownies, laughter and being such a great crew!

Friday, 18 March 2011

Moor to Sea on The Avon!

Well, this month has been a great beginning of the SEA-son with Learn To Sea - lovely workshops, sunny beach cleans and fab funding news!

Learn To Sea has been given continued support from Aune Conservation Association for another year of after school clubs. Last year saw Aveton Gifford Primary School receiving 10 after school sessions on the Avon catchment...see previous posts...In 2011, Learn To Sea will run ( thanks to ACA funds) after school classes for 4 schools in the Avon catchment (pending confirmation from schools). They will each have 3 sessions - 1 field trip, 1 session on the natural history of the Avon and the last crafty session in which they will illustrate their favourite creature / plant of the Avon. There will be a final display of all 4 schools in a local village hall and also PRIZES! This is great news - each school will get new field study kit and the winning school will get an additional £200 of field study books/kit. Hopefully, this experience and funds will enable schools to run their own field trips after the sessions are complete!

It's a great opportunity for the schools in the catchment to learn about their patch and their neighbouring schools' in the catchment. Personally, I am really looking forward to getting muddy and crafty with the children of the 4 schools and to show them why our local patch is so very special and how lucky we are to have such amazing landscapes and wildlife on our doorstep!

So a huge thanks to the Aune Conservation Association for their support and the opportunity the children will have through this project...showing there really is, "Moor to Sea on the Avon!"

Sunday, 13 March 2011

News on my feathered & human friends in Midway atoll and the North Western Hawaiian Islands.

After my trip to Midway I was concerned to hear of the tsunami racing across the Pacific Ocean towards the North Western Hawaiian Islands. There's good and bad news - Wisdom the longest surviving 60 year old Albatross survived as did the only Short Tailed Albatross chick but many (thousands) of chicks lost their lives in the tsunami. The infrastructure and humans fared well but there was some unfortunate impact on the "moli"...

I was so very lucky to have spent some time on Midway with the "Moli" and learn about this magical island and all the amazing people that work towards it's health and conservation. Aloha to all on Midway...

I just wish I was closer to come and help clear away some of the debris...but hope that our efforts today beach cleaning will contribute just a little to coastal and ocean health.

For further info...



The memory of opening the carcass of an albatross chick to find plastic bottles and lighters with inscriptions, "Freedom and Innocence" will never leave me. The consequence of our "freedom" can be devastating.

Please remember to look up local beach cleans and contribute towards making a difference in your patch...it's great fun as well as being a great contribution to coastal conservation, saving wildlife and making for cleaner beaches.

Beach clean in the glorious sun!

Today, was a beautiful Spring day. Today was a beach clean day where we (along with local volunteers - mostly from the Aune Conservation Association) meet up clean the beach in the sun, have a nice chat, enjoy the Spring weather and remind ourselves how very lucky we are to live here in the South Hams. We collected lots of rubbish - particularly foam insulation in large blocks and some menacing smaller broken down pieces and collated the info on Marine Conservation data sheets. We collected as much of the broken foam, polystyrene and bottles that we could and left the beach cleaner and safer for wildlife and people...including the 5 attending small dogs, 2 young children and 9 month old baby that attended the beach clean.

We had a fab turn out of 17 people and 5 dogs. A wonderful bunch of kind hearted people who saw value in coming and cleaning the beaches - because it's a good thing to do but also because it's a great excuse to be on the beach with friends! After the clean up we all sat in the lea of the estuary "spit" and made a driftwood fire, cooked sausages and enjoyed the feeling of our cheeks getting a little singed in the early Spring months.

You should come along next time - it's a great day out...don't forget something to cook on the fire!

Incidentally, we were pleased to find that the beach was relatively clean, mostly due to recent weather conditions. But we couldn't help but think of coastlines in the Pacific wishing them well and concerned for the implications on human and oceanic health.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Happy faces & cold fingers!

Spring may well be here but it's proving to be pretty cold out there still! But that didn't put off the Youth Services Group bringing 3 wonderful youths from Plymouth to join a Learn To Sea workshop.

We started off with some star(fish) jumps to warm up and headed to the rockpools for low tide. We were filming the event so the children could take a CD home as a memento. Despite the bitterly cold winds we headed to the pools & soon (momentarily) forgot the cold. We found the moulted carapace of shore crab, anemones, edible crab and cushion stars. It was a great start to the rockpooling season.

After lunch in the warmth of the van the group learnt about Fred the Monkey (see previous posts) and his adventures, the impact of litter and even had a chance to see the dissection of an albatross bolus - or albatross sick as they affectionately called it. They were surprised by the squid beak and also the content of plastic. This then inspired us to go and collect litter from the beach and search the strandline for treasure - more lovely crab moults, a stinky dead crab and lots of lovely limpets!

We also managed to do some seaweed presses for the children to take home and a "design a plankton" session. They created some pretty scary plankton!

It was great to be back on shore and am looking forward to more rockpooling over the next few months when the pools will start getting warmer!

Thanks to the Plymouth Group for being sop much fun and enduring the cold on our rockpooling mission!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

What's ahead for 2011?

How can we top 2010? Well, it already is looking like a great year for the sea and our oceans!

We have already seen the brilliant success of "Hugh's Fish Fight". It was an incredibly encouraging programme. It supported what I thought was true - the general public really want to understand and learn about our seas and that they also want to support it's conservation. Hugh's crew did a fantastic job to educate and allow people the chance to support the fight against discards. Now that the marine environment has been put into the public arena like this, I hope that there will be a continued interest and opportunities of learning for the public. TV has a responsibility to do great things for our society and community - Big Fish Fight showed us that they have the power to really achieve this.

What's on in 2011.

The season begins with a workshop with a group of children from Plymouth's Youth Service. I look forward to taking them out this week and making some short films for them to keep as a momento!

March 15th Talk at Devon Maritime Forum.

I have been asked to run a talk about the value of marine education in Devon and nationally. I am looking forward to promoting the value of marine education and to meeting Tim Maddams from Hugh's fish fight who will be serving up some sustainable mackerel buns!

BBC Springwatch 2011.

Very happy to say that I have been asked to run another film for BBC Springwatch. I will post more details of this as the story unfolds...

BBC Coast 2011.

I have also been in discussion with the BBC Coast crew and hope to be running a film for them in the early Summer. Watch this space...

Aune Conservation Association, 2011. "Moor to Sea" Workshop & Competition.

The Aune Conservation Association have kindly considered supporting a second round of workshops for schools within the Avon Catchment...details to follow.

Summer Workshops 2011.

Shortly, I will post details of events for the Summer 2011 season. An opportunity to come and have a guided tour of our amazing intertidal rockpools. I can't wait to get my feet wet again! Hopefully with a little less rain than last season... although it didn't seem to put people off!


I will continue to run quarterly beach cleans and will post details of them. It's a great day out on the beach, very satisfying and a nice social - come and join us!

Learn To Sea looks forward to a great 2011 season of rockpooling and enjoying our lovely British coastline!

Long overdue update...

It has been too long and so much has happened in the last 9 months. It is time for a well overdue update.


I am in the process of finishing a blog which includes a diary of my trip to this beautiful island in the middle of the Pacific. This will be live soon once I have written some more of the diary and latest. In brief, the trip was more special than I can put into words. The depth of experience, friendships and imagery from that trip are too much to translate in photographs or words - although I will try on the blog. Needless to say it was life changing I found out so many things about Midway, conservation, culture and myself. I am also putting much of my new found experience, knowledge and discoveries into my projects and work that I do.

2. SUMMER 2010.

Learn To Sea enjoyed some workshops on the beach at South Milton Sands and will continue to run events throughout the Summer of 2011. Dates will be posted on here soon.

3. BBC Autumnwatch 2010.

I also had brilliant news from the BBC Springwatch / Autumnwatch crew that they wanted me to run a couple of films for them as guest presenter. It was a fantastic experience. The crew are so much fun to work with. The first film was on snorkeling though the autumnal coloured seaweeds. It took a couple of days to get the filming done through September - October - trying to get tides and visibility right can be a challenge! But so much fun and what a brilliant excuse to do one of the things I love best - snorkeling!

The second film was about the strandline. The strandline is an incredibly rich and diverse habitat full of all insects that are a veritable feast for shoreline visitors. We had heard from Steve Trewhella that there were several unexpected visitors to our shoreline. So we laid some Longworth traps and found Shrew! Beautiful little creatures with pinprick eyes and a venomous nip if of the Water variety...it was great to show the public some of the amazing diversity of things that can be found on the strandline. Within the film, I also mentioned that you can make "Sailor's Whistle" out of Bladder Wrack. Although, I didn't know exactly how. I had a lovely e mail describing how to make the whistle - I can now do it!

The two films were followed up by a "LIVE!" chat with Chris Packham and Kate Humble on the sofa of all sofas. To say I was a little nervous is an understatement! But when I got to the studio the crew, as ever, were so amazingly friendly and nice that it soon seemed less daunting. We ran a rehearsal and I realised that it wasn't such a huge ordeal! In the live all went well and I managed to keep it together! Then onto Unsprung which was great fun even when we lost air!

4. Other stuff....

Learn To Sea also ran workshops on marine litter for BTCV and other beach cleaning events and other Private bookings for marine educational workshops.

What a busy, unexpected and amazing year. 2010 was a great year for Learn To Sea and me, personally. I look forward to an exciting and busy 2011 to share and impart my love and knowledge of the sea!

You can now also follow me on Twitter @MayaPlass