VIP speech, zoom, visit

In Marine Super Year 2021, little did we know when CSGRT were mentioned by Rebecca Pow in her Ocean Recovery Conference speech, that we would soon meet her online via zoom and then she would visit us later in the year. Despite her busy schedule as Parliamentary Under-secretary of State for Domestic Environment, Rebecca approached us to host a visit for her to share news of our marine conservation work with seals. We were delighted to meet Rebecca, whose environmental credentials span her career – from reporting on the Sea Empress Oil Spill Disaster as a TV correspondent to her current influential position. Fortunately, our seals turned up in good numbers with some interesting characters and stories to tell show casing our pioneering citizen science photo ID work at a regional scale. We even witnessed disturbance by watercraft firsthand, as 6 seals were disturbed in a single incident (level 1 – 2 seal; level 2 – 3 seals and level 3 – 1 seal)

Rebecca Pow meets Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust's Steering Group and Gracie the ghost gear seal (created by artist Emily Barker)

Rebecca Pow meets Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust’s Steering Group and Gracie the ghost gear seal (created by artist Emily Barker)

Celebrity seals Rabbit f, Triple 8 stocks, Cross comb (heavily pregnant), Mono nettie longline (an entangled seal) and Square J slug.

Celebrity seals Rabbit f, Triple 8 stocks, Cross comb (heavily pregnant), Mono nettie longline (an entangled seal) and Square J slug.

With so much in common, CSGRT’s founder and Director Sue and Rebecca’s marine discussions were wide ranging from Rebecca’s direct actions on marine microplastics plastics to lost fishing gear and most importantly improving seal disturbance legislation.

Several options for achieving this were discussed:

  1. Amending the Conservation of Seals Act by adding ‘disturbance and harassment’ to the current wording ‘take, injure, kill’
  2. Include seals in the Wildlife Legislative Review for the government’s Green Paper
  3. Enable Natural England to simplify the Site of Special Scientific review process allowing species to be added more easily where appropriate evidence exists.
CSGRT volunteer Founder and Director meets Rebecca Pow - the Parliamentary Under-secretary of State for Domestic Environment

CSGRT volunteer Founder and Director meets Rebecca Pow – the Parliamentary Under-secretary of State for Domestic Environment

Rebecca and Sue distracted by seals and their subsequent disturbance by a visiting commercial watercraft

Rebecca and Sue distracted by seals and their subsequent disturbance by a visiting commercial watercraft

CSGRT have just received a letter from Rebecca recognising that “unintentional disturbance by the public can be detrimental and, on occasion, fatal to seals and that greater public awareness is needed to protect these vulnerable marine mammals”. She confirmed that “DEFRA officials are looking to see what potential action can be taken and if it possible to introduce stricter measures to protect seals from disturbance. Whilst this work is at an early stage, we look forward to continuing to work closely with CSGRT as it progresses”.

Deep in discussion about multiple shared marine interests from Rebecca's passion marine microplastics to seal disturbance that was witnessed firsthand during the visit.

Deep in discussion about multiple shared marine interests from Rebecca’s passion marine microplastics to seal disturbance that was witnessed firsthand during the visit.

As the watercraft approaches at speed the seals are alerted by the sound of its engine. Uncertain and worried, they move towards the safety of the sea.

As the watercraft approaches at speed the seals are alerted by the sound of its engine. Uncertain and worried, they move towards the safety of the sea.

We cannot thank Rebecca enough for taking the time visit us and talk about a huge range of marine issues. High level VIP visits like these celebrate the incredibly hard work that our volunteer network puts into seal photo ID research year round, in all weathers and in some cases for decades. Informed visits like these would not be possible without the dedication and commitment of everyone who has ever sent us seal data! Thank you all!