The Ocean has rights

The Seal Research Trust (SRT) understands that the ocean has rights, so our charity has always aimed to give seals and the sea a voice. 2023, saw SRT’s focus on marine conservation well and truly spotlighted on the global stage.

For UPDATES on this project, please scroll down to the bottom of this page.

Photo of St Ives Bay with the iconic Godrevy Lighthouse that inspired Virgina Wolff's book to the Lighthouse where PT's CDR AOE geoengineering project is planned
St Ives Bay with its iconic lighthouse that inspired Virginia Woolf’s book ‘To the Lighthouse’

Geoengineering project proposal for St Ives Bay

On 19/01/23, SRT were present at a routine Cornwall Marine Liaison Group meeting where a Canadian startup company Planetary Technologies (PT) presented their plans for a Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement (OAE) geoengineering project that would see tonnes of Magnesium Hydroxide (MH) released into St Ives Bay. SRT later learned that an initial trial took place in September 2022 that local communities and the public were not informed about.
By March, PT had held two small public meetings in Hayle and Truro. SRT hosted two face to face meetings with PT’s CEO Mike Kelland and PR Lead Pete Chagrin, where SRT’s Steering Group were able to pose their questions about PT’s plans.
The St Ives Bay community is very willing and able to engage, understand, scrutinise and hopefully pass on learning to other communities facing similar issues. Local communities here are extremely protective of their marine ecosystems that support health and wellbeing, as well as vital financial economies where tourism, based on a quality marine environment, is key. Additionally, Cornwall is blessed with a network of over 20 existing local marine conservation groups, all focused on protecting our vital coastal environmental assets in partnership with numerous NGOs such as SRT supported by excellent marine focused Universities.

Science concerns

SRT began exploring relevant science and research. One paper showed that when used as a purifier in a closed system, ‘MH can create nanoscale solid wastes containing a high concentration of pollutants that are harmful to the environment’ (Lui et al 2020). Hartmann et al 2023 stated that ‘the real world application of OAE remains unclear as its most basic assumptions are untested. Before large scale deployment can be considered, safe and sustainable procedures for the addition of alkalinity to seawater must be identified and governance established. The potential impacts of adding alkaline materials on marine organisms and ecosystems is still largely unknown.  Overall the side effects of OAE on organisations and more importantly on ecosystems, is largely unknown and deserves research at the experimental level, to provide better knowledge in order to make informed decisions on whether or not alkalinity enhancement is a feasible mitigation strategy’.

Environment Agency and Water Research Centre

As a result SRT began writing to the Environment Agency (EA) outlining our thoughts and posing questions we did not know the answers to. To date we have submitted four letters to the EA. We were delighted when the EA contracted the Water Research Centre (WRc) to conduct an independent audit of PT’s project license application. As a result, after several online contacts with the WRc, we submitted a letter outlining our monitoring expectations and provided detailed data about seal habitat use in St Ives Bay. We also summarised the available scientific information (albeit limited) about seal senses, suggesting their likely abilities to detect changes in water chemistry and the marine environment.

Screenshots of SRT's detailed letters sent to the statutory agencies about PT's CDR OAE geoengineering project
Some of SRT’s letters written to the statutory agencies

South West Water

Given PT had already, and planned to again use South West Water’s (SWW) infrastructure, SRT engaged directly with SWW to share our growing concerns about the unknown status of impacts of PT’s project on marine ecosystems and to best help SWW conduct their effective due diligence duties on behalf of their shareholders and the SWW community. SWW’s CEO requested a meeting with SRT which was held on 29/11/23. Present at the online meeting were John Halsall (Pennon’s Chief Operating Officer) and two of his colleagues (Rebecca Bragg and Guy Doble), as well as SRT’s Director Sue Sayer MBE and Science Advisors Dr Ian Hendy (blue carbon and habitat restoration expert) and David Santillo (Greenpeace International’s geoengineering expert). A second meeting is planned between SRT and SWW in early February 2024.

National Interest

The project quickly gained national interest. Throughout 2023, SRT received numerous requests to participate in articles about PT’s CDR OAE project and articles appeared in the Times and Sue Sayer made numerous appearances on the BBC news, as well as being a panelist on the Politics Show SW in October 2023 (14:12 to 29:52).

Screenshots of news and TV articles from the Times national newspaper to the St Ives Times and Echo
National and local media coverage examples

Global Interest

Turns out the proliferation of marine geoengineering projects are also a global concern. Several international journalists have interviewed SRT about this geoengineering project including ones from Canada, where PT’s activities seem to have been given the green light with minimal community publicity or involvement.

SRT were also contacted by ‘Hands Off Mother Earth’ (HOME) an international NGO and the ‘Centre for International Environmental Law’ (CIEL). These organisations encouraged us to share our case study experiences with the United Nations, as part of their ‘Removal Activities under article 6.4 Mechanism’ consultation, which we did. SRT gratefully received a lot of invaluable support, advice, science and contacts from HOME and CIEL and were happy to reciprocate by accepting their invite to present the PT geoengineering case study at a geoengineering webinar in October.  HOME and CIEL are both keen to put more capacity towards supporting civil organisations such as ourselves to upskill and empower more communities, to better understand the global and legislative context of geoengineering projects on their patch.

Position statements

Along the way other organisations have provided statements and scientific reports about this kind of geoengineering project. These include the International Maritime Organisation, The Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection, HOME!, The National Trust and Cornwall Bird Watching and Preservation Society.

Photo of grey seals hauled out on offshore rocks in idyllic calm seas put at risk by PTs geoengineering CDR OAE project
SRT’s presentation title slide to Flotilla

Flotilla Foundation

In November SRT were invited to participate in a presentation to board members of the Flotilla Foundation, a charitable organisation based in the Netherlands focused on the marine environment.  SRT were not seeking any funding but were merely presenting their PT geoengineering case study experience.

A few days after the board meeting, the Flotilla Foundation contacted SRT’s Sue Sayer MBE to thank her for her excellent presentation. Totally unexpectedly, out of blue and to our utter amazement, they offered SRT £25,000. This money could be used to core fund SRT, given the huge amount of time and effort spent by SRT to ensure the marine environment of St Ives Bay and its globally rare seals had a voice in this geoengineering project. SRT are keen to ensure our local community now have resources to support any actions needed to face the short, medium and long term implications, monitoring and impacts of PT’s CDR OAE geoengineering project in Cornwall. Funds could also be used to kick start a Nature Based Blue Carbon Plan for St Ives Bay, as an effective alternative method of increasing the sea’s pH naturally, with multiple biodiversity, community and economic benefits to local communities.

The ocean has rights and needs our voice!

We are sharing this story to be transparent and explicit about the origins of this funding, which was not imagined, requested or expected by SRT. It was offered by the Flotilla Foundation, inspired by the amazing actions of SRT’s volunteers, our wonderful partners, the Cornwall Carbon Scrutiny Group and local community members, whose only aim is to ensure that St Ives Bay’s marine ecosystem is fully protected and becomes more vibrant and biodiverse in the future. We all need to protect our ocean, which has rights and needs our voice to enable future generations of seals and people to thrive!


12/02/24: The Environment Agency release the Water Research Centre Audit Report

Today has seen the Environment Agency (EA) publicly released the Water Research Centre’s (WRc) report they commissioned about PTs geoengineering project in St Ives Bay. Click the following links to read the key documentation, including our immediate response from the Seal Research Trust

23/03/24: Open dialogue with Planetary Technologies

SRT remain in open dialogue with PT and on 15/03/24 PT presented their 2 day ‘Baseline’ results from May 2023 to the Cornwall Carbon Scrutiny Group (CCSG). 8 staff from PT were present along with 14 CCSG members. PT’s chief scientist agreed with CCSG that:

  • The May data was not a comprehensive spatial or temporal survey
  • This survey did not constitute a baseline
  • PT’s preferred static species (bivalves) were not present for surveying at the diffuser site
  • The control site had multiple parameters that varied from the diffuser site, so is not ideal or comparable, nor therefore suitable, as a control site
  • Highly responsive communication systems are required by SWW and PT to avoid dosing during storm outflow events.

PT’s CEO Mike Kelland also confirmed that Carbon Credits are part of PT’s business model, albeit not being sold to support the St Ives Bay experiment. SRT consider PT’s scientific research should not be allowed due a commercial conflict of interest and a licence refused.

SRT have written to the EA to strongly urge them to make sure that if the trial is licenced, the following fundamental requirements should be part of PT’s licensing agreement:

  • Long term, robust, spatial and temporal baselines (conducted seasonally and over multiple years) must be established and completed by PT BEFORE any trial takes place
  • A transect of spatial survey sites into the bay at different distances from the diffuser are studied to take into account sediment movements in the bay, given toxic sediment accumulation is a medium level risk and would be a reason for ending the trial. Surveys must be established and completed by PT BEFORE any trial takes place
  • Long term baseline surveys on multiple St Ives Bay marine species at different trophic levels (to assess the impact of magnesium hydroxide) must be completed by PT BEFORE any trial takes place
  • Pool sized closed water and air locked system trials should be conducted on multiple St Ives Bay marine habitats and species across the food web, WHILST thorough baseline surveys are taking place.

SRT acknowledge that St Ives Bay’s diffuser location is a challenging one, but this is not a reason to not require a properly rigorous, scientifically robust baseline BEFORE any trial takes place.

PT’s reasoning for the current lack of data seemed to be… it is too costly, too hard, in too challenging an environment, to do more thorough research. This is just not acceptable, given the potential risks to St Ives Bay’s triple bottom line.

The decision was made at the meeting for a second meeting to be organised by CCSG with PT covering the WRc Report.

05/04/24: PT and SWW decide to delay their next re-application to the EA

Planetary Technology’s (PT) and South West Water’s (SWW) decision to delay their joint enterprise experiment application resubmission to the Environment Agency until 2025 was announced on Friday 5th April 2024.
From the outset, the Cornwall Carbon Scrutiny Group (CCSG) has questioned the idea of importing Magnesium Hydroxide (MH) from a Chinese asbestos mine – not just because of its huge carbon footprint, but because of its opaque provenance and potential for contamination.
In February, The Water Research Centre (WRc) report also questioned the ethics and purity of this Chinese source of MH. As a result, PT announced they would find a local source for MH and the logistics of this would delay the next experiment until 2025.
CCSG welcome this delay, as PT and SWW’s decision validates CCSG’s concerns and raises questions about why PT previously used this MH source in St Ives Bay in September 2022? Why did PT consistently tell our local community that they were happy that this source was totally safe to use?

21/04/24: Community voice their concerns about SWW and PTs joint enterprise

What a turn out and what a once in a life time spectacle in St Ives Bay. In beautiful spring weather hundreds of people gathered on Gwithian Beach in St Ives Bay to express their concern about SWW and PT’s geoengineering experiment. They were joined by wild swimmers galore and an impressive flotilla of fishing vessels, tripper boats and gigs.

Community show of strength on Gwithian Beach

Supporters were entertained by local musicians who even composed a song specifically about this project. Senara Wilson Hodges from Keep Our Sea Chemical Free organised and opened the event. She outlined SWW/PT’s project and spoke passionately about the actions our community has taken to ensure they and our enforcement agencies fulfil their due diligence duties. Sue Sayer from SRT then spoke about our steep learning curve about this type of project which has led us to raise our scientific concerns with the Environment Agency, SWW, PT and the Water Research Centre (WRc). These include inadequate baselines, control sites and the medium risk of precipitation as reported in the WRc’s report. Sue has shared the experience of our community with organisations including the United Nations and the White House Federal Scientific Advisors. Click here to read Sue’s speech.

Wild swimmers and boat flotilla united in the sea

The speeches were followed by wild swimmers and the flotilla expressing their shared care and concern for St Ives Bay. Huge thanks to everyone who made this incredible show of community strength possible. This was a brilliantly orchestrated event by the legend that is Senera Wilson Hodges. Now we must keep vigilant and be ready to gather together again. Watch this space.

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Together let’s give our ocean’s a louder and stronger voice! Our ocean has rights! Thank you!