The NHBS Guide to Rockpooling

Rockpooling is an educational and extremely enjoyable wildlife activity that introduces you to a colourful world of creatures that are usually hidden beneath the sea. Rock pools are full of limpets, crabs, whelks, periwinkles and anemones, all of which have fascinating adaptations that allow them to live in this unique place. The intertidal zone is an exceptionally harsh habitat, with animals needing to cope with exposure to saltwater, rainwater, changing temperatures and sun. Rockpooling is a brilliant hands-on activity to introduce children to this unique habitat and discuss how animals and plants cope with living there.

Photo credit: S Webber

Planning a Rockpooling trip

The best time to go rockpooling is in the late spring or summer, when the weather is milder and temperatures are warmer. There are many excellent locations to go rockpooling on the UK coast and, by searching the local area or consulting this list by The Wildlife Trusts, you can find some of the best spots. Once you know which area you are heading to, you need to consult the local tide table. Rockpooling is best done on a low spring tide, because the most interesting range of creatures are likely to be found nearest the sea edge. Pick a day with calm weather conditions and when the low tide point is at a suitable time in the day – you need to time your visit to be there for low tide and then watch carefully for the tide coming back in. Make sure that you take a sun hat, sun cream and wear sturdy shoes, as the rocks can be very slippery.

Rockpooling equipment and method

Photo credit: S Webber

Bucket – a clear or white plastic bucket is great for storing your finds temporarily.

Net –a net can help with catching crabs when used carefully, but avoid scraping along rocks.

ID guide – there are a range of ID guides including laminated FSC sheets and seashore identification guides.

Pots – smaller animals can be transferred carefully to pots for a closer look.

Endoscope – peer deep into the depths of the rockpools and record images and videos with a handheld endoscope.

Approach rock pools carefully, as animals can be wary of noise and shadows appearing above them. Dip your bucket into the water to catch mobile animals or carefully search through with your hands. If you fill your bucket and pots with a little seawater then you can keep any creatures you find in there for a short period of time while you identify them. Watch out for crab claws as they can nip, and anemone tentacles as they can sting. Do not remove any creatures that are attached to the rocks as they may have a specific place that they attach to until the tide comes back in. Turn over stones to find crabs and have a good look to see if there is anything hiding in the seaweed. Once you have finished looking, make sure you return the animals gently back into the pool.

Common UK Rock Pool Inhabitants

Green shore crab (Carcinus maenas)

Photo credit: John Haslam via Flickr

Hermit crab  (Pagurus bernhardus)

Photo credit: Peter Corbett via Flickr







Common blenny  (Lipophrys pholis)

Photo credit: Duncan Greenhill via Flickr

Beadlet anemone  (Actinia equina)

Photo credit: Deryk Tolman via Flickr







Snakelocks anemone  (Anemonia viridis)

Photo credit: NHBS (taken with Video Endoscope)







Flat top shell  (Steromphala umbilicalis)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons







Limpet  (Patella vulgate)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons








Common periwinkle  (Littorina littorea)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


Recommended reading and equipment

The Essential Guide to Rockpooling



Educational Rock Pooling KitEducational Rock Pooling Kit



Rock Pool: Extraordinary Encounters Between the Tides




The Rocky Shore Name Trail



Rocky Shores




Life Between the Tides




Rock Pools




RSPB Handbook of the Seashore




White Plastic Bucket



60ml Collecting Pot




Hand Held Magnifier


Video Endoscope


Author Q&A with David Seamer: A Beginners Guide to Freshwater Microscopic Life

David Seamer book coversA Beginners Guide to Freshwater Microscopic Life is a practical, spiral-bound guide written by David Seamer which offers a fantastic introduction to the multitude of microscopic organisms found in freshwater. For those with a more specific interest, An Illustrated Guide to the Freshwater Protozoa provides an extensive review of taxonomic information and detailed descriptions of 400 genera of Amoebae, Flagellata and Ciliata, all of which have a worldwide distribution.

David Seamer looking at the camera smiling while sat at a table with a pencil in his hand and a large white microscope on his left and a partially complete drawing of a microorganism on his right.In 1993, David Seamer bought an old school bus and converted it into a mobile home and laboratory. He spent the next 20 years travelling around south-east Australia and Tasmania collecting, cataloguing and drawing the biodiversity of the micro-world. David has now settled in a county town in Australia where he has access to a great range of environments from semidesert springs to alpine ponds and lakes and continues to sketch, study and identify microscopic life.

David took the time out of his busy schedule to discuss how he first got into studying microscopic life, the biggest challenges he’s had to overcome while creating these books and more.

Can you tell us about how you first developed an interest in studying microscopic life? 

Ever since I was a small child, the natural world has fascinated me and my bedroom became a study place for caterpillars, tadpoles, lizards, insects of any description and anything else that I could keep in jars, boxes or old abandoned aquariums. But it wasn’t until I was about 15 and in high school that I discovered the micro-world, during a double biology lesson in which the teacher was using amoebas collected from a local pond as examples of an animal cell. While I was drawing an amoeba I noticed other ‘wigglers’ and drew them as well. After the lesson I approached the teacher and asked what these other things were. He pointed to a copy of Ward and Whipple’s Freshwater Biology and once I opened it and saw drawings of what I had seen, I was instantly hooked. I saved my money from a couple of lawn mowing jobs to buy my first microscope and it has become a lifelong passion ever since.  

Black and white pen sketches of microorganisms in David Seamer's book A Beginners Guide to Freshwater Microscopic Life.

Which techniques would you advise a beginner in this field of study to use? 

My advice to beginners is to be aware that these organisms are real creatures and should be treated with the same respect as any other animal. Collect your samples and examine them as soon as possible. Ideally, they should still be alive for once dead many of them decompose and break down very quickly. Preserved specimens often change shape and distort so live is always best. A good microscope is essential and the use of a measuring slide or an eye-piece micrometer, as well as phase contrast, is of great help. There are thousands of species so don’t try and identify organisms to that level. Genus or even family are as far down as one should go to start with.

I found it really fascinating looking at your illustrations of microbes and the incredible detail you’ve included. Can you explain the process of drawing from live microscopic observations and the challenges of this method? 

David Seamer's progressive drawing of sketching a microorganism, from basic outlined sketch on the left to a detailed 3D representation on the right.

Drawing from life requires patience and lots of it. Starting with basic measurements to get proportions is the first step. This illustration (see above) is fairly typical of my technique. I draw the initial outline and basic details in 2B pencil and then when I am satisfied that all is correct, I use various grades of felt tipped pens to complete the drawing. Of course one must have knowledge of the subject so as to point out specific identification pointers.

What does your essential field kit include? 

David Seamer stood on a lakes edge in a pink shirt and blue trousers collecting samples while holding a conical net over the water.My basic field kit apart from my wellington or gumboots, comprises a 30µm plankton net as seen in this photo, a basting pipette for mud surface collection, several numbered, widemouth jars with screw on lids, and a notebook for the recording of date, location, temperature and any other variable details – all packing into a large knapsack type bag in case a bit of a hike is involved.  

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome while creating these books? 

The biggest challenge one faces is reference material. It is essential to get not only the identification correct, but also the internal structure of these tiny organisms. Because taxonomy is constantly changing and developing, keeping up with name changes can be a challenge. While the internet can be invaluable, it is full of incorrect information and one must be very cautious when using it.  

When I started out, I was constantly frustrated by not only the lack of availability of reference material on this subject but also the language. So many books were written by scientists for scientists, or were so simple that they were pretty well useless, that finally I decided to write a number of comparatively comprehensive but simple guides aimed at the amateur, student and enthusiast. These guides have proved quite popular and have currently been despatched to 50 countries around the world.  

How have environmental changes as a result of climate change affected the distribution of and variation in microorganism species? 

Environmental changes resulting from climate change affect the distribution and variation of microorganisms in very subtle ways. Whilst many species are incredibly robust, others are very delicate and can easily be affected by things like water temperature. Some protists need very specific environmental conditions in order to exist. Freshwater is a fluid (no pun intended) environment and every change has its ramifications. For example, droughts can obviously dry out ponds, streams and even small lakes as well as change the oxygen levels and pH of water bodies and this can result in a change in biodiversity. Likewise, floods will have the same effect with an increase in additional nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates from farmers’ paddocks causing algal blooms. 








David Seamer has privately published his collection, two of which are available at

Conservation volunteering with Wild Planet Trust’s Seagrass Project

I recently had the opportunity to witness first hand a team from the Wild Planet Trust working to survey seagrass meadows in the Torbay area. The ‘Save Our Seagrass’ project, which has been going for some years, involves repeated survey work throughout the year to assess the meadows’ health and the diversity of marine life that they support.  Having lost over 90% of seagrass meadows around the UK in recent centuries, these surveys provide vital information about the growth or decline of existing meadows, as well as potential impacts from factors such as global warming.

Megan and her team of volunteer divers met with me early on a Saturday morning to travel out into the bay to survey three specific meadows: Fishcombe Cove, Torre Abbey and Breakwater Beach. Each of these meadows carry unique characteristics derived from their locations. Torre Abbey is situated close to the harbour entrance of Torquay and is very shallow during low tides. The Breakwater Beach area is home to local swimmers and tourists.

The third site, Fishcombe Cove, near the fishing town of Brixham, holds a key to solving one of the problems that has contributed to the deterioration of the meadows. There are typically many reasons why a meadow sustains damage and/or gets wiped out, the most obvious being where fishing nets are trawled across the seabed. But more and more these days, casual leisure boat users cause damage by dropping their anchors. When damage occurs, it can take ten years or more to recover, assuming that the conditions are favourable.

An innovative approach to solving this problem has been using the deployment of “no anchor” buoys such as those that are situated in Fishcombe Cove. Designed to allow up to three boats to moor without dropping anchor, these buoys are chained to the seabed and have smaller submerged buoys attached to them which keep the chain from scraping the seabed and damaging the seagrass.

The surveys such as the one I observed use two different methods: a transect and a spiral form, and each dive team is equipped with a float with a GPS unit that stays on the surface and records their location as they move through and around the seagrass meadows. Each diver carries two hours’ worth of oxygen to be able to carry out the surveys at anywhere up to ten meters depth.  With underwater cameras they record the general health of the area and any unusual sightings along with expected marine life.

One of the observations from the divers from the surveys that I attended was the extent of life that had grown on the chains for the buoys, along with shoals of Bib (Trisopterus luscus) that were using the seagrass for cover. Around the meadow near Torre Abbey, plenty of additional life was found including Pipefish (Nerophis ophidion), Common Cuttlefish eggs (Sepia officinalis), Hermit Crabs (Pagurus bernhardus), gobies, periwinkles and Sea Slaters (Ligia oceanica).

All the data from the dives will be collated and, following a single additional dive day schedule in October, the team at the Wild Planet Trust will start the process of analysing the collected date from this year, looking at how the meadows have changed in comparison to previous years.

Learn more about the Wild Planet Trust’s ‘Save Our Seagrass’ project on the Wild Planet Trust website, where you can also find out more about their other work and ways to support them.

National Marine and Coastal Wildlife Code

The first national Marine and Coastal Wildlife Code has been launched in England, which will protect animals and habitats by helping people enjoy the coast responsibly. England’s coastline contains vitally important habitats, including sand dunes, saltmarshes and a significant proportion of Europe’s vegetated shingle beaches. The coastline also supports a number of key species, such as 95% of Europe’s grey seal population and 25% of Europe’s breeding seabirds.

This builds on the existing Countryside Code but only applies to England. Scotland, Ireland and Wales have previously produced similar coastal and marine wildlife codes and guidance, which should be reviewed if you are looking to visit these areas.

If a seal is looking at you, you are causing a disturbance. Image by Simon Palmer
What does the code include?

Similarly to the Countryside Code, this new code aims to act as a guide to help visitors act responsibly around marine wildlife. We all have a responsibility to protect our local wildlife. The guidance from the UK government for England is:

1. Be aware of how you could cause a disturbance

Many people may not realise the impact disturbing wildlife can have, but if an animal is repeatedly disturbed, it can lead to stress, injury and even death. You can also displace animals from their preferred habitat, disrupting behaviours such as migration, breeding, feeding and resting. This disturbance can also increase their vulnerability to predators.

The impact of disturbance on seals has been brought to the public’s attention in recent years, with many organisations calling for people to be aware of the damage caused. Disturbances that force seals to flee from haul-out sites into the sea can result in them struggling to put on or maintain weight and unable to properly feed their pups. Seals can also receive injuries such as gashes from sharp rocks or even broken ribs, which can be difficult for a diving species to heal from. Increased vigilance also wastes energy and can reduce the amount of time spent feeding or resting. This increased energy expenditure can increase stress as well as the seal’s vulnerability to disease, reducing overall fitness and increasing mortality rates.

You can disturb wildlife by approaching or touching an animal; crowding, circling, separating or chasing them; feeding them; making noise; or damaging or altering habitats. This can include disturbance by dogs, therefore pets should be kept on a lead or under effective control when at the coast. An easy way to reduce your impact is to remember that if an animal has repeatedly noticed you, you have caused a disturbance and it is best to move away and take a wider berth.

Kayakers straying too close to seals. Image by Simon Palmer

2. Know when wildlife are most vulnerable

There are certain times when animals are particularly vulnerable, such as during breeding seasons, in winter and when they’re resting or moulting. It can be difficult to know when these times are, as they often differ between different species. Therefore, it is important to check signs in local areas, as they should tell you where there are access restrictions, and to research the wildlife in the area you are heading. Local councils, Wildlife Trusts and local harbours or ports may be able to provide you with this information.

For seabirds, ‘bird nesting season’ is officially from February until September, therefore it is important to consider access restrictions, dog activities and the impact you may be having on an area during this time. Certain species, such as ringed plovers and oystercatchers, lay their eggs on open ground such as beaches, with little to no surounding vegetation, and so these eggs are vulnerable to being stepped on. Local councils may put up signs in areas where these species are known to breed to discourage visitors but caution should be taken on any beach.

Ringed Plover nest by Philip McErlean via Flickr

Breeding and pupping season for grey seals can start as early as June in the UK, lasting until January. Pups are particularly vulnerable to human disturbances as this can cause a seperation between the mother and pup or interrupt lactation, potentially leading to pup abandonment. Due to their heavy white coat, grey seal pups can’t swim during their first few weeks and will be left on beaches while their mothers hunt. If disturbed, they are therefore unable to swim away. Addtionally, disturbances that cause stampeeds during pupping season can increase pup mortality rates. You should never approach a seal pup and if you suspect one has been abandoned or is in need of attention, you should keep your distance and call for help.

Other important breeding periods are March to September for seahorses and summer months for cetaceans. Additionally, the September to March wintering season is important for many birds, as they use this time to conserve energy and build up reserves, often for long migrations. Disturbance during this time can reduce their likelihood of survive winter or these migrations.

3. Recognise when you are causing a disturbance

Many people do not have negative intentions and simply wish to appreciate and experience the wonderful wildlife we have along out coastlines. But it is important to recognise the signs for when animals are becoming uncomfortable with your presence.

There are a number of behaviours you can look out for that will indicate a disturbance. For birds, this includes moving away from you, in flight or by walking; flapping their wings at you; and attacking. Seals are more likely to look directly at you, move suddenly from a restful position, suddenly dive into the water, or swim away from you. Cetaceans such as dolphins and whales will slap the water with their flippers or tail, dive away from you, or group together. Other species such as sharks, skates, rays, turtles or seahorses will swim away if disturbed and should not be followed.

If a seal is looking at you, you are causing a disturbance. Image by Simon Palmer

4. Act responsibly

This is the main aim of this code, to encourage people to use common sense and act responsibly. As a rule of thumb, try to stay at least 100 metres away from any wildlife and try not to approach animals from behind or head-on. If you notice any signs of disturbance, you should immediately and calmly move further away.

You should never chase, follow or harass any wildlife. It is important to not feed or touch wildlife either, as you could unintentially be causing serious harm. Other actions such as creating loud noises and using flash photography should be avoided.

5. Use watercraft responsibly

Crafts like boats and jetskis can be a disturbance to wildlife as they can injure animals and create noise both above and below the water. You should slow down to under 6 knots if you notice an animal, stay at least 100 metres away (further if you notice that you are causing a disturbance), and keep even more distance if there are more than two watercrafts nearby. You should also maintain your engine to reduce noise and make sure to launch or moor your craft correctly.

Image by Simon Palmer

6. Enjoy water activities without harming wildlife

It is important to take care not to disturb wildlife when you enter or exit the sea, therefore you should avoid doing this through sensitive habitats, including saltmarshes, mudflats, maerl beds, seagrass meadows and areas where marine wildlife are resting, breeding, nesting or feeding.

7. Report wildlife crime

If you see someone intentionally or recklessly harassing, injuring, disturbing, taking or killing an animal or damaging their habitat, you should report it. Call 101 to report an incident that has already happened, or 999 for a crime in action. Certain actions can incur fines of up to £5,000.

8. Report an injured, distressed or dead animal

If you see an animal in distress or dead, you should not approach or touch it, but report the incident by calling either the British Divers Marine Life Rescue hotline or the RSPCA.

Why is this code needed?

Our coastline and marine life are under serious pressures from a variety of threats, including climate change, disease, habitat loss, reduced food availability (usually due to overfishing), pollution and human activity, all of which already negatively impact marine wildlife. Repeated disturbances can combine with these other pressures, causing reduced fitness and increasing mortality rates.

Image by Simon Palmer
Is this effective guidance?

This code was developed in collaboration with a number of wildlife organisations, including the RSPB, Shark Trust, Whale and Dolphin Conservation and the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust. It is not a law or regulation but does help to raise awareness of the impacts you can have on coastal and marine wildlife, while also offering practical guidance to minimise or even eliminate these impacts. While this is unlikely to prevent those with negative intentions, it does provide a great basis to help educate the vast majority of the public on how to be responsibe around wildlife. With reported disturbance incidents more than tripling in Cornwall alone since 2014, and with the ongoing work to establish the King Charles III England Coast Path (a 2,700 mile waymarked coastal path), this new code is a welcome step towards reducing and preventing incidents.


Defra. 2023. Marine and coastal wildlife code: advice for visitors.


Offshore wind farms: Climate Change vs Biodiversity

Offshore wind farms (OWFs) are areas with multiple turbines, often located in relatively shallow water just off the coast. The energy produced by the force of the wind is clean and renewable but, often, such climate change solutions come with trade-offs. Research around these areas has shown that they can impact surrounding habitats and ecosystems both positively and negatively.

Offshore Wind Farm by Nina_Ali via Flickr
Climate change prevention vs biodiversity protection

Policies and strategies for fighting climate change can sometimes ignore or under-emphasise biodiversity protection. For example, a pledge made at COP26 in 2021 to halt net deforestation by 2030 does not actually prevent the cutting down of forests, but instead requires that forest loss should be replaced ‘sustainably’. However, replacing primary forests with new growth has negative consequences for biodiversity, as ancient woodlands are highly complex ecosystems. New growth is less able to support the same level of biodiversity and it would take decades for an area to develop back into a climax community. Therefore, while this pledge may help to fight climate change by potentially stabilising or even increasing global forest cover, it would allow for the continued negative ecological impacts of deforestation.

Wind farms face similar dilemmas. They produce clean and renewable energy, without the negative impacts on the climate of traditional energy sources such as coal and gas, but they have been shown to impact the surrounding environment.

Negative impacts of offshore wind farms

Two phases can potentially cause disturbance to wildlife: the construction phase and the operation phase. Some species may be impacted during the construction phase but are able to recover and are unaffected by the general noise of the operation phase, but some are impacted by both, thus creating long-term changes in the ecosystem. Additionally, wind turbines do not have an infinite lifespan, and may need replacing as frequently as every 20-25 years. While this may not involve a full replacement, it would involve some level of construction and therefore disturbance.

The impacts of wind farms can be through collisions, displacement, noise, destruction of habitat, change in hydrology and more. One new report, however, found that seabirds off the UK coast are better at avoiding wind turbine blades than previously thought. Researchers monitored how birds behaved in Aberdeen Bay for two years using radar and cameras. The results showed the birds adapted to the rotor blades from approximately 120 meters, becoming increasingly precisely adapted the closer they came to the rotors. During the two-year study, there wasn’t a single collision between the birds and the rotor blades. However, collisions are not the only way wind farms can affect wildlife.

A recent study has found that populations of red-throated divers decreased by more than 90% in areas where OWFs were built. The data, gathered by German scientists, looked at population numbers in the North Sea before and after five OWFs were built and found that numbers were up to 94% lower within half a mile of the turbines after they were installed. One farm in particular showed a 99% decline in population numbers. The impact is also more widespread, with an average decline of almost half of bird numbers up to six miles away from the turbines. The cause behind this decline is thought to be due to the effect turbines have on their hunting techniques. Their formerly large foraging area has been split into smaller units by these offshore farms, restricting their movements when foraging for highly mobile prey.

Red-throated diver by Jason Crotty via Flickr

Red-throated divers are not the only species that are being affected by OWFs. A study assessing the vulnerability of marine populations to offshore wind farms in 2013 identified a number of other seabirds that are potentially at risk, including gulls, white-tailed eagles, northern gannets, skuas and common scoters. More recent studies highlight the impacts on long-tailed ducks, common eiders, razorbills and common guillemots, such as general avoidance, changes in migration patterns and lower abundance around wind farms. The increased energy cost of avoiding wind farms could potentially impact survival and reproductive success, depending on the length and frequency of the flight, as well as the characteristics of the species.

While birds are often the focus of studies into the environmental impacts of OWFs, numerous studies have found that marine mammals such as porpoises, whales and dolphins, as well as fish and marine invertebrates, are affected. Many types of offshore wind turbines need foundations that are placed deep into the seabed. By drilling the sea floor, any benthic marine habitats in the surrounding area could be destroyed, while the displaced sediments can hang in the water column impacting filter feeders and photosynthetic organisms. Once the sediment settles, it can also smother many bottom-dwelling organisms, preventing them from feeding.

Furthermore, the noise pollution from the construction can threaten marine organisms, as it interferes with the communication of species such as porpoises, dolphins and whales. These species rely heavily on their hearing for orientation, hunting and communication between individuals. Prolonged exposure to loud noise, which even the normal operation of turbines can produce, leads to hearing loss and stress, increasing their vulnerability to diseases, while also combining cumulatively with the impacts of other pressures such as pollution and reduce food availability. Fish are also affected by this prolonged exposure.

Stress from these pressures leads to behavioural changes, and affects general movement, feeding patterns and migration. It can also impact fecundity and mortality rates. Due to this, as well as changes in the physical or chemical characteristics of the habitats surrounding wind farms, ecosystem structures may change because of alterations in species composition or abundance. This can impact the functions of the ecosystem, having widespread impacts on the surrounding environment, as well as the industries that rely upon it, such as fisheries.

Wind farm pieces from Cammell Laird by Andrew via Flickr
Positive impacts of offshore wind farms

Wind turbines and their foundations, though destructive to construct, provide structures that become artificial reefs for corals and other sessile aquatic organisms such as sponges, seaweeds, mussels and anemones. This increase in the distribution and abundance of certain species, such as invertebrates, can attract other species that are higher in the trophic level, such as fish.

Certain farms also ban fishing, which can reduce pressures within the boundaries of the farm. This, along with the ecosystem supported by the artificial reef system, can provide a haven for fish that are usually heavily overfished. This increase in food availability can, therefore, have a positive impact on many species in higher trophic levels, such as seabirds, but the impact varies from species to species and often from farm to farm.

Advantages of onshore vs offshore wind power

Onshore wind farms are cost-effective, as they’re one of the least expensive forms of renewable energy and are far less expensive than offshore wind power. They are also easier to construct and maintain, unlike offshore farms, where higher wind speeds, strong seas and other accessibility issues can make maintaining these farms more challenging. However, offshore wind farms are more efficient, as higher, more consistent wind speeds mean that fewer turbines are needed to produce the same amount as onshore farms. Additionally, there is more space to construct farms offshore than onshore, with a reduced effect on local people.

What are the solutions?

As the world moves towards carbon net zero in an effort to fight climate change, wind power is going to be more heavily relied upon, meaning the construction of more wind farms. With the construction of these structures in the ocean, there will always be some negative impacts, but there are things that can be done to mitigate some of these. A balance needs to be found between efforts to meet net zero and protecting our environment.

Continuing to monitor and assess the impacts of existing wind farms can inform the ecological strategies of future builds. By improving our understanding of how these farms impact the environment and ecosystem, future projects can be adapted to reduce these impacts. This research needs to be properly funded and shared globally, with stringent legislation that is updated in response to findings. These studies should be rigorous and consistent, avoiding underestimations that could allow the continued threat to the environment but steering clear of overestimations which could hinder further development of clean energy through wind farms.

Greater Gabbard offshore wind farm by Department of Energy and Climate Change via Flickr

Using data from fisheries can indicate where research is needed, as an increase or decrease in catch around wind farms suggests ecological changes. However, this would mean only the impacts that affect commercial fish would be investigated and impacts on other, non-commercial species may be overlooked. Therefore, other monitoring methods are also needed, which will involve funding from both private and government sources.

In the UK, Natural England has called for new OWFs to leave nature in a better state than before its construction, avoiding any irreparable damage to the environment. The approach, published in June 2021, set out how these farms can play a vital role, not only in tackling climate change, but also in nature recovery. Similar to Biodiversity Net Gain, which requires new developments on land in England to ensure that habitat is 10% better after building than before, Natural England is seeking to ensure that new OWF projects ‘build in’ plans that will enhance nature and protect the environment from the pressures mentioned above. The approach outlines the objectives and actions that Natural England will focus on, in partnership with others such as Defra’s Offshore Wind Enabling Actions Programme. These include:

  • Aiming for each development to leave nature in a better state.
  • The advanced introduction of strategic, to-scale and evidence-based measures that will compensate for environmental harm.
  • Monitoring to inform stronger, evidence-based impact assessments, promoting the use of environmentally sensitive design, construction and operation.
  • The development of an environmental sensitivities map that is easy-to-use, so that planners and developers can make sure OWFs and their cables avoid causing irreparable damage to the environment.

Other mitigation options include the arrangement of turbine clusters, as certain patterns can minimise barriers to movements, such as creating corridors within the farms to allow birds to pass through rather than having to extend their flight to go around extensive concentrations of turbines. Advances in technology have also given rise to options such as floating wind farms, which would reduce the impact on the sea bed, as well as potentially reducing the construction phase; and multi-purpose interconnectors, which would allow multiple offshore farms to be connected to the shore, rather than individual wind farms, which would reduce the impact of cable laying.

Other renewable energy options

Other renewable energy options include hydropower, solar power, biomass and geothermal energy. Solar power is an important source of renewable energy and can be placed on areas such as roofs, to reduce the space needed, but there are environmental implications for large-scale solar energy production, including aluminium demand. Hydropower, such as wave and tidal power, has future potential but is not yet widely employed commercially.

These could also have ecological impacts, however. For example, large-scale wave energy converters could cause changes in water velocities, which may impact sediment transport, coastal erosion and the increase of sediment deposition. Additionally, barriers such as dams radically change the typography and environment of rivers, with widespread ecological implications. Burning biomass, often from agricultural waste, releases carbon dioxide. While the plants that are grown as the source of the biomass can capture almost the same amount of CO2, the burning smoke can also contain harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide, as well as producing ash which can contain high concentrations of various heavy metals such as lead and cadmium, which would need proper disposal. Geothermal energy produces both water and air pollution, such as arsenic, mercury, nickel, methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide. It also produces hazardous waste that would require safe disposal and requires a large amount of water for purposes such as cooling.

It is clear that all renewable energy comes with some negative environmental implications. However, the pollution and greenhouse gases produced are far less than non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels. Fossil fuels do substantially more harm than renewable energies, therefore the world must continue to expand and improve its renewable energy endeavours, while focusing on reducing and mitigating their negative environmental impacts.

  • Climate change strategies often overlook the protection of biodiversity, with wind farms producing clean and renewable energy but having serious impacts on the environment and ecosystems surrounding them.
  • Both the construction phase and the operation phase of offshore wind farms (OWF) cause disturbances, such as population declines, changes in general movement, feeding patterns, migration, fecundity and mortality rates.
  • OWFs also have positive impacts, creating structures that form artificial reefs, and increasing the abundance of certain species such as corals, mussels and anemones, which then attract species in higher trophic levels. Certain farms also ban fishing, creating havens for commercially important fish.
  • A balance needs to be found between the effort to meet net zero through creating more clean, renewable energy and the protection of our environment.
  • Continuing to monitor and assess the impacts of existing windfarms, plus stringent legislation, can help improve the ecological strategies of future farms.
  • Natural England has developed an approach that would require new OWFs to leave nature in a better state than it was before construction, avoiding any irreparable damage to the environment. The objectives of this approach include the advanced introduction of strategic and evidence-based measures that will compensate for environmental harm and the development of an easy-to-use environmental sensitivities map, which will help planners and developers make sure OWFs avoid causing irreparable environmental damage.
  • All renewable energy sources come with some negative environmental implications but fossil fuels are far worse. Therefore it is important for renewable energies to expand, with a focus on reducing environmental impacts.
References and further reading

News report on the decline of red-throated divers.

The study of offshore wind farms and their effects on birds, published in 2019, and a study assessing the vulnerability of marine bird populations to offshore wind farms, published in 2013.

Report on the study which found that seabirds in the UK are better able to avoid turbines than previously thought.

Natural England’s Approach to Offshore Wind

Wildlife and Wind Farms, Conflicts and Solutions, Volume 3: Offshore: Potential Effects





Wildlife and Wind Farms, Conflicts and Solutions, Volume 4: Offshore: Monitoring and Mitigation


The High Seas Treaty – What is it and Will it Be Effective? 

The High Seas Treaty is a new agreement signed by the UN which aims to put 30% of international waters into marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2030. International waters are two-thirds of the world’s ocean, established under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, where all countries have a right to fish, ship and conduct research. Currently, only 1.2% of these areas are protected, leaving the rest open to exploitation from a wide variety of threats.

What are the current threats to the world’s oceans?

There are a number of key threats to the health of our oceans. A recent assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that nearly 10% of marine species are at risk of extinction. Overfishing and pollution are the two biggest threats, according to the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research. The number of overfished stocks has tripled globally in the last 50 years and, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, one-third of the world’s assessed fisheries are being pushed beyond biological limits. Illegal fishing, under-researched, unbacked or unregulated fishing quotas, and bycatch all combine to create a major threat to global marine ecosystems.

Around 4 million fishing vessels are currently in operation around the globe. Poor government management and control of fisheries and trade, along with subsidies provided by many governments to offset business costs and a criminal fishing network worth around $36.4 billion annually, are all serving to drive overfishing. This leads to degraded ecosystems, changes in biotic factors such as abundance, average fish size, reproduction strategies and speed of maturation, leading to imbalances between predator and prey dynamics that can erode food webs.

Commercial fishing boat. Image by Gary Leavens via Flickr

While plastic pollution is often the most discussed type of marine pollution, there are actually a broad number of sources, including chemicals and excess nutrients from agricultural runoff, industrial wastewater and sewage, oil spills, ocean acidification and other non-biodegradable waste. They can be broadly grouped into two categories: chemicals and trash. Chemical pollution creates negative effects on the marine environment by changing the chemical state of the ocean, artificially increasing nutrient levels which can lead to toxic algal blooms and impacting the physiology of marine life by reducing their capacity to reproduce, reducing offspring fitness, impacting growth or increasing their vulnerability to parasites and diseases. Marine trash can cause entanglement or be consumed, which can impact the health of marine life and even become fatal.

Other threats include those from shipping traffic, such as noise and collisions, climate change, deep-sea drilling or mining, weapons testing and sonar. Climate change impacts the oceans in a variety of complex ways, from sea level rises changing the abiotic factors of many habitats, temperature rises causing marine heat waves, more frequent and intense storms, and changes in oxygen and carbon dioxide levels leading to anoxic water and ocean acidification. Shipping noise, mining, weapons testing and sonar produce high levels of sound waves in the ocean, disrupting marine communication and impacting the behaviour of species such as whales, causing them to travel miles away and even beaching themselves to avoid the disturbance. All these stressors impact marine life, leading to mass mortality events and threatening ecosystems.

Whale strandings can occur due to a variety of causes, one being excessive noise pollution. Image of a mass pilot whale stranding by Oregon State University via Flickr.
What is the plan?

The talks, called the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, have now reached an agreement on the legal framework after almost 20 years. One of the main elements of this treaty is the aim to create international MPAs, restricting industrial fishing, deep-sea mining and other potentially destructive activities. Another part of the treaty looks to reassess environmental impact assessments, creating consistent ground rules that all nations will need to follow when calculating the potential damage of human activities in these areas. It would also open up the sharing of genetic resources from international waters, which has both scientific and commercial benefits.

Will this be effective?

More than 100 countries are part of this agreement. While the treaty has been agreed upon, it is not yet been ‘legally agreed’, meaning that the treaty must first be formally adopted and then be passed legally into all the countries that have signed up. Effective implementation is crucial, as if all countries do not abide by the new treaty, it will not have the full impacts that are desired. Talks have previously been held up due to a number of disagreements over fishing rights and funding.

For MPAs to be effective, they need to be properly regulated and enforced. This means that fishing quotas must be backed by thorough research, catch numbers need to be reported accurately and illegal fishing must be controlled. Many existing MPAs fail to protect marine biodiversity and keep fishing to sustainable levels, according to a report by the European court of auditors. A study even found that 59% of the MPAs in Europe were being trawled by commercial vessels more often than in areas without protection. Therefore, without proper and rigorous regulation, these areas will simply provide a false sense of security without any actual progress in conserving and restoring our marine biodiversity.

Over 80% of marine polution comes from land-based activities. Image by Ravi Khemka via Flickr.

Additionally, while creating MPAs that would regulate fishing, shipping routes and research such as deep-sea mining, it does not protect from the other threats to marine health. Over 80% of marine pollution comes from land-based activities, therefore these new MPAs will continue to be threatened by pollution. They will also still be threatened by the impacts of climate change, although intact ecosystems are much more resilient to these stressors than degraded ones. Therefore, if these new MPAs can repair biodiversity in these areas, some of the effects of these threats could be at least partially mitigated.

To aid the approval of the treaty and its early implementation, the EU pledged €40m (£35m). The continued success of this, however, requires continued funding. This is why countries will still be allowed to profit from marine genetic resources, as a proportion of this will need to be placed into a global fund. High-income countries may be asked to contribute more, and the fund will need to be regulated to make sure the correct contributions are being made and that funds are being used effectively and fairly.

  • This new UN treaty will place 30% of international waters into Marine Protected Areas by 2030, restricting fishing, mining and other destructive marine activities.
  • The marine ecosystem is under threat from a variety of sources, including pollution, overfishing and climate change.
  • The MPAs will need to be properly regulated. This treaty will not protect the areas from all threats but, if the ecosystems become more intact and stable, this will help to mitigate some of the impacts.
  • Funding will need to be continuous and used fairly and effectively for this treaty to be successfully implemented.

Great British Beach Clean 2022

2014 beach clean at the Port of Dover. Image by Port of Dover via Flickr.
What is the Great British Beach Clean?

The Great British Beach Clean is organised by the Marine Conservation Society (MSC) and takes place in September every year. During this nine day period, thousands of volunteers gather together on beaches around the UK to collect the litter they find on and above the strandline. This huge event has taken place since 1994 and occurs alongside the International Coastal Cleanup.

This year’s Great British Beach Clean runs from Friday 16th to Sunday 25th September.

What does a beach clean involve?

A beach clean has two purposes: firstly to remove potentially harmful and unsightly waste from our coastline, and secondly to gather data on the types of litter that are polluting our beaches.

During a clean, volunteers are asked to collect and record all of the litter they find on and above the strandline over a 100m stretch of beach. This information is then sent to the Marine Conservation Society, who collate and store it in a database. While collecting, volunteers also look out for other items such as tangled animals, patches of oil, or items that have originated from abroad, as these can be also be recorded.

At the end of the beach clean, bagged up rubbish is weighed and then deposited at a local collection point (with any hard, recyclable plastic kept in separate bags if possible).

Volunteers aren’t restricted to cleaning only 100m of the beach of course, but recording over a specific length of coastline makes the submitted data easier to compare.

Littered tideline at Oxwich Bay. Image by Bo Eide via Flickr.
What happens to the collected data?

The data collected during the Great British Beach Clean is as important as the clean-up itself as, without knowing what items are commonly found on our beaches, it is difficult to know where the most serious problems lie. With almost 30 years’ worth of data to hand, the MSC can now look at trends and patterns over time and make important decisions about where to focus their attentions.

The information submitted each year by volunteers is compiled and stored by the MSC who use it to campaign for better legislation relating to plastic waste, and to direct public awareness campaigns to help change consumer behaviour. To date, the MSC has been instrumental in bringing about the 5p plastic bag charge, which has seen the number of plastic bags washing up on beaches decrease by a huge 61% since 2011. They have also lobbied for wet wipes to be more clearly labelled, as they are not only responsible for massive blockages in sewerage systems, but many also contain plastics which break down into harmful microplastics in the aquatic environment.

They are currently working towards bringing in a Deposit Return System for drinks bottles and cans. The 2021 British Clean found an average of 30 drinks-related items per 100m. By making consumers pay a small deposit at the time of purchase, which is returned to them when they bring their bottle or can back for recycling, it is hoped that the number of such items ending up in the aquatic environment could be significantly reduced. A Deposit Return Scheme is due to be unrolled in Scotland in August 2023, but so far England, Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to make similar plans.

Other campaigns include the ‘Don’t Let Go’ movement, which aims to ban balloon and sky lantern releases, as debris from these items provides a significant source of pollution.

How do I get involved:

To find an organised beach clean near you, simply head over to the MSC website and search their events database. If you can’t find one, then you can always organise your own. All you need to do is register as a volunteer and then the MSC will provide you with all the information you need to get started.

If you don’t live near the coast or aren’t able to attend a beach clean, you can still help by making a one-off donation to the MSC or becoming a member.

Recommended books and equipment:

The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline

In this handy guide you will find an in-depth account of the animals and plants that make up this rich and continuously shifting oasis of life in the otherwise harsh and hostile environment of the beach. The more we come to terms with the sensitive nature of the strandline, the more we can do to nurture and protect it.


The Beachcomber’s Guide to Marine Debris

This richly illustrated book serves as the ideal guide to the items that litter the world’s beaches. Forget sea shells and other fauna and flora. Here, you will find what a beachcomber is actually most likely to encounter most these days: glass, plastic, wood, metal, paper, oil and other sources of marine pollution.


FSC Wildlife Pack: Seashores

The Seashores wildlife pack is a presentation pack featuring 5 different fold-out guides – explore the wildlife of our coastline, from birds to seashells. The pack also includes a card-sized magnifier to help you get in ever closer to the details. Includes guides to cetaceans and seals, rocky shores, seashells, seaside flowers and summer coastal birds.


Litter Picker

This 82cm litter picker is constructed from lightweight, robust aluminium with an easy grip handle for comfortable use. With a grooved jaw for extra grip and a rotating head for increased flexibilty of use, it’s an ideal tool for any bioblitz, beach clean, or similar environmental event.

White-clawed crayfish in the UK

The UK is home to a single native species of crayfish – the white-clawed crayfish Austropotamobius pallipes. This attractive freshwater crustacean has a bronze-coloured body and white-undersides to its claws, for which it is named. They require clean freshwater habitats such as streams, rivers and lakes where they can rest under stones and rocks during the day and then spend the night foraging for food. Their diet is omnivorous and they feed on a range of foods including plants, carrion and invertebrates. They will also eat other white-clawed crayfish when the opportunity arises!

Image by David Gerke via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Threats to native UK crayfish

The white-clawed crayfish was once widespread and common throughout England and Wales, but since the 1970s populations have declined by 50–80%. Without intervention it is expected that they will become extinct over the next 20 years. Their decline is in large part due to the introduction of the North American signal crayfish which outcompetes the native crayfish for food and habitat. The signal crayfish also carries ‘crayfish plague’, a fungal disease that the white-clawed crayfish has no natural resistance to. Declining water quality and loss of suitable freshwater habitats have also contributed to their decline.

How are crayfish protected in the UK?

White-clawed crayfish are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2017). As a result, it is an offence to kill, injure or disturb them and their habitat cannot be destroyed or damaged. Any development which will, or is likely to, impact white-clawed crayfish and their habitat will only be allowed if it provides a net benefit to the crayfish through a combination of mitigation, compensation and enhancement strategies. This may involve habitat restoration projects or the modification of existing freshwater areas to make them more suitable for crayfish to survive and thrive.

When and how are crayfish surveyed?

Crayfish surveys are required if a development is being planned in an area that currently supports, or has the potential to support, white-clawed crayfish. They can be surveyed using a variety of methods including relatively new eDNA technology, which analyses water samples to detect the presence of DNA specific to the white-clawed crayfish. eDNA studies, however, cannot provide information on population size and so follow-up surveys are usually required should eDNA be detected. Most commonly crayfish are surveyed by manually searching likely refuges. If this isn’t possible due to access issues or water depth then crayfish traps can be deployed. These traps are of the live-catch variety – trapped individuals are returned to the water unharmed once they have been recorded.

What else is being done to conserve the white-clawed crayfish?

As well as being afforded a high level of protection in UK legislation, there are a number of conservation projects which aim to conserve or bolster existing populations of white-clawed crayfish. As part of the South West Crayfish Project, Bristol Zoo are breeding white-clawed crayfish in captivity which can be used to boost existing populations or establish new ones. They are also valuable in educating zoo visitors about their plight.

Control of introduced crayfish is also being carried out in certain areas through trapping or the use of biocides. Similarly, the control of plague and other crayfish diseases is of paramount importance. All waterway users should be aware of how easily plague spores are carried between sites and make all reasonable efforts to stop it spreading via their clothes and equipment. Download the Crayfish in Crisis information sheet for more information.

Recommended reading and equipment

Crayfish Conservation Manual

Full of guidance and practical advice, this large, full-colour manual is the first conservation handbook for England’s crayfish. This manual provides best practice advice and guidance in one easy-to-follow publication, with references, case studies and examples.


Management of Freshwater Biodiversity: Crayfish as Bioindicators

Integrating research into freshwater biodiversity and the role of keystone species, this fascinating book presents freshwater crayfish as representatives of human-exacerbated threats to biodiversity and conservation.


Trappy Funnel Crayfish Trap

This robust all-plastic crayfish trap is very easy to handle and quick to set and re-bait.


Aluminium Crayfish Refuge Trap

This simple refuge trap is safe for use where water voles and otters are present.


Snowbee Granite PVC Chest Waders

Snowbee Granite waders are manufactured from a heavy-duty, reinforced laminate PVC which is extremely tough and hard-wearing while also being soft and flexible for ease of movement.

Book Review: Fen, Bog & Swamp by Annie Proulx

Fen, Bog & Swamp, from Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Proulx, is a wide ranging book that meanders through the subject of wetlands on a journey which encompasses history, biology, language, culture, art and literature. Written in a passionate and lyrical voice, the book is not only a thorough exploration of these ecosystems, but also a war cry in their defence, although one that at times feels dampened by the assumption of inevitable defeat. This is echoed in a statement in which she describes her intentions behind the writings and research: “Before the last wetlands disappear I wanted to know more about this world we are losing. What was a world of fens, bogs and swamps and what meaning did these peatlands have…”.

The book is arranged into four loose parts: an introduction of “discursive thoughts on wetlands”, followed by individual chapters covering fens, bogs and swamps. Beginning the text with a description of a fond yet distant memory of walking through a swamp with her mother as a child in 1930s Connecticut, which she describes as her “first thrill of entering terra incognita”, Proulx goes on to bemoan the disinterest of modern humans in “seeing slow and subtle change” and the “slow metamorphoses of the natural world”. In our fast-paced lives in which speed and efficiency are hailed as the twin gods of progress, there are few who can, or desire to, repetitively observe the same flowers, trees or waters, week after week, season after season, or to appreciate the myriad yet microscopic ways in which they change. For this reason, evidence for a warming climate and its impending crisis have been easy to ignore until the impacts are so visible that they can no longer be shuffled under the carpet.

Strumpshaw Fen. Image by Michael John Button via Flickr.

As a reader based in Britain, I found the section on fens to be of particular interest, despite the fact that their story is ultimately one of destruction and decline. These days it is hard to imagine a Britain in which 6% of the land was wetland, all of which provided a  “source of wealth that could hardly be surpassed by any other natural environment”. Now, in modern Britain, less than 1% of the original fenlands remain: a mere fragment of this once great and diverse habitat.

Proulx’ wonderful descriptions of the people who lived in the fens and how an intimate knowledge of its creeks, rivers and mudflats allowed them to thrive in this challenging landscape are particularly pleasing. Using descriptions of artwork and quotations from literature (such as the Moorlandschaften photographs of Wolfgang Bartels and Gertrude Jekyll’s wonderful vignette on the use of rush-lights) Proulx paints a vivid picture, not only of the historical landscape, but also of the lives of the people inhabiting them.

In fact, these diversions into the lives of the people who have impacted and been impacted by wetlands occur frequently throughout the text, and are used to great effect to provide an insight into changing minds and cultures. From stories of the 16th century Spanish explorers to those of naturalist Henry Thoreau and botanist William Bartram, the book is littered with potted biographies that tell the stories of the people who were fascinated by these landscapes, as well as the darker sides of exploitation and greed.

Through the telling of these stories, it becomes apparent that fens, bogs and swamps have long been derided by humans. This is exemplified by the pre-15th century British fen dwellers who were “literally and metaphorically looked down on” by the upland people in a manner that was reflected in their view of the fenlands themselves. Also mirrored in the attitude of European settlers in the US who despised the swamps for slowing down movement and progress and limiting productive agriculture, wetlands throughout the world have consistently been viewed as ‘waste, unproductive’ areas, in need of ‘improvement’.

Time and time again we have blundered around in the name of progress, attempting to drain, farm, reforest and develop these regions with little knowledge of how to maintain them afterwards, or even whether this is possible. Indeed, as is now apparent in areas such as New Orleans and Chicago, where the water is slowly taking back the land, the fight against nature is likely to be a long drawn-out game that we are unable to win.

New Orleans swamp. Image by ataelw via Flickr.

As you might expect from someone whose life has been concerned with words, Proulx pays a lot of attention to the language surrounding fens, bogs and swamps. Highlighting such examples as the equally pleasing Pocosin (swamp) or Muskeg (bog), she also draws parallels between the loss of these habitats and the loss of the language that we can usefully use to describe them. In a manner that has also been highlighted by writers such as Robert MacFarlane in Landmarks and The Lost Words, it seems that this is a two way street: as we lose the habitats, we also chip away at the list of nouns and adjectives that are used to describe them; but equally, with the loss of this nuanced language, we also begin a process of forgetting and dismissing the landscapes themselves.

I came away from reading this book with a new appreciation of fens, bogs and swamps, but also saddened by the fact that, as Oliver Rackham stated, the long history of wetlands is ultimately a story of their destruction. As Proulx simply states in her final lines, in an echo of those words from Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, perhaps the time is coming when we will all be “haunted by waters”.

Fen, Bog & Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis is available for pre-order from NHBS and is due for publication in September 2022.

Author Interview with David Shiffman: Why Sharks Matter

Sharks are some of the most fascinating, most ecologically important, most threatened, and most misunderstood animals on Earth. In Why Sharks Matter: A Deep Dive with the World’s Most Misunderstood Predator, marine conservation biologist Dr David Shiffman explains why it’s crucial that we overcome our misconceptions and rise above cinematic jump scares to embrace sharks as the critically important species that they are.

Exploring the core tenets of shark conservation science and policy, Shiffman synthesises decades of scientific research and policymaking, weaving it into a narrative full of humour and adventure. Approachable and informative, Why Sharks Matter is perfect for shark enthusiasts, explaining why sharks are in trouble, why we should care and how we can save them.

Dr David Shiffman recently discussed his new book with us, explaining how he became fascinated with sharks, what is being done to change public opinion and why social science research is so important to shark conservation.

Courtesy of Dr. David Shiffman

Firstly, could you tell us how you became fascinated with sharks and the inspiration behind this book?

I’ve loved sharks for as long as my family can remember, there are pictures of me when I was barely old enough to walk with shark t-shirts and shark toys. I think most kids go through a shark thing or a dinosaur thing, and I never grew out of mine. When I give public talks, inevitably someone will come up to me afterwards and say “I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was a kid”- and I always reply “Me too!”.

In my experience speaking to the public, I’ve realized that lots of people want to help sharks, but don’t necessarily know the most effective ways to do that. And while there are lots of shark books out there, there was nothing that comprehensively lays out the case for having healthy shark populations off our coasts, systematically reviews the different threats to shark species, and thoroughly reviews the different ways that scientists, environmentalists, and the public can help sharks. In short, I wrote the book that I always wished existed, because I know there’s a need for it.

Courtesy of Dr. David Shiffman

The book does an impressive job of debunking the public image of sharks as dangerous and violent predators. Outside of your own work, what is, if anything, being done to change public opinion about sharks?

As a marine conservation biologist who studies sharks and how to protect them, I know that we need the public to not only no longer fear sharks, but to value the role they play in the ecosystem and to want them around. And I also know that it matters what people do to help, and that there are lots of things that people do while trying to help that are not really helping. I use this book as a chance to bust some myths not only about sharks as mindless killing machines, but also myths about threats to sharks and solutions to these conservation challenges. The subtitle doesn’t call them “the world’s most misunderstood predator” for nothing! In the book, I introduce readers to some of my favourite environmental non-profits who are working to educate the public and persuade policymakers that we need new and stronger laws. If you’re looking for good groups to support, I am happy to recommend them to you.

What do you think is the biggest threat to sharks and what can the average person do to help?

The science is clear on this point: the biggest threat to sharks is unsustainable overfishing, including but not limited to the shark fin trade (which many well-intentioned shark-o-philes wrongly believe is that only threat to sharks). The single most effective thing that an individual consumer can do to help not only sharks but the whole ocean is to not eat unsustainable seafood. Notice that I did not say “give up all seafood and become vegan,” because while that’s a perfectly valid personal choice, the people claiming that we all need to do this or the oceans are doomed are not telling the truth. If you, like me, love seafood, just choose to buy sustainable seafood.

A steady supply of seawater is pumped through the shark’s mouth to help sustain it while measurements and samples are taken before it is released. Courtesy of Dr. David Shiffman

You share a range of scientific tools used to monitor sharks, from eDNA to telemetry tracking, but you also highlight the importance of social science research. Why do you think this approach is important to shark conservation?

A major goal of the conservation movement is passing new laws or regulations to protect endangered species, but notably these laws do not limit what the animals can do, they only control humans. Therefore, we need to understand what humans want, what humans do, and what humans know–and these are questions that the social sciences are designed to answer.

Courtesy of Dr. David Shiffman

What is your vision for the future of shark conservation? Are you hopeful or pessimistic?

I am cautiously optimistic about the future of the ocean. More people care and want to help than ever before, and if we can channel that energy into something productive, we can move mountains!

And lastly, do you have any current projects or plans for the future that you would like to tell us about?

I’m always on the move, always up to some new project. If anyone would like to follow my adventures, or to ask me anything you want to know about sharks, I invite you to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @WhySharksMatter.

Courtesy of Dr. David Shiffman

Why Sharks Matter: A Deep Dive with the World’s Most Misunderstood Predator
By: Dr David Shiffman
Hardback | May 2022 | £18.50





All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.