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Week 3: Educating…

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Emma Brown, WCA Intern

22/07/2016: Week 3: Educating, Fundraising and Good Times

 

The seal was hopelessly stuck. Flippers flapping wildly, he tried desperately to crawl out of the twenty-five-foot-long ghost net that entangled him. But with the interns indicating the opening of the net and shouting encouraging words, he finally freed himself with cries of excitement. “Great work kids! Your team made it through our Ghost Net Challenge with the fastest time!” Kicking off his flippers and leaping with joy, the ‘seal’ re-joins the menagerie of marine creatures in Southover School gym hall. “Go team ‘Tangled’!” shouts a little girl in a lobster costume; dishing out high fives with her massive red claw. Sighing with relief, one boy takes off his rubber shark mask. “I’m glad I’m not stuck in there anymore!”

The intern’s mission to engage the public on the issues of entanglement in ghost fishing gear kicked off this week with a visit to Southover Primary School in Lewes. Expecting to teach Key Stage 1 classes anything on the last day before the summer holidays might sound utterly unrealistic. But when taken out of the classroom to watch the Netty the Net cartoon, touch real whale bones, meet an impressive life-sized inflatable Orca, and experience being trapped in a ghost net first hand, we certainly got the children’s attention. What are ghost nets? Why do they cause damage to marine ecosystems? And what can be done to repair or prevent this damage? These are complex concepts to get your head around in the space of forty-five minutes. Never the less, the children left the gym hall with a good idea of how easily animals can become trapped and the many ways unwanted nets can be recycled. One child said that, after their own experience in the Ghost Net Time Challenge, they could see why animals need human help to escape entanglement. Whoever said that learning couldn’t be fun?!

A few days later, after a busy week of preparation, the interns were up bright and early again. We left the house in a blizzard of green and blue glitter, stepping onto the street as fully fledged mermaids. But far from being fit for a hen party, as it might have come across, we were set to be hard at work. Under our supervision, the Ghost Net Challenge joined many other attractions on Hove Lawns for Saturdays’ March of the Mermaids. An electic festival of sparkles, metallic fabric, blue hair and loud sea shanties, it’s hard to think of a more ‘Brighton’ way to engage the public in marine conservation. People of all ages were invited to try their hand at hitting targets on the ‘rubbish shy’, come aboard the story bus, make upcycled net bracelets, buy raffle tickets, and get into full fishy costumes for the march. At long last, led by the statuesque chief mermaid and a shoal of blue-skinned musicians, the merfolk flooded the promenade.

While it was sometimes difficult to get our message across over the raucous carnival atmosphere, we noticed small victories throughout the day. Only three bags of rubbish were produced by the public at Hove Lawns; the rest disposed of appropriately. The whole event raised around £900 profit for the World Cetacean Alliance, with over £350 raised just from the donation buckets carried on the march. Parents were seen leaning down to their little ones, explaining carefully why litter shouldn’t be dropped on the beach or that marine animals have feelings too.

The sheer creativity of the participants was cause for celebration! One beautiful mermaid, disabled by her realistic tail was being dragged through the crowds on a pearl encrusted throne. This, on closer inspection, turned out to be an old cupboard door with wheels glued on. One child was wearing a costume entitled “The Polluted Sea” made entirely of marine litter she had collected. One pirate, fitted with tricorn hat and eyepatch, nursed a polystyrene parrot whose head was stuck in a plastic six-pack ring. Later on, as the night drew to a close, the last dishevelled sea creatures shuffled home from the after party at Funfair club. It had been a full-on week, but with undeniable success. If you can make fundraising and awareness raising feel like a birthday party, then you’ve got to be onto a winner.

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