Into the Industry: She Tells Sea Tales by the Seashore
Shawn Rykaczewski & Bethany Gaffey
Sea Champion, citizen scientist, podcast founder, dedicated marine advocate. All of these words can be used to describe Amy Parker, a woman driven by her passion for the ocean to raise awareness for marine conservation. We sat down for an interview with Amy to get an inside look at what it means to be a Sea Champion and how she found her voice for the marine world through Sea Tales.
Hey, Amy! Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hi there, I am a Scot living in Bristol but about to move Yorkshire. I work in education and campaigning and my passion is marine conservation. Nothing makes me happier than exploring rock pools, cleaning beaches, hunting for cowries or snorkelling – not too deep though! As much as I love the ocean, I haven’t been able to get over my fear of deep water.
You’ve built your life around the ocean. What drew you to it in the first place?
I grew up by the coast in Edinburgh and spent every summer camping by the beach. It is where I feel the most at home. Scotland has the most beautiful white sandy beaches. If it wasn’t for the water temperature you would think you were in the tropics.
Describe the path you took to where you are now.
Looking back I wish I had studied marine biology. Instead, I went to Edinburgh University to train in education. After jobs in schools and community settings I started working in campaigning, but not in the conservation sector; I always felt that I wanted to do more to help the marine environment but wasn’t sure what to do. Then I started volunteering in my spare time with Marine Conservation Society as a Sea Champion.
For the last 5 years I have organised beach cleans, delivered workshops on marine pollution, taken part in citizen science costal surveys, campaigned on marine protection and finally feel like I am making a difference. I have also continued my education by taking the Delve Deeper distance learning marine biology course, conducting surveys as a citizen scientist, setting up a podcast called Sea Tales, and training as a Marine Medic with British Divers Marine Life Rescue. There are lots of different ways to get more involved in marine conservation and volunteering has a real impact.
Tell us a little about your organization. You’ve spent years leading beach clean-ups; How have they been received by local beach communities?
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is a brilliant organisation. It’s the UK’s leading charity for protection of our seas, shores and wildlife and has been running beach cleans for over 25 years. I organized beach cleans at the south end (you always survey the same 100 meters each time) of Sand Bay in North Somerset for 3 years. Through beach cleans I’ve met hundreds of wonderful, dedicated volunteers, many who travelled for miles to get involved.
In my experience, the beach communities have been really pleased to get more help keeping their shorelines clean and raising awareness of the issues. It’s a never ending task now. The cleans also help research, as every piece of rubbish collected is logged. Each year, MCS releases a report on the findings. The information is also added to the global trash index for international research. An average of 600 items are found on every 100 meters surveyed. At Sand Bay we found between 200-400+ cotton bud sticks at each event (yuk, flushed down the loo). Hopefully legislation to ban plastic cotton bud sticks will help stop this!
How do you hope your voice and work will influence others?
I recently went to Scotland’s International Marine Conference. Lewis Pugh, endurance swimmer and ocean advocate, said that one of the things that struck him the most about his recent UK swim was the lack of wildlife. We are losing species and destroying marine habitats at such a fast pace, we have no choice but to act or it will be gone.
I hope I can help raise awareness that we are all connected to the marine environment, whether we live by it or in cities miles away, and we can all make small changes to help protect it.
You’ve recently started Sea Tales. What drove you to launch your own podcast?
I love podcasts but couldn’t find any specifically about the amazing marine species living in and visiting UK waters, so I started Sea Tales. Sea Tales is a monthly podcast that invites experts to talk about life under the waves around our coast. So far, we have discussed marine life rescues, Britain's seahorses, seaweeds, sailing and ocean literacy, UK shark species, and Risso's dolphins. People have been so generous with their time – it feels like everyone wants to work together to make a difference. I even contacted Jennifer Stock, the host from my favourite marine podcast, Ocean Currents, and she was really helpful and supportive.
Do you have a dream guest for the Sea Tales Podcast?
There are so many brilliant marine biologists and conservationists but I think it would have to be David Attenborough! I grew up watching him on TV and feel like he has inspired so many people to love the natural world.
I understand you’re in the midst of transitioning to a zero-waste lifestyle. Are there any tips you’d like to share with our readers?
Do as much as you can. It is hard to be completely zero-waste, but reducing single-use plastics (items you use once then throw away) makes a massive difference! I like to think of the quote by social activist Howard Zinn:
“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
Start with simple changes, such as:
Use a refillable water bottle and reusable coffee cup. It will become second nature quite quickly.
Download the Refill App and find out where you can refill your water bottle for free. Loads of train stations have them now.
Find your local bulk supply shop and buy the foods, household cleaning and beauty products that you frequently use by bringing your own containers to fill.
Use your voice and vote with your money. If you are making a purchase from a business that doesn't openly consider their impact on the environment, try to find one that does.
Refuse single use plastic like straws and bags.
It might feel a bit strange at first to bring your own containers and grocery bags, but even the conversation around why you are doing it helps get people talking and thinking about the issues. The mantra, ‘whales or plastic’ helps me focus on the real impact.
One of my favourite products is Original Cork flip flops, made of completely natural materials. They give you a spring in your step without leaving behind microplastics from your soles! I find plastic flip flops on loads of the beach cleans and would love to see this change.
Whose work has influenced and inspired you?
My granny loved nature and gave me The Young Green Consumer Guidewhen I was in primary school. It really started me thinking about how much damage we are causing the earth from an early age. That and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
More recently, I’ve been inspired by following Instagram posts on marine conservation, all the brilliant beach and litter pickers, those trying to lead zero waste lives and the youth movement on climate change. It’s great to see everyone using their voice to help inspire people to look after the environment, including you guys! @cleanourpatch@citytosea_@Pentwyn.Pickers@youthstrike4climate
@mediabymadsand @emptythetanksworldwideare really powerful at highlighting cruelty to cetaceans in captivity for the entertainment business. We need this information taught in schools to help make this type of abuse a thing of the past. I never would have gone to SeaWorld as a kid if I knew the real story.
@plasticoceansUKand @exxpedition_highlight the human health impacts of plastic toxins, which is such an important message to get out there too. Our bodies are absorbing plastic, just like marine animals, and we don’t yet know the impact that it will have.
If someone wanted to start their own science or educational podcast, what advice would you give them?
Just get started and don’t worry if it isn’t perfect. I am not very technical so I have a company to help with the editing, but I am trying to learn to do that myself this year. There are so many apps and software packages that can help. For example, Sound Cloudis really easy to use to get you started. I have loved creating Sea Talesand would be more than happy to chat with anyone about it. You can reach me via DM @sea_ tales__on Instagram.