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Earth Day 2024
Environment,  FEATURES,  NEWS

UK marine life unveiled in stunning Earth Day showcase

To mark Earth Day (22 April), the Marine Conservation Society has unveiled a vibrant display of photographs that graphically highlights the UK’s rich variety of marine life

The ocean charity Marine Conservation Society (MSC) has created a roundup of incredible ocean photography from the charity’s supporting photographers to mark Earth Day on 22nd April.

The focus of this year’s Earth Day is Planet vs Plastics, with calls for a 60% reduction in all plastics production by 2040. Plastics currently make up at least 80% of marine litter, and pose a significant threat to the health and survival of marine species.

Animals such as seabirds and turtles can become entangled in plastic debris or ingest it, causing fatal digestive issues. Plastic can also contain harmful chemicals which are linked to hormonal imbalances. Sadly, the Marine Conservation Society’s State of our beaches report found that nine of the top ten litter items found on UK beaches were plastic. 

The Marine Conservation Society’s Chief Executive Sandy Luk, said, “Without a healthy ocean, we cannot have a healthy planet. These stunning images show the beauty and wonder of the marine life in our seas, at the same time, are a vivid reminder that these fragile ecosystems are in urgent need of protection and restoration.”

The Marine Conservation Society encourages people to get out and see the incredible life in our seas for themselves. For divers and snorkellers, the charity’s Seasearch programme is a great way of giving back and exploring the UK’s waters.

Seasearch volunteers conduct underwater surveys, providing an insight into the state of the UK’s seas. Learn more about the programme, and how to get involved, by visiting seasearch.org.uk.

Earth Day 2024 UK marine life gallery

Compass jellyfish, Falmouth, by Michiel Vos

Earth Day 2024

“A compass jellyfish viewed just under the surface of Falmouth Bay. The compass jellyfish occurs in coastal waters all around the British Isles, and can be commonly seen in Cornwall over summer, alongside blue jellyfish, crystal jellyfish, moon jellyfish and sometimes big barrel jellyfish. The photo was taken while snorkelling in broad daylight, but by using a small aperture and fast shutter speed the water appears black. The jellyfish is only centimetres from the camera housing and is lit up with a flash. The bright sky is visible in ‘Snell’s Window’, a phenomenon caused by the refraction of light entering the water.” 

Sea loch anemones & squat lobsters, Loch Duich, by Dan Bolt

“No matter how much mistreatment our marine-life takes, it always has a way of making the most of a bad situation. Here an old diver’s torch has become home to many different species and is becoming part of the environment itself. You can see sea loch anemones on the torch, a couple of small squat lobsters using it as shelter, and in the background a sea urchin and a sea cucumber complete this pretty reef scene in Loch Duich, western Scotland.” 

Clingfish, Portland Harbour, by Georgie Bull

Earth Day 2024

“This image was taken at the end of a dive in Portland Harbour. Just before exiting the water, I decided to check the holdfast (root-like structure) of some wakame kelp attached to a pipe. I’d heard rumours that clingfish lay their eggs in the delicate folds at the base of the stipe but had never been lucky enough to see one with my own eyes. To my delight, a pair of eyes stared back at me as I approached. I only had one shot before he retreated into his home, and this was the photo that I took. I really like this photo because it captures something special about how characterful and charismatic small UK fish are. You just have to know where to look!”

Blue shark, Penzance, by Jon Bunker

Earth Day 2024

“Perhaps one of our most spectacular summer visitors, the blue shark (Prionace glauca) is a dazzling animal to come across in our seas: shimmering variously indigo, cobalt blue and even bronze in the sunshine. Circulating on a clockwise migratory route with the gulf stream, the most typical UK encounters are with younger females like this inquisitive example pictured off Penzance in Cornwall. This elegant creature was most likely looking to fatten up on squid and mackerel over the summer months before journeying back to the tropics. Indeed, it is the wide-ranging pelagic nature of these fish that makes them vulnerable to fishing activity, and they are currently categorised as ‘Near Threatened’ on the red list.” 

Northern gannet, Hermaness National Nature Reserve, Shetland, by Kevin Morgan

Earth Day 2024

“Northern gannets are the largest seabirds in the North Atlantic, with roughly 60 to 70% of the world’s population choosing to breed on the British Isles. They nest in locations with sufficient updraft to assist them when taking off; the windy stacks and tall cliffs of Shetland are ideal. There are an abundance of gannet colonies around Britain and Ireland, with most having been occupied for centuries. Bass Rock is the largest northern gannet colony in the world, home to more than 150,000 birds. The colony featured in this image is at Hermaness National Nature Reserve, which hosts around 30,000 pairs, a spectacular sight to behold as large numbers of birds soar over the stormy waters below.”

Skeleton shrimp, Pen Wyn reef, Cornwall, by Kirsty Andrews 

Earth Day 2024

“This image of a skeleton shrimp, or caprellid, was captured at Pen Wyn reef on the Manacles reef system in Cornwall. The colourful background is another animal, the orange bryozoan known as ‘ross coral’. There were hundreds of skeleton shrimp living on the bryozoan, all only a couple of centimetres in size. The young climb all over the bodies of the adults, and the males are noticeably larger than the females. I had to get in close to isolate one individual with my macro lens, to show off the long slender body that gives this animal its ‘skeleton’ name.” 

Sea hare, Silver Steps, Falmouth, by Shannon Moran 

Earth Day 2024

“Early in the spring, just before the algae bloom, the waters in Cornwall turn an incredible shade of turquoise. I made the most of the sea conditions and aimed to capture the transition from green algae filled water to the clear blue shallow water in the background of this image. 2023 was a bumper year for sea hares at this dive site, and for a few weeks in the spring the sea floor was absolutely covered with these large sea slugs. This hare was particularly large, at around 20cm! It had started to climb up the kelp covered reef and after a few minutes made its way all the way to the top of this golden kelp stalk, where I captured this image.” 

Horse mussel bed, Shetland, by Billy Arthur

Earth Day 2024

“This horse mussel bed with large dahlia anemone, brittle stars and juvenile queen scallops is situated in a highly tidal site off the east coast of Shetland. It’s a bustling metropolis of marine life! A dense carpet of brittle stars cover the mussel bed and a multitude of other species can be found nestled amongst the horse mussels. If you’re lucky, you might encounter a flapper skate or small-spotted cat shark looking for a meal. The dive site can only be reached on a slack tide due to the current being too strong to swim against in full slow. A diverse site with a hint of danger – it doesn’t get much better!” 

Tompot blenny, Torquay, by Jacob Guy

Earth Day 2024

“Tompot Blenny’s are one of the most inquisitive species you find on a dive in the UK, which makes them perfect subjects for photographing. Their amazing patters and large eyes make them on of my favourite fish species in the world to see on a dive and capture. I’d had multiple occasion’s where these confident blenny’s will come between me and my camera whilst shooting other subjects and even sometimes get in the way completely and there’s nothing you can do but smile.”

Jellyfish, by Lewis Jeffries 

Jellyfish, by Lewis Jeffries

“In the summer months, jellyfish frequent the British isles in large numbers, thought to be attracted by the warmer waters. This was a perfect summers evening – clear and calm with hardly a breath of wind. As the sun dipped lower in the sky the golden hour produced some beautiful light, I found this individual swimming close to the surface and the golden colours of the jellyfish seemed to match the hue of the sky making for a pleasing scene. I illuminated the jellyfish with flash and the dark background helped the creature stand out, creating a memorable image. I try to capture common subjects in a beautiful way – showing the wonders that are found on our doorstep, in the hope that they can inspire others to appreciate and care for our amazing wildlife.”

You can help safeguard our beautiful diversity of marine life by getting involved with the Marine Conservation Society’s work through attending a beach clean, making a one-off donation, or becoming a member. 

To learn more about the Marine Conservation Society’s work, and how to get involved with the Seasearch project, please visit the charity’s website mcsuk.org

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Abi writes swimming news stories and features for the Outdoor Swimmer website and manages the social media channels. She loves to swim, run, hike and SUP close to her home in Herefordshire. While she’s a keen wild swimmer, Abi is new to the world of open water events and recently completed her first open water mile. She has previously written for The Guardian, BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC History Magazine and Ernest Journal.