Coastwatch Europe Interview

Did you know that according to the National Ocean Service at least 50% of the Earth’s oxygen comes from the ocean? If humanity keeps on with business as usual, the ocean is expected to lose around 3-4% of its oxygen by 2100. So far, oceans have already lost 2% since the 1950s, due to higher water temperatures and excessive growth of algae. In this episode we speak to Karin Dubsky, Coastwatch Europe, who’s been engaged in protecting oceans for over 30 years.

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Coastwatch Europe: Protecting the Ocean and Our Coasts

Did you know that according to the National Ocean Service at least 50% of the Earth’s oxygen comes from the ocean? If humanity keeps on with business as usual, the ocean is expected to lose around 3-4% of its oxygen by 2100. So far, oceans have already lost 2% since the 1950s, due to higher water temperatures and excessive growth of algae.In this episode Talks With… Karin Dubsky from Coastwatch Europe. Karin has been engaged in protecting the ocean for over 30 years. 

One of the successful ways Coastwatch has been able to help protect the ocean is by collecting a lot of  data about the coast and what is swept up with volunteers. This citizen science work now uses a digitised map of the coast, which surveyors can click on to select their 500m of shore to visit and report on. Over 750 survey sites were returned on the island of Ireland in the recent autumn 2020 survey.

The coastal zone is most productive and essential  for marine ecosystem. Both oxygen producing plankton and key organisms that support the whole marine food chain have their homes or some vital stage of their life in the coastal zone. This is also the area with most human pressure and   highest temperature increases and storm damage due to climate change. Coastal systems such as such as salt marshes and seagrass meadows have the ability to absorb, or sequester, carbon at rates up to 50 times those of the same area of tropical forest.

Thanks to thousands of volunteers who report on marine litter, biodiversity, stream water quality – also testing Nitrate levels, with exact location and photos, Coastwatch has been able to provide political decision makers and the wider public with data which complements official monitoring and gives us  a better picture of the real situation. Additionally and that is important with COVID now – the beauty, sea smell and surprises of the shore create happiness. A survey can also create anger as pollution, a load of litter or habitat damage are encountered. So Coastwatch guides and supports  community action to tackle such problems.

If you want to see maps of survey units in other countries of Europe go to

An important way of preventing damage and restore nature is to create Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). IUCN defines these as “Any area of intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment”.

Ireland, among other countries, had pledged to protect 10% of its waters as MPAs by 2020.  So far only 2.3% of Ireland’s seas have actually been designated  – as Natura 2000 sites required under EU Nature law. The legislation to enable government to designate other types of MPAs is only now being prepared by this government.

Environmental groups like Coastwatch and Irish Wildlife are pushing hard for this law, working jointly with traditional inshore fishermen in some areas. While the next goal of 30% designation by 2030 could be reached, MPA must deliver and that means effective MPA management and as last resort court action. Lead environmental lawyers have worked with Coastwatch to successfully stop hazardous waste pollution, high impact fisheries and unauthorised port works in select MPAs.

If you want to know more about Coastwatch you can listen to the full interview here, where Karin gives her answer to questions like:

  • What is the real problem behind all the trash that ends up in the ocean?
  • What is the real problem with climate change?

Want to learn more about Coastwatch Europe? You can check out their news section and follow them on Facebook and Twitter

Interview Transcript


Every day you and I get bombarded with negative news. Just like the body becomes what we eat, the mind becomes what we’re putting in. It is important to listen to stories that not only give you hope, but also inspire you and uplift  you. 


In this podcast, we’re interviewing experts who will break down the solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. And I promise you, if you listen to this podcast, you’ll not only stay informed but you will also feel more energy in your life. Welcome to Talks With. 


The topic of today is how do we protect the ocean and marine biodiversity? And to understand more about that. We have invited Karen Dubinsky from Coastwatch Europe. So I want to say welcome, Karen, to you. 


Thank you very much. I’m really delighted to be given this opportunity. 


Yeah, it’s important to talk about the oceans, to understand what is going on. So could you just paint a picture? How is the oceans doing at the moment? 


So, first of all, the oceans are huge. Ireland has 10 times more sea than land. The ocean is the cradle of life. And while we have a reasonable biodiversity on land, it’s far, far more in the sea. However, it’s not spread out evenly like butter on bread. It sits in nooks and crannies. Like, you don’t have everything spread out in your house, you have it in certain places, and we at the moment between climate change and ourselves, we are doing a very good job of wrecking the most important areas and really putting pressure on the oceans. So it’s not doing well, despite all the and that’s why we have all of these conventions which say what we will do, we will honor and promise, we will halt the loss of biodiversity by 2020, we will halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010. Then we are now in 2020. That was another. Promise by governments across the world, we will halt the loss of biodiversity, but we haven’t, and that is we are running down the number of species which are in good condition and the number of ecosystems which are still functioning. 


Do we see the whole picture of our dad, does the science and you manage to understand what we’re about to lose? 


I only get a glimpse, I’m a coastal ecologist, and the coastal zone is one of the richest. It’s like having your, you know, the bed beside your house or your pots, which you like most with all your herbs, where everything is together, it’s warm and sheltered and looked after. And that area is under enormous pressure. Now, we have got more storms. We’ve got hotter weather and the coastal storm because it’s so flat and then it heats up much faster. So last year, for example, we saw in our area, even though I live in County Wexford. On the south, facing rocks on west southwest, facing rocks on Olympus, where literally right there were just dry sitting on the rocks dead. Now this year the weather has been kinder and it gives me great pleasure crawling around the shore and seeing happy limpets, just sitting there, not dried up. 


So what do you say? What’s the big problem about marine biodiversity is being threatened is that the temperature’s rising as people throw that around trash on the beaches. So what’s the issue behind? 


I think the issue is that we are kicking nature with every possible thing.


At the same time, if you’re, for example, taking the Waterford estuary, you know, just zooming in on one tree, it’s our second largest estuary. So you’ve got several industries, you’ve got ports and you’ve got people who want to recreate and you’ve got tourists and everyone and you’ve got fishermen and everybody wants to do something. 


And with modern technology tends to have a better way, a quicker way, a better way of getting even further. And that is squeezing nature, even areas which might have not been squeezed before. Now you can get to them, even fish who might have been safe before. Now you can locate exactly where they are and how much there is and how much money you could make. The driver behind all of this is short term thinking of what we can get in a very short time. So maybe like the razor shell dredging in the water pedestrian. 


The mindset of efficiency and more profit that could be actually rooted as to cost for all the events that we’re seeing, um. 


If we then try to understand Coastwatch are working in different countries, but mostly you guys started in Ireland, and how would Coastwatch fit into addressing the problem of loss of biodiversity in the oceans? 


So the aim is to have enough people understanding the issues and treading very lightly, understanding themselves how they can help minimize impact and possibly come together and actually help protect and restore. And for that, you do citizen science so that you. People understand it’s like one day and I know nothing about archaeology. 


Well, I knew absolutely nothing and I saw an archaeologist digging away at a seagrass bed, which is so special. That’s where all the baby fish and mollusks and so on go to hide and to feed. And he was digging away at it. So I legged it across the mudflats. I didn’t know who it was and I told him to immediately stop, that he was doing great harm. 


And he looked at me, he said, But I am an aspiring archaeologist and I am only looking for signs of archaeology. There is a fish trap or something below that. And it dawned on me how everybody, not intentionally but unintentionally, just follows their thing without taking nature into account. So citizen science is perhaps the way that our Coastwatch survey draws people in to do an audit of the coast in five. Let me just have a unit and learn the language which scientists are using, but also to look quite critically with new eyes. What is happening on the shore, what is natural, what has changed? Is there an impact, including marine litter? But also other things like and really poorly thought out erosion control. And so that’s the first thing to try and inform as many people as possible and make them citizens who understand. And influence others directly and by voting and then the other one is every so often we have to get out. So the aHUS convention is access to information, public participation and access to justice. And every so often you have to put your foot down and say something is so urgent that we have to use this right, which is in our law as well, to stop something, to hold something. So to take high court injunctions, which we have taken several of, and to stop serious pollution. And Coastwatch has been incredibly, incredibly kind. Lawyers have worked pro bono to help us achieve quite a number of cases. That way, we all work as volunteers in Coastwatch. So if there’s a chemist among those listening to this podcast, chemists are as rare as hen’s teeth and engineers who would like to do something environmentally friendly would be very welcome to, you know, different expertise. Who can help us crack some really difficult cases. 


Ok, so I’m picking up two different tracks, one would be to increase awareness, and you’re actually helping people to go out to nature by engaging with the coastline. And I also saw a map on the website there. I guess you’re mapping out all the different places that have had a volunteer who already tracked that certain kind of. Yes. And then you’re saying that you’re also going to court for legal justice, and I guess that will be. Kind of stopping companies who want to exploit nature. 


Yes, quite often what you heard was our last case, which was to hold research dredging in the Waterford estuary. You know, these shells, they’re the longest of our shells. They’re slow growing. They sit in one place in beds, quite dense, and they have the most amazing way on a full moon and spring to come out of the sediment because they live in the sediment. They come out and they dance with their white bodies in the full moon. And one of my coastwatchers saw that once and he said it was the most magic. And if you could get people out from a distance to watch in a kayak at night how these shells dance, you would never dream of going in with a hydraulic dredger and opening every part of such a bet to being pulled out. Every single animal which lives there where they’re small or big would be pulled out, put over a whale, and then the best ones which are intact would be taken out and sold abroad because we don’t even need them yet while everything else is put back. And that causes great damage. This was proposed in a protected area in a Natura 2000 site without public consultation. So we got an interim injunction and that was last year. And then this year the case was settled. The dredging did not go ahead. And

what is even more exciting, the law will be changed so that in future it is totally clear that the public will have to be consulted and that the minister does not have the right. Hopefully that’s the way it should be changed. At the moment, we have trust that the law will be reviewed and we’ll see what the outcome is that we hope that it will be changed in such a way that this cannot happen again. 


People do have power. That will be the message, yes, if you engage, you can make a change even against the current law. 


So what’s happening at the moment, then, for you? What were you where you’re focused right now with Coastwatch? What’s going on? 


But just now we are just finishing our Coastwatch survey 20, which we weren’t sure because of coverage where that would go ahead at all. This is where we ask people to go out, go on to our website book, 500 meters offshore, survey the shore, send us the data back. At this stage, everything can be done online except for test kits, which we send you, but you don’t have to have those. And then we analyze that data and we look at trends and we look at, well, is our law or our policy adequate in for example, there’s EU law, single use plastic law, which prohibits some daft things which you might have seen. I don’t know whether you have seen them. Have you seen a balloon stick anywhere? Never mind on the shore? I haven’t seen one for at least 10 years anyway. Anyway, it band balloons, sticks. It also bans some other things like cutting board sticks to to and which are which were paper with will at the end for years and years and years and years. And then because it’s a tiny bit cheaper, they introduced plastic in the middle. And now the new law says that by next June they will no longer be allowed. But what we are finding on the shore is covid waste mask’s single use masks and wet wipes. 


So what we are saying is wet wipes in particular absolutely have to stop. So you use the data to put it all together and then you go to the government and you say, this is our data, we would recommend to do the following. 


You’re also in dialogue with People in Decision-Making positions. 


Yes, and I think that’s the really positive thing, that the dialogue is becoming much more structured and there is more definitely more opportunity for environmental groups to get involved. 


How ever did you know that BLM, the Marine Institute, the Sea Fishery Protection Agency, all these? The Marine bodies all have boards which have industry on them, but no environmental group. So we’re getting going in the right direction, but we’re sure we haven’t arrived yet. 


Could you clarify the last part? I didn’t get up on the wall. What was the problem there? 


The problem is that decision making has to be or should be balanced. When somebody makes a decision, then they should take all the views into account. But if the Sea Fishery Protection Agency, the British government and the Marine Institute, the bodies who do most of the decision making on where to put millions of money into research or policy or planning ahead, whether to have salmon farms or not, for example. If they have on their advisory boards, the industry is well represented. Like the salmon aquaculture is represented on the boards, but the environmental groups aren’t. 


Well, then it’s just so possible that they might have a bit of a bias. 


And now I see the problem. OK, let me see if I can summarize a little bit. 


From what you said before, the you’re engaging volunteers to map out how much litter is it on the beaches, on the shores, and you then use that information to get leverage with the decision makers so that they actually see, hey, guys, we’ve done the work in field and they can take better decisions. So that’s one observation. I see why it would be so helpful then to be a volunteer to engage in. Another cool thing I answer is that you can actually tell now from having been doing this for a couple of years, I guess, study for thirty four years that the trash that shows up in the beaches are actually affected directly by what is allowed or not from the laws. So the laws also have a certain power here in what kind of trash goes out.


That’s also why I found it interesting that. 


Yeah, and the plastic bag tax, for example, it was Ireland who led on that at the time coast, which was right across Europe. And there was like Arason between countries because we could see the plastic bags were really having an impact and the numbers were huge. And in Portugal and in Greece, our coast watchers were finding animals which 

had plastic bags like sea turtles even. But it was Ireland which led with introducing a tax and then other countries followed. 


And we live in Sweden, and recently I’ve started to see in all the daily grocery shops that they put up this note, hey, there’s a new law saying that we have to Tacitus tax plastic tax quite high. And my first reaction was, oh, my God, a plastic bag cost as much, but then it made sense. OK, now it’s gone so worldwide. 


Yeah. So you’re saying that Ireland was the starting point for that. That was. I didn’t know that. Interesting. 


We’re ending we’re going towards the end of this interview and I want to know how you where would you like to direct people to do after hearing this interview. 


What do you want people to do or take action on? 


As rebels themselves try to get to the shore at low tide and just for yourself. 


Try to find a few animals and look at them and start becoming engaged in how interesting the story is, because to protect you need to love it and to love it, you need to know it. So I think that is the most important. And I can see it in kids, in families used to bring their kids to the shore and who are now becoming scientists and psychologists and lawyers. So I think there’s always a lag time, but that is perhaps the most important. The other one is your own decision making, your own decision making in what you buy in, how you throw your stuff away or we use it in. In questioning, very often you need to question. And questioning might not always be comfortable, but if enough other people question, we really get a much better decision making, whether it’s your fight, your development plan or a planning application going up, which includes nibbling at yet another wetland because our wetlands that the sea but the sea is connected to land. And so many fish like a salmon, he doesn’t just want to be in the sea to reproduce. He needs to be up there in the headwaters. He needs to get through everywhere. So think of nature, love, nature, enjoy nature. If you find something special, tell us.