Sara on Stories of The Sea & Wester Ross Marine Protected Area
The northern tip of the Achiltibuie peninsula is an unusual location for a film company - it is not a place to pursue great ambition, but it is a place to attune more deeply to the rhythms of Sea, Self and Nature. Living so close to the underwater world has enabled me to combine two of my great loves; the sea and storytelling. The remoteness and distance from the rest of the world, adds a fresh perspective. Story, film and art; indigenous ways and the oral tradition, my holiday cottage surrounded by the sea; the group of trusty souls who have coalesced into a marine community group working to protect, survey and tell stories about the sea; my passion for cooking with a focus on seafood; all feel like strands of seaweed entangled in the tidal flow of my life - separate but interconnected. As time passes all these elements have become so entwined they merge into a coherent whole, with roots wrapped around my heart. The sea feels like my element. I was born on a tropical island. (My parents lived in Malaysia as my father served with the Seaforth Highlanders.) My connection to the watery world was deepened by my salty childhood exploring rock pools in Guernsey, from where my sea-faring ancestors came. Then the rivers and beaches around Edinburgh, and later Africa and the wider world.
After moving to a Reiff Beach Cottage, almost submerged by the sea and overlooking the Summer Isles archipelago, I gradually learnt about the decline of the sea which I had loved so much as a child; the collapsed fisheries and rapidly shifting baselines were, and are alarming. The sea had always been my friend, washing away troubles and making me feel alive. When life is measured against something so eternal, it gives birth to a new perspective. After realising what was happening I felt an irresistible desire to tell the sea's story, for her sake as well as ours. Support came slowly. However in 2014 a handful of people coalesced into a voluntary community group called Sea Change Wester Ross. This group worked together to ban dredgers from Wester Ross Marine Protected Area. They were banned in August 2015. In the winter of 2015-2016 in order to celebrate the MPA's creation on the 23rd March 2016, the National Trust for Scotland asked me to make a film to explain the purpose and benefits to the community. This is The Bountiful Sea which was widely viewed. Once the MPA was a reality the Sea Change group evolved into a thinktank, where like minded people could share concerns, exchange knowledge and offer joined up solutions to recover the sea's abundance. This group of passionate sea-lovers now work more like a network with many partnerships creating a kind of synergy around citizen science surveys and monitoring recovery. We also capture the sheer beauty of the underwater world on film. Our hope is to map the species and habitats within the Marine Protected Area. With scientists, fishermen, storytellers, artists, and film makers as supporters we aim to share our stories of discovery to delight others as well as ourselves, with the weird and wonderful creatures under the waves. This has a serious intent too as we try to encourage more holistic-ecosystem thinking around the socio-economic benefits of protection too. We have become a voice on behalf of the sea, supporting the low impact fishermen who share our concern. I for one believe we need to commune more deeply with this intelligence, we do not yet fully understand, for it is conscious. We hope our stories will help protect and restore the ocean we love.
Reiff Beach Cottage, a house for all seasons and a place to dream!
Reiff Beach Cottage was recently awarded a Green Tourism Gold Award for our commitment to the environment and they have encouraged us to share our story more widely. Surrounded by sea on three sides, Reiff Beach Cottage is a holiday cottage overlooking the Summer Isles Archipelago. Each year the cottage donates a few weeks holiday-let to marine scientists, diver-cameramen and Seasearch divers willing to help Sea Change map and film the marine protected area which surrounds the cottage and extends as far south as Loch Ewe. It has become a sort of base-camp for supportive divers working on seabed surveys and citizen science in Wester Ross. This process of discovery is part of my own curiosity about marine life as well as a fascination in storytelling around the Sea. I hope it is also an encouragement to divers to support Sea Change's seabed surveys. We are lucky as just off the rocky reef and cliffs at Reiff, so loved by climbers, are some of the most beautiful habitats to dive or snorkel. Our aim is to encourage our guests to help protect the remarkable creatures beneath the sea. Also available as a holiday-let, the experience of staying at Reiff Beach Cottage changes with the seasons; whatever the time of year or weather - wind, rain, storm or shine, being close to the sea, immersed by wind and waves is always restorative. Staying at the cottage helps us support the marine environment too. For more information visit Reiff Beach Cottage site.
Since Wester Ross MPA was designated, we have completed a week's survey in 2016, two in 2017 and possibly 3 weeks in 2018. Below are some images from the most recent weeks survey in June 2018. For more images go to An Underwater Eden on the Sea Change Wester Ross website.