Ocean Discoverability 2022 End of Season Report

There were some firsts for us in 2022

Next Steps is a home education group in Cornwall and many of their children have disabilities. They were very keen to take part and benefitted hugely from their days out. An accompanying parent said, “It was excellently put together. A great experience. We asked lots of questions about our surroundings that were answered very well. A brilliant day, we have gained a lot of knowledge above and below the water. Great to be so hands on and encouraged to have a go.” They were also very flexible and quick to respond when a day became available due to a school cancelling and we enjoyed their company for a second day.

After a one-off visit last year, when we discovered the extent of disability among young carers, they are now frequent participants. Paddy, a practitioner from Devon Carers who accompanied one of their groups enjoyed “seeing the young carers blossom and grow in confidence.”

On another occasion they had to cancel a trip through staff shortage, which we replaced with a day alongside, as one of the youngsters was hoping to pursue a career in marine science. He enjoyed the squabbling crabs!

Asked what we could do better, Evelyn, a young carer, said, “Nothing, everything was perfect and fun.”

We have taken young people from the Prospect Centre at Mount Tamar School since 2017 after the project moved from The Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter Trust to The Island Trust, and this year we took students from the wider school, on one occasion accompanied by Blu, their therapy dog.

Similarly, Longcause Primary special school has been coming for a few years and a chance conversation with their administrator, whose husband teaches at the secondary school, led to them sailing with us, too. An accompanying member of staff said, “Really interesting collecting and looking at things under the microscope. Great to see the students being able to participate.”

The plan to create a cadre of On Board Ocean Educators (OBOEs) able to sail on these trips, future-proofing the project, met a major milestone with Hannah Whitman sailing as solo OBOE twice. Judging by the before and after scores for marine and maritime knowledge, Hannah is at least as good as John Hepburn, the project manager and regular OBOE. She’s also very sharp-eyed and spotted the only sea slug we found on the pontoon this year.

Having lost no planned trips to Covid in 2021, it was a surprise and disappointment to lose a week in 2022. However, we hosted some of Eggbuckland Vale Primary’s deaf youngsters alongside on the Monday and Friday.

On the Monday, one of the school staff wrote in her feedback, “I loved how much you were able to engage the children.” She also said that she thought her students had learnt more than on a previous trip when she had been sailing with them! Perhaps, but they did miss the excitement of being at sea and the feeling of accomplishment at steering the boat. We were joined that day by the Engagement and Inclusion Manager of the newly declared Plymouth Sound National Marine Park so she could see the contribution that sail training can make to achieving the Park’s aims.

The Friday we were particularly keen to keep, as it was the start of “Plastic Free July” and we had a full day of plastic pollution awareness planned. Staff from Plymouth City Council and Plymouth University demonstrated “Waste Shark”, a remote-controlled boat which gathered floating plastic from the water.

One of the marina Haven Masters showed the children the plastic collector on one of the pontoons. And the Marine Conservation Society Sea Champions Area Coordinator brought the MCS beach cleaning kit and forms to litter pick the jetty and pontoons and record the results.  With looking at marine life on the pontoon and squabbling crabs as well, there would hardly have been time to go to sea even if we could.

The rest of the season had the usual mixtures

Fine weather and foul. On crab cam, high excitement (particularly a pipefish) and the usual run of sea bed life. Short and full-length trips. On some trips we managed the full range of activities, and on others the youngsters just enjoyed the sensory experience. Some got a sense of achievement from working together as a team to set a sail, others from something as simple as learning to tie a figure of eight knot.

We found microplastic fibres in nearly every plankton trawl, but a happier and more exciting find was a sea gooseberry. A similar, but much larger, comb jelly turned up in the marina, too. Although we found plenty of small marine life, there was a dearth of the larger fauna, no seals or dolphins, and as a result of avian flu, very few gannets. But there were plenty of naval and merchant ships, fishing boats and yachts to spot.

Following a suggestion from the Royal Yachting Association’s “Sailability” programme we created a short video of one of the trips in house, now on our YouTube channel (below). We hope this will encourage other schools to join the programme and help them to prepare their young people for the day on board. It might even encourage donations!

Unless a school particularly wants to bring a group of nine, we kept a place free on board so that we could take potential OBOEs, opinion formers and trustees on these trips. This year we had trustees from Northbrook Community Trust, The Norman Family Charitable Trust, and Plymouth Public Dispensary to show them that their grants were being well used.

Notwithstanding the short days, the children were able to make the most of our specially written spotters’ guides to Plymouth Sound, looking for marine life, landmarks, ships and boats with a record number (13) winning the prize for the most points. Quinn, from Mount Tamar School, who had been before and had already won a copy of “Time in the Tide” donated his second copy to the school library.

Do these days work?

We measure satisfaction by asking them to tick smiling, neutral or frowning faces to tell us whether they enjoyed their day, with smiling scoring 1 point, neutral 0, and frowning -1. Overall, the children scored 92% and the adults 96%. Outcomes are measured by the uplift in how much the children and adults think they know about the sea and what lives in it (marine), and the sea and what people do with it (maritime) between the beginning and end of the day. At the beginning of the day, we ask the young people and their carers to rate these on a scale of 1-9. At the end of the day, they do the same, so we know if they think they have learnt about the marine environment and maritime activities.

Sometimes people discover they did not know as much as they thought they did and the score goes down – a valuable learning experience, but it does mess the stats up.  As in previous years both the children’s and the adults’ average perceived knowledge increased.

Maritime
Pre

Maritime
Post

Marine
Pre

Marine
Post

Children

4.8

6.8

4.6

6.4

(N=134)
Staff

4.0

6.4

4.2

6.3

(N=48)

John Hepburn, 16 November 2022

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