Ross Watson is back from his journey to Malaysia for the World Youth Foundation on Health and Environment Conference and is feeling inspired by the efforts of the young delegates to champion the environment.
From the Scottish Highlands to the Cameron Highlands
As I slept fitfully, I kept an eye on the on screen map showing where I was flying over. I had never been further East than Islamabad in Pakistan before, so when the map started to show the route into the Bay of Bengal and South of Rangoon, it really did feel that I was heading somewhere new and exotic, and it did not disappoint.
I landed in a hot and humid Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia for the World Youth Foundation on Health and Environment Conference at 7:30am and stumbled into a taxi with an equally tired delegate from Mexico. I was to make a presentation, assist with workshops and draw up a declaration and action plan from the conference over the next four days. The World Youth Foundation (WYF) is an NGO with special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and this conference was organised to allow representatives from across South East Asia, and the rest of the world, to discuss the role of young people in these two topics.
The conference was in a top hotel in Melaka, with rooms gazing out over the Straights of Malacca to Sumatra in the mist beyond. Just over 100 people attended the conference, aged between 18 and 30 and representing 23 countries. I was the European representative.
WYF delegates in a plenary session.
An aspiration of the conference, in discussion with the organisers, was to start work towards creating a rainforest reserve in Malaysia with the help of other organisations and NGOs. Unfortunately, it became apparent early on that this would not be achievable with so few staff working on so many different projects. The potential here is huge though, thirty percent of the Malaysian population are under 30, and the Malaysian Government aims to be recognised as a developed country by 2020 and the global headquarters of the World Youth Foundation is located in the country. It is not a matter of will, just time and money. Sadly, this is often the way with youth projects, and many other projects besides.
A group of delegates with Ross Watson in the back row.
The aim of the conference was much more about sharing experience and finding partnerships and inspiring the young delegates to start action and projects on health and the environment in their home towns and countries. Most of what was discussed was big - cure AIDS, reduce global poverty and stop global warming. All massive relevant issues but these young people can be doing something achievable in their local area too. Starting recycling schemes, food banks, handing out health information to pregnant women and many other achievable goals.
Through the workshops and the action plan, my job was to bring the young minds back to their home towns, and life. What could they do, how could they do it and by when. Who could support them? Why would they support them? It was an interesting exercise to go through with each group and the outcomes from these workshops fed into an Action Plan, including individual commitments from every delegate to carry out a certain action when they return home.
All of this formed the content for the ‘Melaka Youth Declaration’ which I drafted up for the delegates to change and approve before being handed over to the United Nations.
It wasn’t all hard work though with lots of opportunities for groups to bond and to share experiences less formally. A cooking competition went down really well as did a tour in the Straights of Malacca on a ‘Duck Boat’. The delegates from Australia, India, Canada, United States and, of course, Scotland, also took the time to sample local beverages when the opportunity arose.
Delegates taking part in a Malaysian cooking competition.
It was an interesting experience for me too. I have attended such conferences as a youth delegate before through my role with the Scottish Youth Parliament, but this was my first as a leader and facilitator. The first time I had to keep quiet and let the other people do the talking and make the decisions, with me helping along in the background.
It was great to see this new generation of young leaders coming from such a range of countries and backgrounds. It was also a reminder that when people like me (who have been through the struggles of trying to engage people of influence) share our experiences, we can help build an easier path for the next wave who will surely go on to even greater things.
Still time for sightseeing! Participants enjoyed a trip to the Batu caves.
Tracey Stewart, RSPB Scotland School Links Officer, tells us about a brand new Youth and Education Award in Scotland.
The Nature of Scotland Awards returns for a second year to celebrate excellence, innovation and outstanding achievement in Scottish nature conservation. This year, the awards also include, for the first time, a category recognising the important work that schools or youth groups undertake to nurture and protect Scotland’s special places and iconic species.The Youth and Education Award is open to any school or youth group who can demonstrate that they have been involved in making a real difference to protecting and conserving Scotland’s habitats and wildlife. If you have been involved in fundraising for a conservation programme, working independently or in partnership to deliver practical conservation work, or helping to connect young people with the natural environment through outdoor learning or natural play, then this could be your chance to gain national recognition!
The awards are free to enter, and are open now. Entries must include a report illustrating why your project is head and shoulders above the rest, and can include up to five pieces of supporting evidence, which must be emailed to the judges. Supporting evidence can include work from the children and young people involved in your project, and guidance for all entries is available on the Nature of Scotland Awards website. An impressive judging panel, including Director of RSPB Scotland, Stuart Housden, and TV and radio presenter, Euan McIlwraith, will have the tough job of short-listing the award entries down to a select few, with the overall winners announced at an award ceremony and dinner to be held in October.Connecting children and young people to nature is high on many people’s agendas, and it’s great to see an award that recognises the importance that this generation can have on Scotland’s environment, both now and in the future. With such amazing work going on in schools and youth groups all over Scotland, I’m sure we’ll have some great entries to the awards this year, and I can’t wait to hear all about them.
Today we are featuring a guest blog from marine & coastal ecology expert and TV presenter, Maya Plass. Find out what amazing creatures are hiding beneath the waves!
Maya Plass on our brilliant seas
Last week I had the pleasure of a shore dive in our UK waters. My eyes feasted on all the stunning sights around me – Cushion Stars decorated a rocky reef and Corkwing Wrasse darted in and out of view using the swaying fronds of kelp as refuge. On one stem of seaweed I saw a cushion star tightly wrapped around the “stipe” or stem of the bladder wrack. Momentarily, in its curled state it resembled the very recently discovered mollusc Simnia hiscocki - although this lives in deeper waters on the delicately branching sea fans. Incredibly this species of mollusc was only recently discovered off Plymouth waters, such is the nature of our marine environment where new species are still to be found. This got me thinking about the chances of discovering new marine species.
Cushion stars on a tyre. Photo: Maya Plass
Coincidently, when we emerged on to dry land I had a call from a radio producer to ask about the recently reported marine news - scientists had clarified and estimated the age old question of just how many marine species there are in our seas and oceans. They discovered that a whopping 482, 000 to 741,000 marine species are yet to be discovered bringing our total estimate for marine species to approximately 1 million! Quite how they extrapolate these figures from their data is quite beyond my statistical know-how. However, it is obvious to see that this really tells a clear story of just how much, or how little, we know about our seas and oceans and how much we have yet to discover.
Not long ago, it was reported that a “faceless, brainless fish” had been discovered in our Scottish waters off Orkney. Alongside this a group of research scientists discovered vast beds of horse mussels, fan mussels (my personal favourite and the largest UK mollusc) and also the striking flame shells. The news of new marine species is always exciting and testament to our increased ability to explore our seas and oceans. In times gone by scientists would have discovered deep sea creatures by examining the stomach contents of fish. Today, we have vastly improved our ability to explore our marine environment. We have submersibles, underwater “Remotely Operated Vehicles” and divers even have rebreathing kit allowing for longer periods of submerged exploration. We have the potential, if we have the funding, to discover one new marine species every day for at least the next 1320 years.
Flameshell. Photo: Calum Duncan
That is if our seas were to remain in a healthy and stable condition for the next 1320 years. A potentially impossible aspiration knowing what we do about the modern pressures on our seas and oceans. I find it disturbing to imagine how our seas might look in the next 50 years when we have already witnessed huge decline over the previous 50 years. We are witnessing mass extinctions at an unprecedented rate which we are responsible for. Coastal habitats are being lost due to development, siltation and pollution while our open and deep seas are being overfished, polluted with plastic and a cocktail of chemicals or exploited for aggregates, minerals, gas, coal and oil.
As a mother it saddens me to think that in my daughter’s lifetime there will be many marine creatures which we will lose to extinction before we have the chance to discover them. But I hope she continues to have the chance to enjoy our coast. I want her to be able enjoy rockpooling for shore crab and Blenny. Perhaps, when she’s older, she might get to see the rocky reefs of the deeper seas where the rocks are thick with species from the “fluffy” Plumose anemone, to delicate feather stars and our own soft and hard corals – all to be discovered in our very own British waters.
Snakelocks anemone. Photo: Maya Plass
We do have a glimmer of hope for our seas, if our politicians take on the responsibility of creating and supporting a coherent network of Marine Protected Areas. This means formally protecting a collection of important marine habitats and species, representing the remarkable biodiversity of our seas. We are at a vital tipping point in our seas where our action now will ensure their future health. This quality and health of our seas and oceans will directly reflect and impact the quality of our own lives here on land.
Marine biodiversity is essential for many reasons including ensuring the long term sustainability of fisheries. Marine species also harbour an array of medicinal properties which have, like our marine sponges, the potential to cure cancers and other diseases. If we continue to plunder our marine environment for short term economic gain we will start to see environmental degradation which will only limit our ability to benefit from the valuable resources that are found in our seas in the future. We need our seas for the oxygen (equivalent to every second breath!) which plankton provides, for associated recreation, tourism and the economy which is driven by a healthy ecosystem.
Scotland is a jewel in the British Isles’ natural history crown with some diverse and important coastal and marine habitats from vast colonies of sea birds and marine mammals to deep sea cold water coral reefs. Now is the time for politicians to protect this resource which can provide an endless source of wonder, enjoyment and economy for years to come.
Follow Maya on Twitter @MayaPlass
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