The Ocean is Cold, Smelly and Dark: A Marine Biologist’s Introspective Into Our Connection With Nature


By James Mortimor

We only look after what we care about; but what makes us care about the ocean? Until recently, I never considered the origin of my caring. I just cared! Most people in my social sphere also cared. I had been in a like-minded bubble without realizing it. A result of having a pre-school child is mixing with a variety of other parents; some of whom have quite different values. Recently, taking my daughter on a play date, another parent referred to the ocean where we live (Pacific Canada and location of IMCC2) as “cold, smelly and dark”. I was met by a look of indifference when I explained that my wife and I are marine biologists and our love of the ocean. I failed at the time to convert them. Upon reflection, I pondered the core connection to the ocean. What led to our different perception of the ocean? Was it geography – because the other parent was from the Prairies? That would be a simple answer, but I know dedicated marine biologists based in Winnipeg (they do Arctic work if you were wondering). Wherever you live there is at least some connection to the ocean – for instance oxygen in the air we breathe, medicines, food and transportation of goods [1]. So what made me see the ocean so differently to this other parent? The ocean, to me, is a source of great fascination and enjoyment. It dawned on me that I cared because I was exposed to nature and the outdoors at a young age leading to a strong personal affinity for the ocean. I beachcombed, rock pooled, fished, snorkelled, surfed and generally just enjoyed mucking about in and around the sea as far back as I can remember. It all started with rock pooling! I thank my parents for countless holidays in my early years sitting on often rainy and windy British beaches while I attempted to catch various intertidal fauna (blennies and gobies were a personal triumph). A beach holiday was not complete without a bucket and a net. I became interested in knowing more about the incredible array of shore creatures. In reality, I was a marine biologist before I even had a clue that such a discipline existed. I was lucky to be exposed to nature in a variety of ways as a child – whether making a frog pond, keeping fish, visiting museums, aquaria and parks, vacations with family and friends, or school trips. Similarly, when I talk to friends, within and outside of environment-related careers, their love of nature originates from childhood experience. Just writing about it brings a nostalgic smile to my face and something I can wax lyrical about over a whisky or a beer.

Courtesy of James Mortimor

Courtesy of James Mortimor

More importantly, this early experience has major repercussions for how we value the natural world. It makes me realise that an important part of my children’s upbringing is to foster their engagement with nature. Luckily, with the aid of a leaky mask, my 3 year old daughter already likes looking underwater to see what’s down there.   However, children are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature [2]. The implications of “nature deficit disorder” are very concerning for health and education [3] and, in light of our use and abuse of the world’s resources, how we value nature as a society. This is especially worrying when environmental education is being assaulted [4, 5] or subject to potential corporate interference [6, 7, 8]. To borrow from Dr. Russ Markel “Unfortunately, at a time when the natural world needs stewardship and advocacy the most – overfishing, climate change, ocean acidification, and global loss of biodiversity, are but a few examples of current challenges – humans are becoming increasingly disconnected from it. Nowhere is this trend more striking than with the remarkable collapse of children’s engagement with nature. In the US, in just six years (1997- 2003) the number of children with outdoor hobbies fell by half (Louv 2005). In the UK, in just one generation, the proportion of children regularly playing in wild places has fallen from more than 50% to less than 10%, and 11- to 15-year-olds in that nation now spend half their waking hours in front of a computer screen (Louv 2005). Most concerning is that as children’s engagement with nature declines, so too does the likelihood that the next generation will engage in the social and political advocacy needed to protect it” [9]. What does this mean for developing future generations of environmental stewards? It is crucial for our relationship with the planet to harness children’s intrigue [10] to connect them with nature [11, 12, 13]. To adapt a Jesuit maxim “give me a child and I’ll give you an environmentally conscious adult” [14]. I urge all attendees of IMCC and marine scientists in general (including myself) to: (1) step outside of your bubble from time-to-time; and (2) think and act to engage younger people to build a curiosity and appreciation of the marine realm.

James Mortimor is a marine biologist currently working in Canada. Find him on Twitter @Vit_Sea!



[1] Five Reasons We are All Connected to Oceans

Continue reading

Take a Trip to the Capital


by Kirsteen McColgan



Calton Hill

You’ll have a great time in Glasgow while attending IMCC3, but why stick to one city? Scotland is a beautiful and remarkably small country, so it’s really easy to travel around. And number one on any itinerary would have to be a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city.

Catch a train from Queen Street Station in Glasgow, for the 55-minute journey delivering you straight into Waverley Station, in the very heart of Edinburgh. Stroll along Princes Street as you get your bearings and grab a coffee in Jenners. This iconic department store is a mecca for shoppers but also has a fantastic restaurant and café/bar with great views of the city. Wander through the glorious Princes Street Gardens, past the Scott Monument. You can climb the 287 steps to the top if you’re feeling energetic! Carry on up the Royal Mile (yes it is just a mile, honest!) and you’ll come to Edinburgh Castle; Scotland’s number one tourist attraction. See Scotland’s Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny and take in the atmospheric ambiance of the Great Hall.

National Galleries with Princes St Gardens (1)

National Galleries and Princes St Gardens


On your way back down the Royal Mile, you might feel in need of a little pick-me-up. And if a dram or two is your tipple of choice, head to the Scotch Whiskey Experience. Located right by the castle, this insight into Scotland’s most famous export is a real treat. Take a tour through a replica distillery, hear the secrets of this magical craft and finish it all off with a sample of the amber nectar itself – nice!

2014 is a time of potentially huge change for Scotland, as we decide if we want to be an independent nation. So, while you’re in the area it would be crazy to miss out on a visit to the new Scottish Parliament building; the place where it’s all happening. You can wander round the public areas by yourself or, if you plan your visit in advance, book a tour and a seat in the Debating Chamber – for free!

Museums – Edinburgh’s got a fair few, but a firm favourite is the National Museum of Scotland. It’s recently undergone a face lift and is well worth a visit for the great range of exhibits and galleries. It’s also worth a look just to take in the splendour of the building itself. Sit in the Great Hall and take it all in, then head up to the roof garden for panoramic views of the city – spectacular!

Take some time to wander round the Old and New Town, taking in the stunning scenery, architecture and general ambiance of the city. You’ll find loads of places to eat and drink; upmarket restaurants, small artisan cafes, modern brasseries, local pubs. But if you’re looking for something special to eat before heading back to Glasgow, try The Dome in George Street, The Witchery up by the castle or The Dogs Kitchen Bar in Hanover Street – all provide a taste of Scottish cuisine at its very best.

And that’s it; a whistle-stop tour of the main sights and sounds of the very heart of Scotland’s capital. But there’s loads more to see and do. So don’t take my word for it – take a trip and see for yourself!

–Kirsteen McColgan is part of our Local Organising Committee for IMCC3, living just outside Glasgow. She’s also our Volunteer Co-ordinator.