At a point in history when humans are at a pivotal stage in our relationship with the environment, Wednesday’s talk by Matt Barnes, the community engagement manager of Seal Rescue Ireland, felt particularly timely. Seal Rescue Ireland is the country’s only centre for the preservation of seals, and the talk – hosted jointly by the Trinity Zoological Society, Trinity Environmental Society and the new Trinity Conservation Society – was provoking and engaging.
Barnes touched on matters relating specifically to seals, as well as to climate change, the “plastic problem” in our oceans and how to make big differences in small ways.
Stationed in Courtown, Wexford, Seal Rescue Ireland covers the entire coast of Ireland. Barnes, an excellent speaker, began by explaining that the organisation cares for all sorts of animals.
Barnes described the physiological features of Ireland’s most common seals, the grey seal and the common seal. It was incredible to think that there are more African elephants in the wild than there are grey seals, yet we do little to protect them. Right now is the grey seal pupping season. Burnes explained how most people who pups on the shoreline shoo them into the water, but as their coats are not waterproof they will drown.
Unsurprisingly, the most common cause of seal deaths is pollution. The main issue with plastic is that it’s “cheap, durable and waterproof”. It is almost impossible for it to do anything but float in the sea.
Microplastics are now six times the concentration of zooplankton, making it indistinguishable from other marine life. If we were to eat shellfish once a month, then, according to Burnes, we have 11,000 microplastics in our body. Around 85% of Dublin Bay prawns have microplastics and very few people in the audience knew that plankton are the largest makers of oxygen.
Seal Rescue Ireland is an incredible initiative to help protect seal life and highlight the pollution problem we are causing. The talk was engaging and towards the end began to resemble more a conversation than a lecture. The organisation needs our help to continue the great work they are doing. It costs up to €3,000 to rehabilitate one seal to release back into the wild. Over the past four years Seal Rescue Ireland has released over 400 seals. Donations are therefore crucial. You can adopt a seal on the website or volunteer at the next training day on September 22nd, in Courtown, Wexford from 10am to 2pm.