Seaweed: collecting & pressing

west coast seaweed prints  oak leaf sea on somerset paper

As the summer temperatures rise and we all head for the cool breezes of the sea and to enjoy paddling through rock pools I hope you are able to see a plethora of seaweed fronds floating and decoratively draping over the rocks .

Collecting and pressing seaweeds is a ‘littoral zone’ pass time of mine , a welcome diversion from recording and photographing plastic bottles, gun cartridges and rope. My love of seaweeds was fueled by attending a course at Edinburgh University last year, where I soon realised the vast number of varieties of seaweeds around our shores. The more you look the more shapes and colours you see attached to rocks shells, bridges and other seaweeds.


saw wrack on newspaper

The prints above where made from seaweed collected during my west coast work in June ,

I will shortly be posting them out as rewards for sponsors and putting more prints on line

for sale  at  

I started pressing seaweeds in order to take relief prints from them. Their branching forms, being similar to the botanical specimens that I was used to printing, but the procedures for pressing seaweed samples is much more complicated. The method I tend to favour in order to get a natural floating impression is through immersing the sample in a tray of fresh water and putting a piece of card underneath it then lifting the card & sample out letting the water drain away. The sample is then placed under cloths, paper, a board and even pressure. Getting a good print is often a very delicate process taking much practice for each variety, the original sample choice is very important.

A few days ago I came across ‘The Rules for laying out and preserving seaweeds’ (as in the 1800’s) in a book displayed alongside exquisite pressed samples of red seaweeds collected from along the east coast of Scotland. The seaweeds were pressed by artist Sara Dodd and displayed at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh as part of her wonderful Sea Flora exhibition in which she revisits the ‘Victorian tradition of collecting & preserving seaweeds’.

Rhodomela confervides  IMG_3153 Callophyllis laciniata IMG_3144

Sara’s samples are delicately dramatic many looking like purple/crimson ink drawings displayed simply on while paper or between Perspex. The exhibition runs for another few days until the 27th July only catch it if you can and visit her website which documents her work and observations on seaweeds particularly along the East Lothian shore lines. Enjoy.

Recycling sea litter

Tracking  the recycling journeys of litter across the country and beyond has made me realise just what an infinitesimal amount of resources we are wasting by chucking our litter into the sea and into landfill. As most of our natural resources are finite the more we can collect, reclaim and reuse the less resources we have to mine and the e cleaner our  environment will be

[Resources we need ÷ resources we reclaim = resources we need to extract]
An obvious equation but one which often gets skewed towards extraction through lack of commitment, but there are many companies and communities that are out there shouting out loud and clear about how the environment needs us to pay heed to this simple Maths!

A few months ago Ecover, the Green cleaning product brand launched ‘Ocean Bottle washing-up liquid’ the world’s first washing-up liquid bottle made from reclaimed ocean plastic which is now on sale in UK. Ecover worked with a manufacturer Logoplaste to combine plastic trawled from the sea with a plastic made from sugarcane (which it calls Plant-astic) and recycled plastic. In the initial trial, 10% of the plastic in the new bottle will have been retrieved from the sea, they are hoping to increase this proportion significantly in time. The quality of plastic retrieved from the sea is highly variable so it meant it had to be blended with other recycled plastic material to make it robust enough for a household cleaning product.

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What a great way to highlight the sea litter issue to recycle it into an object that is all too often found on our beaches certainly along the majority of  standlines I have surveyed. Plastic bottles are one of the most common domestic items to be washed up.  We retrieved 106 plastic bottles from the beach on Isle Martin, unfortunately many more were left behind through lack of time.  Often the bottles are blown beyond the strandline, in exposed places sometimes hundreds of metres inland, vegetation grows over them and we re only aware of their presences when we walk over them and hear that plastic crackling plastic sound

TED ent bottle   IMG_2312
The Marine Conservation Society, states that plastic debris accounts for almost 60% of all litter found on UK beaches, with much of it ending up in the sea. Fish in the northern Pacific Ocean ingest as much as 24,000 tonnes of plastic each year – the equivalent of 480m two-litre plastic bottles. Around 46,000 pieces of plastic are swirling around every square mile of ocean.Fish in the northern Pacific Ocean ingest as much as 24,000 tonnes of plastic each year – the equivalent of 480m two-litre plastic bottles.
Philip Malmberg, chief executive of Ecover, said: “The scale of the ocean plastic problem is enormous – every year at least a million sea birds and 100,000 sharks, turtles, dolphins and whales die from eating plastic. There is no choice – we simply have to aim to clean up ocean plastic for good.”
Ecover has joined pioneering group of manufacturing companies  who are  using their products to raise environmental awareness to the vast amounts of waste we throw into the seas . In 2010 Electrolux  launched a Vac from the Sea” project in which they partnered up with volunteers (individuals, group and environmental organizations) to collect plastic from the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the North Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Baltic Sea. The items they collected were then transformed into five state-of-art vacuum cleaners, each one representing one of the seas or oceans from which the plastics originates.

images seas plastic from sea vacs 1
Image Courtesy: From Left to right—The North Sea Edition, The Indian Ocean Edition, The Mediterranean Sea Edition, The Pacific Ocean Edition, The Baltic Sea Edition, Green Range Ultra One. Electrolux Vac from the Sea
The Electrolux company states on it’s on the corporate website that : “The vacuum cleaners embody the plastic paradox: oceans are full of plastic waste, yet on land there is a shortage of recycled plastic for producing sustainable vacuum cleaners. Electrolux makes Green Range vacuum cleaners from 70% recycled plastic, but wants to reach 100%.”
This seems to me a great corporate response illustrating how the collection and reclaiming of our waste can help to re-balance ourskewed resources equation and at the same time as raising our environmental awareness to sea litter. The vacuum cleaners were auctioned to raise money for further research and ocean cleaning. I hope Electrolux’s research continues and like Ecover they are able to devise increasingly more effective equipment to fit on more trawlers with which they are able to retrieve greater amounts of plastic for cleaning and recycle.


N.B Ecover’s manufacturing partner in recycling the bottle waste  is a company called ‘Closed Loop’. The managing director of this company Chris Dow who last night appeared on radio 4’s Bottom Line explaining the recycling process  of plastic bottles at his high-tech recycling plant in Dagenham, east London where they process 5 million bottles a day!