If you go down the ramp to the pontoons in Bangor Marina you couldn’t miss the impressive vessel sitting to your right. She’s the Seabird, Northern Ireland’s first sea-going boat-based environmental charity known as 'Citizen Sea', supported by Ards and North Down Borough Council and Bangor Marina.
Co-Founders are Jen Firth, herself a boat lover and marine conservationist, who together with Master Shipwright Tony McLoughlin (whose previous project was the Brian Boru), aim through Citizen Sea, to inspire others to engage with the marine environment through Science, Education, Research and raising awareness.
Launched in 1969, the vessel is a 17-metre ex herring Ringnetter of 40 tonnes displacement built of larch and oak in the Norse tradition by Scottish yard Weatherhead and Blackie of Port Seaton. Descended from the legendary sailing drifters of the late nineteenth century, she is a roomy and powerfully built boat and has worked through all seasons and as a general-purpose fishing vessel up until late 2018.
Primarily Seabird is as a research and education vessel and, perhaps most importantly, an ambassador for the natural marine and coastal environment. Citizen Sea wants to inspire local people and visitors to become stewards of the greatest natural resource in order to create healthier seas and coastal communities now and in the future. Jen and Tony hope to create action through education and provide evidence for conservation by engaging people.
"Citizen Sea aims to inspire others to engage with the marine environment"
“It is surprising just how many people who live in a coastal region have never set foot on a boat”, Jen says, and she and her colleagues have sought to rectify this, principally through a schools’ programme. About the schoolchildren who visit she says, “when they get on a boat, they don’t even look at their phones!”. Justification surely for what Jen and Tony are undertaking. Also, they want, by the example of the restoration of this particular vessel, to encourage upcycling and using older things. By bringing people to the sea they hope that they will develop a greater understanding of the marine environment and engage with the rich maritime heritage and culture whilst learning how to care for and protect the wildlife and the environment within it.
The schools' programme has proved extremely popular and up to ten children make up a Science Club, with two sessions per day on weekends. The lessons also extend to examining the contents of the marina’s Seabins which collect waste material. Sadly, they have found microplastics in the contents.
Other activities include beach clean-ups and marine environmental workshops. For working out of the marina, for instance on islands, and places which would be inaccessible to this large boat, RIBs are used. More info here