ORCA Director Sally Hamilton gives an update on the future for ORCA.
2020 has been an incredibly challenging year for everyone involved in ORCA, and it certainly isn’t the year we were expecting when we kicked off in January after the Christmas break. Covid-19 has changed the world and given how much of our work involves the shipping industry, ORCA has been devastated financially with a huge proportion of our income disappearing almost overnight. As the pandemic has grown, travel at sea has become all but impossible.
However, we are incredibly fortunate enough to have something that has kept us going through arguably the most challenging time in ORCA’s history – you. Our amazing volunteers and supporters, the lifeblood of our charity that, despite everything, have stayed involved with our work and continued to support us financially even with the chaos around us. We know that there is still a long way to go until we are secure, but the fact we are here at all is a testament to your incredible support and we are forever grateful that you have chosen to stick with us during these turbulent times.
In normal times, we’d be looking towards the end of our Marine Mammal Survey season, wrapping up the final few crossings after a busy summer of sending our volunteers out to sea. We’d also be putting the final touches on our routes for the following year and ensuring everything is ready for the survey applications to open in the coming weeks and months.
None of those things have fundamentally changed – the ORCA team is now returning to work and planning for 2021 so we can restart the incredibly important monitoring that you allow us to do through volunteering as citizen scientists. We’re hoping that, by the time things kick off again in the new year, we will be in a position to plan for a new survey season that is bigger and better than the one we had planned for this year.
However, we are also realistic and we know that it might be some time before we can run our Marine Mammal Surveys again – so we are taking action to prepare ORCA for a post-Covid world and safeguarding the important work we are doing to monitor whales and dolphins.
So we wanted our most loyal and valued supporters to be the first to hear about a brand new initiative ORCA will be launching in 2021 – ORCA Oceanwatchers. This is a new programme designed to complement our two decades of data collection whilst allowing citizen scientists to collect data in new and exciting ways – both on land and at sea. We know that access to bridges on ships might be limited for some time, so we’ve designed ORCA Oceanwatchers to enable passionate volunteers to collect data in a flexible way and still contribute to our conservation work.
We’ll be launching a brand new online training course in 2021 along with a smart phone app that people can use to collect effort-based data about whales and dolphins – data that can be collected any time they can see the sea, no matter the platform they are on or the people they are with. We’re hoping that by offering a flexible and easy-to-use system, more people can get involved with our work and they can collect data more regularly.
This new programme is designed with our Marine Mammal Surveys at the front of our mind, and is intended to complement, not replace, the vital work that our volunteers do when they are collecting data from the bridge of ships. However, we need to safeguard our work and this new initiative gives us an opportunity to monitor important habitats so we can continue to drive policy and help create protected areas in UK and European waters.
ORCA Oceanwatchers training courses are going to be available to book in the new year – but we know how much you have all missed being out at sea and so as a thank you for your continued support we are going to let our Marine Mammal Surveyors be the first to take part in this training – 100% free of charge. This means that, no matter what the future holds for our ferry surveys in 2021, every single one of you will have the chance to collect data to support ORCA’s conservation work and play your role in safeguarding whales and dolphins in our waters.
This wasn’t the year we had hoped and there are huge challenges still laying ahead for us so your support is more important now than ever before. But ORCA exists based on the hard work, dedication and passion of people like you and as long as we have your support we are confident that we can continue to give people from all walks of life the chance to make a difference and protect our ocean. We are incredibly excited about this new programme and we hope it is the next step in securing our future and navigating the stormy waters we are facing in the coming months and beyond.
As always, thank you for your incredible support and loyalty and I hope that this new chapter for ORCA will give every single one of you a way to stay involved in ORCA in 2021.
Sally Hamilton, ORCA Director