Plunkett in the Seahorse Nursery - Sea Zoo - H Crawford/CrawCrafts Beasties

Paddy And Plunkett – Save the Sea!

Welcome back to the watery depths of Anglesea Sea Zoo! The fish all look happy today…
Fish! Anglesey Sea Zoo - H Crawford/CrawCrafts BeastiesBut Paddy and Plunkett were in a bit of a pickle when we left them last week!
Octopus Hug - H Crawford/CrawCrafts BeastiesFortunately, I was getting all alarmed over nothing… Turns out that this rather large octopus is a big fan of the boys, and couldn’t wait to snatch them up for a hug and a photo!

Look, here they are… Safe and sound, climbing aboard the wreck of the Seven Sisters pirate ship.
Paddy and Plunkett aboard the Seven Sisters - Sea Zoo - CrawCrafts BeastiesAnything else lurking in the shadows? The Sea Zoo website said to look out for conger eels!

“Nope, just a few crabs here!”
View from the Shipwreck - H Crawford/CrawCrafts Beasties

And further on… Look what Plunkett’s found!
Plunkett in the Seahorse Nursery - Sea Zoo - H Crawford/CrawCrafts BeastiesHe’s wandered into the Seahorse Nursery, another of the Sea Zoo’s ongoing conservation projects.

And it’s an important one, because these strangely beautiful little creatures are feeling the pinch all over the world. They’re put into traditional Chinese remedies for everything from skin complaints to heart disease, dried and sold as souvenirs, and kept as pets (which they really don’t like). Luckily, the Sea Zoo is part of a Europe-wide collaboration between aquaria, universities and conservation organisations, all of them working together to share research findings, improve captive breeding, and campaign to protect wild seahorses in the future.

The Sea Zoo have another seahorsey claim to fame too – they’re one of the only places in the world where short-snouted seahorses have successfully bred in captivity! Short-snouted seahorses, and their long-snouted cousins, are both native to British waters… And you see both at the Sea Zoo.
Seahorses - Sea Zoo - H Crawford/CrawCrafts Beasties

Sadly, despite the best efforts of the Sea Zoo and their partners, the boys saw a lot of this as they walked around the aquarium.
Uh-oh! Plastic! H Crawford/CrawCrafts BeastiesPollution of the world’s oceans with plastic is already having a serious impact on marine life… And unless we fix this plastic problem, all of the fantastic creatures Paddy and Plunkett met here could vanish from the seas forever! They don’t want to see this any more than I do, so they asked me to wrap up this post by sharing a few little things we can all do to bin the plastic… For good.

On your lunch break…

Don’t take away – bring it with you! With the UK planning to introduce a 25p tax on disposable coffee cups, and many coffee shops actually offering a discount on your drink if you show up with your own takeaway mug, it’s probably a good time to pick up a reusable coffee cup and get into the habit of using it. I love my one… It keeps my tea toasty for at least 3 hours!

I’m also very fond of my Snack Attack lunchbox for strategic sandwich and nibbles transportation… Or I’ll pack a home-made salad in a washed-out takeaway container or ice cream tub. Don’t forget to bring your own cutlery too!

And finally, say no to straws. Very few of us need to use a straw… But then again, if you like to, bring one with you! Reusable metal and bamboo ones are available for anyone who likes to noisily slurp up the last dregs of their milkshake.

In the supermarket…

Of course, bring your own reusable shopping bag with you! I keep mine well stocked with smaller bags for loose fruit and veg or bakery items, so that I never need to take one of the store’s plastic bags.

You can also avoid the huuuuuge amount of packaging that comes with fragile tasties like biscuits and crackers by making your own – check out this recent post from The Snail of Happiness for inspiration!

In the bathroom…

I was really shocked a couple of years ago when I bought a pack of “cotton wool” pads… Only to discover later on that they were 100% polyester! And it turns out that it’s not uncommon for things that look like cotton wool to actually contain a blend of fibres, some of which are man-made and not biodegradable. This prompted me to switch to washable, plastic-free alternatives – I got my reusable cotton face pads from Kindly Island and they’ve been great!

I was also really impressed to see that my local Boots chemists have started stocking toothbrushes with bamboo handles. They’re not perfect – the bristles are still nylon – but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

(PS Any links in this section are only here because I own these things, use them and love them! Rest assured that I am not being paid by any companies to hawk their wares)

I imagine many of you are probably doing these things already, but if not… Pick one and give it a try! Little changes can make a big difference when everyone joins in. And if you have any suggestions of your own, be sure and share them in the comments!

We’ll be back next week, with a new Beastie for you all to meet. See you then!

Paddy Admires the View - H Crawford/CrawCrafts Beasties

Why Wool?

Proto-Beasties? H Crawford/CrawCrafts Beasties
A few months ago, I had a bit of a woolly wobble. My local yarn store has stopped stocking the merino wool yarn I use to make my original Beasties, and although I still have a healthy stockpile of most of the colours, the boxes holding my favourite shades are starting to look a little on the empty side. Wanting to keep ahead of the game, I started to scout around for some new yarny options.

Unfortunately, my exacting specifications for Beastie yarns were working against me. Many of the natural fibre yarns I looked at were too lightweight (I suppose the real demand is for the finer yarns used to make shawls and socks), too arty (a painted yarn, however lovely, makes for one sickly-looking Beastie) or were prohibitively expensive. Ever helpful, my yarn supplier suggested I take a look at a new line she had recently started carrying – mostly wool, but with a little acrylic mixed in. So little, she said, that she didn’t notice it was there when she test-knitted a sample. And she hates working with synthetics! It was the right weight, a good price, and they had some super colours. So, why was I hesitating? I mean, surely most people won’t care one way or the other, right?

Well, here’s the thing – I would know. And I care. And today, I thought I’d explain why. Especially since concerns about plastics and synthetic fibres have been playing on my mind more than usual this past week, after I saw this:

It’s a photo that I wish didn’t exist but now that it does I want everyone to see it. What started as an opportunity to photograph a cute little sea horse turned into one of frustration and sadness as the incoming tide brought with it countless pieces of trash and sewage. This sea horse drifts long with the trash day in and day out as it rides the currents that flow along the Indonesian archipelago. This photo serves as an allegory for the current and future state of our oceans. What sort of future are we creating? How can your actions shape our planet?
thanks to @eyosexpeditions for getting me there and to @nhm_wpy and @sea_legacy for getting this photo in front of as many eyes as possible. Go to @sea_legacy to see how you can make a difference. . #plastic #seahorse #wpy53 #wildlifephotography #conservation @nhm_wpy @noaadebris #switchthestick

A post shared by Justin Hofman (@justinhofman) on

What’s the connection between a discarded cotton bud and synthetic fibres, you ask? Well, this picture shows the impact of the plastic waste that we can see going into the ocean – there’s something really unsettling about this image, isn’t there? But recent research indicates that plastics are finding their way into the seas, and their food chains, through a less obvious route… as tiny fibres that are shed any time synthetic materials are laundered. Weestorybook wrote about the problems associated with synthetic yarns back in the summer, and her post links to several other articles on the subject which are really worth checking out. I’d especially recommend the Guardian’s feature about Mark Browne, an ecologist who is currently trying to raise awareness about these issues, and encourage research into viable, low-impact alternatives.

So, score one point for wool – any sheddings from this natural fibre are totally biodegradable! That should keep Mermaid Beastie and her underwater friends happy.
Mermaid Beastie Makes her Escape - CrawCrafts BeastiesNext, how about we take a look at where these fibres come from? Now, I know that farming is hardly a squeaky-clean, environmentally-friendly enterprise. I realise that sheep are prone to all manner of parasites and diseases, and that the chemicals required to prevent against these nasties taking hold are probably pretty nasty themselves. But let’s not forget that synthetic fibres are extracted from crude oil, and held up against the oil extraction and processing industry, even the most intensive sheep farming comes out looking pretty angelic.

From a more personal perspective, Ireland doesn’t have any natural oil reserves – but we can (and do) farm sheep here! This country has a long tradition of cultivating, processing and using wool, so by making use of this resource, rather than one which will always have to be brought in from somewhere else, I like to feel that I’m helping to keep that industry alive. That’s why I started using Irish wool to make Barróg Beasties, like these guys here!

Leabhar Beastie and Aran Beastie

Add to that the fact that world oil supplies are running low, and renewable wool starts looking pretty good!

And leading on from that… Wow, wool has so much history! It’s estimated that we’ve been cultivating sheep and wearing wool for the last 10,000 years – that’s not the kind of relationship you can just turn your back on! You can find a handy potted history of our involvement with this wonderful fibre here. I also recently stumbled across this video, which really brought home to me how essential wool has been to humans for such a long time, and the respect our ancestors had for the production of their woollen garments. This is a million miles from the disposable fast fashion we’ve become so used to!

There’s something fascinating to me about continuing to use such an ancient material in much the same way as it’s been worked for centuries, and at the same time creating something that’s truly my own!

And finally… well, I just like it! For me, it’s the most pleasant fibre to work with. I enjoy the springy feel of the yarn as I knit, and the texture of the fabric I make from it. I like that it doesn’t squeak against my favourite metal knitting needles. I love it when I come across pieces of grass or straw tangled in among the spun fibres, reminding me that this stuff came from an animal, rather than a barrel. And I like to think that the Beasties carry a little bit of this joy with them when they head off into the world.
Paddy Admires the View - H Crawford/CrawCrafts Beasties
How about you? What’s the story behind your favourite fibres? Let us all know in the comments!

Aaaaand we’ll be back next week, with a new Paddy and Plunkett adventure… See you then!