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Alex Mustard

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Who are you and what do you do for a living?

Dr Alex Mustard. I used to work as a marine biologist, but for the last decade I have worked full-time as an underwater photographer.

What was the shoot/expedition/project you were on when you shot the image? Where were you?

I visited Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel to photograph grey seals. The UK is the most important stronghold for the world population of the species of marine mammal. Lundy has a medium-sized population, who are known for being especially curious around divers. I have been there quite a few times and always share my images with the Lundy Island Warden and research team following the seals. They even named one of the seals Alex after me, as the individual showed up in my pictures for several years – their coat markings are distinctive. Alex is a female grey seal.

Did the seal appear to be distressed by having a net around its neck?

Yes, the seal was distressed about the net, although because it was a relatively small piece of net, it was still looking reasonably well fed. The net was digging in behind her neck. She was keeping her distance from us (unlike the other seals) and would bare her teeth if we approached. It is a younger female. It looked like a relatively recent entanglement. Fortunately the net was not attached to anything – as it could have drowned the poor girl.

They are notoriously difficult to get to stay still, were you able to attempt to remove the netting?

There was no chance to do this underwater. The seal was much less relaxed than the others in the area. However a few weeks after taking this picture, I was contacted by the guys on Lundy to say that they had been able to free a seal with a net around its neck – and that they thought it was the same one. So hopefully this story had a happy ending. I must go back to Lundy and photograph more seals so we can see if we can recognize this individual and see if she is still there.

Do you encounter these kind of distressing situations often in your line of work?

Sadly, yes. As a diver you do not usually encounter fishing nets that are being actively fished by fishermen. Because you would not dive near fishing and fishermen would not fish near divers. It is very common to see ghost nets and other lost fishing gear underwater. And more often than not there are animals trapped in it.

What single thing do you think individuals could do to improve the health of our oceans?

Waste plastic is a big problem in the ocean. And I can assure you that almost all of it comes from land. It comes from us. When lots of people make small changes to their lifestyles and choices, big things happen. None of us can completely stop using plastic. But we can use it more responsibly. It is about little things. We can make sure that we always carry reusable shopping bags – not just to the supermarket, but to others shops too. And it is about recycling the plastic we do use. Of course, it is hugely valuable when people and organizations make big efforts, but when everyone makes a small change it adds up to something even greater.

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