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My Ray of Light

Updated: Apr 2, 2022

As I sat contemplating what I’ll make for supper, little did I know a little wet face with the most gorgeous eyes was about to open up a whole new world for me.

Earlier, I’d decided to make my way down steep steps to a spot close to the water’s edge. I sat below the North Lighthouse of Lundy Island looking towards my home on the distant Welsh coastline. I was the only one there and it was getting late, so my thoughts naturally focussed on food.

Then, I had this strange feeling of being watched and looked to my right. My feelings were correct, as just below me was this little seal treading water looking directly up at me. It was slowly moving towards me safe in the knowledge that it was in its own natural environment. I stayed still, and in true romantic style, our eyes met. I felt a really warm connection as we peered at each other. I captured that actual moment with my camera as it continued to tread water. Our curiosity in one another was palpable…a chance encounter?

Five years later, this little Atlantic Grey Seal has steered me into a world a million miles away from the one I once led. After returning to the mainland, my mission was to find out more on these iconic creatures that bless our shores.

The more I read the more fascinated and intrigued I became. This little one opened up a new network of kind and caring people whose passion for these creatures and marine conservation was inspiring.

I soon learned that these creatures and many others, lived in a natural world shaped by the decisions we make today. It was great to read books and browse the Internet about these wonderful animals, but it was time to contribute and make things happen.

I trained to become a Marine Life Rescue Medic that took displaced and injured seal pups to a place of safety. I wasn’t even aware that such places existed. Dedicated and knowledgeable staff rehabilitated these poor animals back to a position where they were returned back to the wild exactly where they belonged. I was so impressed by a visit to such a rehabilitation centre, I now volunteer there by doing my bit to give these seals a second chance.

I knew that seals swam vast distances and were identified by their unique fur patterns. I started surveying them locally on Gower and with the help of Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust, I became a volunteer photographic surveyor creating albums and catalogues of seals from thousands of photographs I’d taken. I’ve been fortunate to conduct such surveys in north and south Cornwall, Lundy Island and of course locally on Gower.

Seals natural predator is the Orca but its greatest threat is us!

I soon became aware that these creatures were sensitive and suffered many daily threats of disturbance. Once on land, they are at our mercy hoping for a peaceful rest to digest and re-energise their large bulks.

Disturbance comes in all different ways and not necessarily intentional. People are quite rightly attracted to these iconic cute looking animals but underneath that veneer is a sensitive and highly strung being.

They are often injured scrambling off sharp rocks back to the safety of the sea. People genuinely don’t realise that getting too close for that great photo has a consequence. I was invited to be part of the UK Seal Alliance (Disturbance Working Group) and accepted without question. I joined an amazing group of like-minded people from all over the UK who find ways of protecting and minimising disturbance.

With so much going on, it was a good time to form ‘Gower Seal Group’ aimed at people who were as besotted as me plus those that had a curious interest on all things Seal related! However, our main aim was to reach out to as many as possible with the view of protecting these animals and minimising the chances of disturbance. I’m confident we’ll achieve success, so watch this space!

So, looking back at that little wet face with its curious and loving eyes what have I learned?

Well firstly, things happen when you least expect them. I went to that particular spot on Lundy as I love lighthouses and came away with a different ray of light!

Secondly, the world is full of caring, passionate and dedicated people who are closer to you than you think. They have inspired and brought out the very best in me.

And finally, all creatures need a voice to protect them against some of the decisions we make. Whether they live on land, sea or spend most of their time in the air someone needs to represent them.

Everyone has the ability to make a difference so small incremental changes in your lifestyle can have a substantial accumulative effect on the world we live in.

Its whether we choose to do something!

I just happened to choose seals or was that chance encounter an opportunity for that little one to choose me?

Gareth Richards

Gower Seal Group

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