A dip in a Marine Protected Area: Reflections from Cùram Cuain (Embrace the Sea)

3rd November 2021

A group of swimmers holding hands in a circle on the shoreline of Bayble Beach in North-East Lewis, Outer Hebrides

As part of our collaboration with the Seas of the Outer Hebrides project, Creative Carbon Scotland recently worked with project artists Saoirse Higgins and Jonathan Ford and the SEASOH team to host Cùram Cuain (Embrace the Sea), bringing people together in the North-East Lewis Marine Protected Area in a celebration of the ocean and the value of protected species and habitats.

Here we share some reflections on the event from Project Officer Charlie Main, along with Saoirse and Jonathan.

It was a windswept beach in October in the Outer Hebrides, where we held the Cùram cuain (“embrace the sea”) event for the MarPAMM – Seas of the Outer Hebrides project on Saturday. Twenty-seven hardy souls on the beach in the strong winds. Twenty-one in the circle that entered the shallows of the North-east Lewis Marine Protected Area.

Why were we doing this? As part of MarPAMM, Seas of the Outer Hebrides project is piloting fresh new ways to engage communities to find out what people want from marine management and Marine Protected Areas in the Outer Hebrides Marine Region. We worked with Saoirse and Jonathan to put a call out for communities with a passion for the sea to help us build a powerful vision for marine protection in the Outer Hebrides.

Saoirse and Jonathan’s reflections from the day

“We gathered at Bayble beach on Saturday at low tide and waited in anticipation for the Hebridean Sea Swimmers and friends to arrive in force. The weather was wild, warm and energetic, as was our embrace of the sea that day.

“Exiting car changing rooms, dry-robed and ready for action, the swimmers were briefed on their mission to embrace the sea. Issued with specially designed ‘Cùram Cuain’ blue and orange swim caps we all headed for the beach.

“The performance began – the swimmers created their own group fathom (from Faedm – to embrace in Old Norse), holding hands to form a human circle on the sand, they edged their way in unison into the breaking waves; moving around in a circle in the water, creating their own sea orbit. This was a special moment in time, connecting in body and mind with this area of protected sea.

“Eventually the fathom dispersed…the embrace was complete.

“The next stage of this two-part performance/event took us to Ionad Stoodie hall. Saoirse and Jonathan had spent the day before transforming the main hall floor into a luminous gridded “map” of the sea. This part was about placing each individual’s fathom onto the gridded map – connecting us as humans directly with the sea around us. Our “fathomeers” were paired up and outstretched arms, fingertip to fingertip, measurements were taken. Everyone’s individual fathom circles were chalk drawn onto the grid using a bespoke DIY fathom rope compass. Once everyone in the group had completed their circle, they lay down in it – think Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. For a couple of relaxing minutes, a soundtrack of the sea drifted around the hall as we thought about our connections with the ocean.

“If you could ask the sea a question what would it be? If you could embrace something from the sea what would it be? Everyone had their own answers to these questions and left them with us as they departed the hall. Before finally leaving we had a parting gift for each person – a lanyard sea portal to capture their favorite sea view and email us the photo. In return we plan to post each individual their own personal fathom of the marine protected sea to adopt and cherish for the future.”

A dip in an Marine Protected Area: Reflections from Cùram Cuain (Embrace the Sea)

What next?

Huge thanks to everyone involved in this work – the event participants, coastguard, artists and SEASOH team. All played their part in helping us to deliver a truly fresh format for engagement.

This work will continue – please visit the Cùram Cuain webpage to find out how to be involved. SEASOH will be consulting on management recommendations for MPAs in the spring. We will be asking what people think of a community-led vision for MPAs, who should be involved in their management and more. Look out for our consultation and make your voices heard!

Find out more about Seas of the Outer Hebrides through the project Storymap!

We are collaborating with MarPAMM – Seas of the Outer Hebrides is part of our culture/SHIFT programme, which supports collaborations between arts and sustainability practitioners to address the climate emergency.

MarPAMM is a cross-border environment project, funded by the EU’s INTERREG VA programme, to develop tools for monitoring and managing a number of protected coastal marine environments in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Western Scotland.

Marpamm and interreg logos for Seas of the Outer Hebrides project

Seas of the Outer Hebrides

Image credits: Saoirse Higgins and Jonathan Ford.

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