AS an advocate for the protection of Scotland’s oceans and coastlines, Catherine Gemmell’s enthusiasm for her role is rooted in what she calls her “ocean optimism”.

The conservation officer for the Marine Conservation Society will address the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in Glasgow in January on her work protecting the marine environment against single-use plastics, pollution and climate change.

Growing up on the Moray Firth, Ms Gemmell enjoyed exploring beaches and rockpooling before she moved to Aberdeen for university and where she learned how to dive.

She said: “I’m definitely one of the most optimistic people because I that’s how I try and get the message across about what people can do.

“It’s taking everything that we know is happening to our planet with climate change with the fact that marine wildlife is getting entangled and ingesting marine litter and ensuring that we ourselves are being positive that we can change this and there is hope.”

Her close relationship to Scotland’s coastlines has given her an appreciation for the unique wildlife and landscape that only Scotland’s shore can offer, including leatherback sea turtles, humpback whales and killer whales.

She said: “I know that it’s very much a subject that can be quite depressing for everybody. There’s been a lot of negative things about the impact we’re having on the ocean, which is completely true, but I’m very much of the opinion that we need to remind people about why we love the sea again and in Scotland we’re so lucky to have such a spectacular coastline with such amazing wildlife.”

Ms Gemmell’s talk takes place at the start of the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, as Scotland celebrates its coastlines and waterways with a timetable of year-round events.

She said: “ It’s reminding everybody about those beach holidays and that we have this amazing coastlines so they can step up and take action and put pressure on themselves and businesses and government to play their part to make sure that it’s protected. And that it’s recovered back to what it used to be for future generations.”

Working with volunteers on beach cleans, Ms Gemmell collects data on the type of litter found on beaches and feeds back her findings to government agencies and policymakers.

She said: “The base knowledge is so much better than before. We go into meetings now and we don’t need to explain why marine litter is a problem in Scotland or the impact it has on wildlife. They already know and are actively working to link the policy changes they are proposing to how they will make a positive difference to the marine environment. We just want to make sure they’re acting on those words as well as speaking them.”

A marine plastics issue is a climate issue, as far as Ms Gemmell is concerned:”Ultimately, we’re trying to reduce the amount of single use plastics and that obviously links into the wider issues around climate change in regards to what plastic is made of - non renewable sources of energy, oil and gas.

“It’s then the fact that we’re putting all these resources into making something that’s used once and then thrown away. So where’s that going? It’s going into landfill or being littered and entering our marine environment, all again using resources and increasing carbon footprint.”

One of the highlights of Ms Gemmell’s role is visiting primary schools to speak on the importance of preserving and safeguarding Scotland’s marine environments.

She said: “This is very much a global problem. [When I visit a school] I talk about how the impact we can have here in Scotland can be far reaching, especially when you look at the ocean.

“Technically, we only have one ocean, there’s no walls up there, there’s no boundaries, whatever enters our ocean could end up anywhere. So it’s very much that we should be trying to do as much as we can here to then lead and encourage others to do the same.”

And she is hopeful for the future of Scotland’s seas, waters and marine wildlife.

“Over the last couple of years the huge raising of awareness and the huge amount of people we’re now seeing on beach cleans. The amazing movement of young people and the climate strikes really fills me up with this ocean optimism that we can make a difference.

“But it’s also taking that optimism into the rooms of government to say that they need to be making important policy changes to ensure that we can keep working towards a better future for our marine environment.”