Iain Morrison – Eco Tourism, Mull, Scotland

Peer to Pier: Conversations with fellow travelers

Iain Morrison is skipper of Turus Mara, a family business that runs wildlife boat trips from their base on Scotland’s Isle of Mull. The second largest island of the Inner Hebrides, Mull lies off the west coast of Scotland. It is the fourth largest Scottish island and has a year-round population of about 2,600.

Iain, a native of Mull, founded Turus Mara in 1973 after ten-years in the Merchant Navy. The company’s name is Gaelic for “a journey or excursion by the sea.” Mull has a coastline of 300 miles with numerous outlying islands and Iain has been exploring this terrain since he was a wee boy.

Iain has made a career out of doing something he loves while sharing his passion for Scotland’s spectacular scenery and wildlife with visitors. Let him introduce you to the wonders of Mull and its neighboring islands, as well as acquaint you with some of the area’s history. Last but not least, see if you might qualify for some Puffin Therapy!

Meg:  How has your life on the Isle of Mull shaped you as a person?

Iain: Mull’s influence on me is a very difficult question to answer objectively. I am emotionally attached to every rock and rivulet, loch and forest, creature, on land, in the air and on the sea around.  I am possibly able to be more laid back and relaxed as a result of having the privilege of being my own boss, having created a living in these natural surroundings and doing a job which I still enjoy after 40+ years. When I see people “trying” to holiday, but still showing symptoms and stress of the rat race from which they are trying to escape, I often explain to them how, here in these islands, there is more time than anywhere else in the world. I believe that the penny drops occasionally.

I enjoy people, particularly those who are clearly appreciative and in awe of the wildness and beauty, which we may sometimes take for granted.  They remind us of why we are not commuting on the M25 every day.  On perfect summer days I have often been asked: “what’s it like to have the best job in the world?”  Such questions remind me how lucky I am and that I should not complain about my lot, but of course I do. The definition of a well-balanced Scotsman is said to be “a man with a chip on both shoulders!”

Meg:  Mull and the other islands that make up the Inner Hebrides are spectacular. I imagine every day is a delight but can you share a few glimpses of nature here that really stand out for you?

Iain: Over the years, I have encountered orca on many occasions. There can be few more impressive sights than a pod of several killer whales “on their way.”  They are purposeful and constant, the course line rarely wavers and having had difficulty keeping up with a group one evening in a 30 knot RIB, I know that their capacity for speed is quite phenomenal.   Over the years, I have had many sightings of some amazing creatures of the deep, both inshore and on the oceans which I experienced as a deck officer for ten years in the Merchant Navy.

I have seen ocean whales and sharks, I’ve counted 250 turtles on a four-hour watch, all heading north somewhere off the Coast of Africa.  There are many species of dolphins, we have whales, sunfish, porpoises, but perhaps the most unusual for us off the west of Mull, in 2004, was a massive leatherback turtle gorging on a jellyfish bloom. It’s good that something likes them – the jellyfish that is.  Turtles are now being tagged and tracked by satellite. You can follow them on a website. They traverse thousands of miles and have been found as far north as the Arctic Circle.

Ten basking shark breaches gave us a memorable hour one sunny afternoon lying off Staffa– they jump clean out of the water and land sideways with an enormous splash.

On land, coming in off the hill at dusk, I was startled by the swish of a large air movement about 10 metres away.  A couple of seconds later, I realised I had surprised a golden eagle digesting his evening rabbit. I’m not sure which of us got the bigger fright but the power off this huge bird in achieving take-off was impressive if not downright scary!

Meg: I understand that Mull has been repopulated with Sea Eagles, which had gone extinct here almost one hundred years ago.

Iain:While Sea Eagles are a wonderful attraction to these islands, I am concerned that we have now reached saturation point. Last season, in May, we witnessed two juvenile Sea Eagles plundering the bird life, amongst them, puffins, on Lunga, the main breeding island. I believe they may also eventually have a detrimental effect on other important species for which Mull is famous, particularly Golden Eagles, which gain in quality what they give away in size, to the “Barn Doors.”[Ed Note:  the local nick-name for the huge Sea Eagles.]

I have no doubt that sea eagle proponents will disagree with me on this. Just ask them what the farmers think about their loss of lambs every spring.

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