Beach litter

It’s that time of year again when some people’s thoughts turn to cleaning up our beaches. From September 14th to 17th, The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) are organising their annual Beachwatch Big Weekend in which, last year, 4,375 people took part on 335 beaches and collected 247,914 pieces of litter over 142 km of beach, averaging 1,741 pieces of litter every kilometre and amounting to a total of 2,177 bags of rubbish.

Many of the volunteers who take part also carry out a survey of their beach to identify the most common forms of litter found on beaches. Last year, the main culprits were plastic pieces and items, polystyrene, crisp/sweet/lolly wrappers, string and cord, plastic drink bottles and glass. And cotton buds are still up there in the top 10.

There is much argument about where the litter that ends up on beaches actually comes from. MCS thinks that as much as 40% of it is either dropped on the beach or blown there from inland.

I suspect that many of us think that beach litter is a distant problem and is simply the cause of a dirty beach without any further consequences.

The wonderful film “Message in the Waves” (made by Rebecca Hosking who instigated the “plastic bag free” movement in her home town of Modbury in Devon) drew our attention to the problem of plastic litter in the Pacific ocean and the terrible destruction that it causes to sea birds and other marine life. It is a very emotive film but can leave viewers thinking that marine litter is a problem only in the Pacific.

Not so. Recent reports from The Isle of Man should make us think again. Within a two-week period, not only was a grey seal sighted with plastic around its throat but also a basking shark was seen with plastic around its nose. The kayaker who spotted the shark commented : “I often see animals which have been the victim of litter and maybe if more people saw the damage it causes they would be more careful…..basking sharks are incredibly rare and seeing one in distress is very upsetting”.

So do have a look at the Beachwatch website and join in with a beach clean near you in September if you can. Not only will you help to make a beach pleasant for adults and children to enjoy – you will also make a difference to the livelihood of birds and animals that unwittingly have their lives endangered by human carelessness.

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