Commentary by Vijay Kritzinger, Senior Volunteer with Sea Shepherd UK
Due to the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions across the nation which were implemented in March, Sea Shepherd UK had to cancel group and public participation beach cleans. However, Sea Shepherd volunteers across the UK have continued the campaign by using their daily exercise time to safely conduct solitary, family group or socially distanced beach cleans close to their homes around the coast.
I have been doing beach cleans near my home in Sunderland before and after the restrictions have been eased. On one occasion I did a socially distanced clean with two fellow volunteers Iain and Tracy Rowan at Hendon beach, where we also encountered fly-tipping items such as tiles and meters of rubber insulation tubes. Whilst I had hoped that the pandemic would have seen a reduction in the amount of marine debris, quite the opposite has happened. More recently, with the weather being much warmer, and with large numbers of people gathering on the beaches as lockdown, some individuals completely disregarding social distancing, the litter problem has escalated to a shocking level – with heaps of litter left on beaches, posing a serious threat to marine and wildlife.
The following lists just some of the items I have collected on Seaburn, Whitburn, Roker, Hendon, Seaham and Potato Garth beaches respectively recently:
- Plastic bags
- Dog foul bags
- Plastic and latex gloves
- Protective masks
- Aluminium cans
- Plastic and glass bottles and bottle caps
- Polysterene, plastic and cardboard food packaging and cutlery
- Nitrous oxide canisters (little silver gas canisters)
- Children’s and dog toys
- Clothing items, shoes and towels
- Sanitary products, baby wipes, dirty diapers
- Barbecue foil
- Ghost fishing gear and monofilament lines
- Broken bottles
- Plastic ear bud stems
…and many other foreign objects.
There are a few local residents and a group of swimmers who also pick up litter when possible and many local residents who care about the environment are understandably fed up by the growing amount of trash left by visitors.
Local councils are doing what they can with limited resources amidst lockdown restrictions. However, with people staying out later in the summer, bins are left overflowing after hours and if the gulls don’t get there first, and especially when it is windy, this litter is blown out of these bins, off the promenade, straight onto the beach where it has been carried into the sea with the incoming tides.
If you see the bins are full, please take your litter home and correctly dispose of it, recycling materials where you can.
Marine Debris collected by Sea Shepherd UK volunteers during lockdown at Little Fistral and Fistral Beach and Watergate bay in Cornwall, and at Seaburn, Whitburn, Roker, Hendon, Seaham and Potato Garth beaches on the Nothumbrian coast’
How you can help:
I believe that positive changes start with little steps. Yes, it is heart-breaking and frustrating to go down to the beach and see it covered in litter and marine debris. However, we ALL have the power to make a difference and beach cleans and our Marine Debris campaign is direct action for the oceans that everyone can join!
Apart from the obvious practise of taking your litter home with you if no bins are available, beach cleans are another way to help. Until it is safe to go about things ‘normally’, and while we need to adhere to government regulations, there is nothing stopping you from doing your own beach cleans, keeping social distancing and good hygiene practises in mind.
Remember to wear protective gloves, use a litter picker where possible and wash your hands afterwards. If you come across suspicious objects for example munitions, contact the coastguard on 999. Please keep clear of seals resting, put your dogs on a leash if necessary and be aware of bird nesting areas amongst sand dunes and rocks. If you do suspect a marine animal is in distress contact British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and provide them with as much information as possible.
Make sure you alert the council if there a large number of refuse bags needing taken away to prevent these from being reopened, sometimes days later by curious animals or birds.
It’s nice of people to say things like, “well done” or you’re doing a good job”, but at the end of the day, a little help would be even more appreciated. I have been asked by youths, why do I “waste my time if I am not being paid to do beach cleans” and I’ve had to explain, “imagine if everyone thought that way?” - “The best payment I could get is knowing I have potentially protected an innocent animal from harm or even death by entanglement, ingestion or suffocation. We all need to keep the oceans healthy as it is home to some amazing wildlife. It also provides the majority of the oxygen we breathe thanks to tiny single-celled plants called phytoplankton and the ocean also absorbs around half of man-made climate warning CO2 / carbon emissions.
Beach cleans help improve coastal and the ocean’s ecosystem by ensuring trash does not harm or kill marine life and upsetting the marine life cycle. Beach cleans are also a great way to get your friends, family and community involved to focus on protecting the environment together. It’s great for physical and mental wellbeing - a meaningful positive activity for all ages.
You can also help by educating friends and loved ones and by living responsibly, doing some research and helping reduce our planet’s plastic footprint. Plastic is choking our oceans. Tonnes of plastic end up in the sea, killing and harming marine life. This plastic can be accidentally eaten by marine life. Turtles mistake plastic bags for jelly fish. Seabirds stomachs end up full of plastic waste like bottle caps and as a result are unable to absorb any real nutrition. Marine wildlife could get entangled or strangled by debris and ghost gear.
- Avoid using single use plastics, use re-usable cups or bottles instead
- Use re-usable eco-friendly bags instead of plastic
- Avoid plastic straws, go without or use paper alternatives
- Stop chewing gum, this is made from plastic
- Say no to plastic and polystyrene packaging and cutlery
(write to your local seafront businesses encouraging them to use eco-friendly takeaway packaging.
- Recycle – light plastics that are not properly recycled, could fly off bin trucks and clog drains, eventually ending up in the river and the sea.
- Do not litter in the streets. Even if you live miles away from the sea, rain and wind can carry litter into streams, rivers and drains which eventually lead to the ocean.
- Do not flush plastic and foreign items down the toilet. This includes baby wipes, sanitary products and cotton buds.
Once plastic ends up in the sea, it decomposes very slowly, breaking down into microplastics which damage sea life. Microplastics are ingested by plankton and passes the problem up the food chain.
Lost or discarded fishing gear (ghost gear), must be removed along with any other marine debris as ghost gear is made from plastic and can take up to 600 years to break down.
Thank you to all who participate in beach cleans and litter picks on the coast and inland. By doing so, you are defending, conserving and protecting our oceans and ultimately future generations.
For the oceans…
To report marine debris or information on collaborating with Sea Shepherd UK beach cleans – please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on our Marine Debris Campaign visit: https://bit.ly/2U70IOL
To report lost or discarded fishing gear, please email: email@example.com or complete the online reporting form at: https://bit.ly/2Avl5yh
For more information on our Ghostnet Campaign visit: https://bit.ly/2MpCuuT