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Sea Shepherd UK volunteers were shocked to find the sheer volume and extent of tyre use by local “crabbers” on a North East beach.

During one of the many beach cleans Sea Shepherd UK have undertaken this year as part of the Marine Debris campaign to reduce the estimated 9.5 million tonnes of plastic that are entering the oceans every year, volunteers were stunned to find one small beach in the North East of England was home to a large number of tyres.

Volunteers had been in the process of removing rubbish ranging from small single use plastics such as straws, plastic bottles and due to the beaches proximity to the local fisheries many pieces of abandoned or lost fishing nets.

However, as the tide reached its low point, the extent of the pollution problem facing North Shields beach was revealed.  Volunteers looked on in disbelief at the volume of tires that the tide exposed, taking stock of what the team saw before them they began to assess the extent of the issue.

Tyres on beaches are not a new issue and are often found as part of Sea Shepherd Marine Debris beach cleans.  Often a result of becoming detached from passing boats using them as Fenders to protect the vessel from damage when docking, leading to the tyres washing ashore at high tide.  Historically made from woven rope, tyres have become a more common alternative.

It was, however, clear that this was not the cause of the tyres on North Shields beach, neither was  it an example of fly tipping.  The tyres that volunteers found were in many lines and precisely placed around rocks and rockpools.

This practice of placing tyres in formation at low tide is common practice for those wanting to catch crabs to use as bait.  If a crab falls into the tyre it becomes trapped, unable to escape and remains there until the person or persons that place the tyre come to collect them.  For some this has become a source of income, catching and killing crabs on a larger scale with the aim of selling fresh bait to local anglers.

Three of the organised lines that make up the excess of 300 tyresThree of the organised lines that make up the excess of 300 tyres

Volunteers counted the tyres present on the beach and found there to be in excess of 300 which would indicate this is far to large scale to be the result of local anglers and more likely part of an organised approach by those aiming to profit.

Encircling rocks, rockpools and causing a hazard for local marine life and sea birdsEncircling rocks, rockpools and causing a hazard for local marine life and sea birds

Remains of a recently captured crab, killed to make profitRemains of a recently captured crab, killed to make profit

Recent studies of plastic pollution in the oceans estimate that between 15%-31% is microplastic that as a direct result of tyres and other synthetic fabrics.  With tyres alone contributing 270,000 tonnes towards the total waste that ends up in the ocean every year.

North Shields beach is potentially the widest spread use of tyres on a single beach in the UK, presenting a clear risk to local marine life; both Grey and Common Seals have been known to haul out on this beach, a few miles from the popular haul out area at St. Marys’ lighthouse.  Sea Birds are in large numbers in the area and risk ingesting particles that break off the tyres as they degrade.

Sea Shepherd volunteers have been liaising with North Tyneside council’s environmental department and local wildlife crime officers to investigate the matter; our aim is to ensure the tyres are removed to prevent further risk to the environment, marine life and human life – as a popular beach there is an ever-present risk of injury.

To date North Tyneside council have advised that they are aware of the issue and have no concerns with the presence of the tyres. A stance that is oddly in conflict with the recent support given to Tynemouth and Whitley Bay as both towns declaring their intent to become less dependent on plastics.

Also, at odds with the great efforts, that Sea Shepherd applaud, being made to keep the beaches within North Tyneside councils remit clean for members of the public.  The council employs teams to clean the local beaches daily, a fact well publicised recently in local press releases to promote the proactive approach taken.  Team Leader for Environmental Services at North Tyneside, Marcus Jackson, was recently quoted in an interview for Newcastle-upon-Tyne newspaper “Evening Chronicle” as saying “We would ask people to leave the beaches as they are meant to be left - clean and tidy - so that they and other people can continue to enjoy the seaside.” Adding that “Littering is against the law and if anyone is caught doing this, they can get a fine.”

Is the placement of over 300 tyres on a beach not littering on a significant scale?
Sea Shepherd would point out that tyres on a beach is undeniably not “leaving the beach as they are meant to be left” to quote Mr. Jackson.

Discarded crab shells, left near the tyres in which they had become captiveDiscarded crab shells, left near the tyres in which they had become captive

More discarded crabs, including one left in the tyre that it had become trapped inMore discarded crabs, including one left in the tyre that it had become trapped in

If you would like to object this practice and the lack of concern that it raises for North Tyneside council, please send them a polite and respectful email raising your objection to: [email protected]

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