I’ve loved being by the sea for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the late 70s/ early 80s, a time when it wasn’t common for families to go overseas on holiday. My family used to enjoy the good old British seaside holiday every year, and I loved it.
The initial hit of ozone and salty smell as Mum bundled us out of the car. Making sand castles, burying Dad’s feet in the sand, messy windswept hair, impossibly white ice cream, paddling in the sea, the abrasive feel of Mum rubbing the sand off our feet so we didn’t muck up the newly vacuumed car seats. And then stopping for fish & chips on the way home (I don’t care what anyone says, British seaside chips are the best in the world).
I’m lucky enough to live by the sea now, but the little flutter in my tummy when I first spot the sea on the horizon is still as strong as it ever was.
I never really considered the issue of marine conservation as I was growing up. Through a child’s eyes the beach is one big fantastic playground.
I first got an inkling something wasn’t quite right when I went to Newquay aged 17 for the annual surf festival.
I’ll admit my motives for going weren’t entirely honourable. The promise of a bevy of sun-kissed surfer dudes is, unsurprisingly, a huge draw for a hormonal, heterosexual 17 year old girl. However the main thing that made an impression on that holiday was a chat with someone from Surfers Against Sewage at the event.
Until then I had been blissfully unaware of the huge detrimental impact we as humans have on our seaside. My beloved seaside.
Sadly, as with many things, once you see it you can’t un-see it.
Fast-forward to the present and it’s truly upsetting to skate along the beach by my house on a Summer’s evening and see all the crap left behind by day trippers. Especially as there are numerous large litter bins available.
But then I guess visitors are not privy to the devastation they’ve left behind, so why should they care? They’ve already boarded the train and are half way home.
Not that the locals are entirely blameless by any means. There is evidence of dog fouling on the beaches year-round, despite numerous designated dog waste bins.
As well as being that big fantastic playground, our beaches now double up as glorified open waste bins, and it makes me very, very sad.
It’s obviously not just a visual impact rubbish has on the environment, it has a tragic effect on all marine wildlife from plants and sea creatures to birds. A bird only needs to accidentally swallow a tiny piece of plastic, get it stuck in its throat, and it’s unable to eat.
It will starve to death, if it doesn’t choke on the plastic first. Add to this the fact that 88% of Europe’s fish stocks are overfished or depleted and it paints a pretty bleak picture.
When one of the Sirens mentioned there was a Marine Conservation Society (MCS) beach clean survey on December 1st, I was keen to get involved. The last time I helped with a beach clean was when I was at University, which was…let’s say ‘a good few’ years ago. So I figured my involvement was well overdue.
So that’s how six Sirens plus one mini honorary Siren (7 year old Imogen) happened to be on a beach at 10am on a ‘brusque’ (read flippin’ freezing) Sunday morning.
We were joined by the beach watch organiser Debbie and four other volunteers. Most opted to wear Christmas hats. I declined. Mainly because I didn’t want to take my nice warm woolly hat off – Did I mention it was very cold?
Once we had given Debbie our details we were issued with a clipboard and sheet for tallying the different types of item we collected. We were given a thick blue rubbish bag, a small plastic container (for any sharps collected), a pair of heavy duty gloves each and one litter grabber thingy (technical term obviously).
Given Imogen’s obvious enthusiasm for the litter grabber thingy, we made her guardian of that – and she did a fine job using it to full effect.
Lil’ Miss Tash was designated as scribe, and therefore team leader, and diligently recorded items as they were put into the sack. I held the sack (it was a VERY important job OK?) AweSam, Dame Fear Her Limbs, Ursula Transgress, Hell Broke Luce and Imogen did the bulk of the collecting.
To give you an idea of how much rubbish there was (and remember this is off season) it took an hour for the seven of us to cover just a 20 metre stretch of beach. In that 20 meters we collected 0.75kg of rubbish (a total of 1.04kg was collected by all 11 of us). A surprisingly common item was plastic cotton bud sticks. General bits of plastic, polystyrene and food wrappers figured highly as did cigarette butts and face/baby wipes. We found a discarded syringe, quite a few pieces of broken glass, two lighters and a couple of bits of dog poop – we didn’t have to pick that up, but we did have to ‘log the log’ as someone eloquently put it.
MCS claim that the volume of beach litter has doubled in the last decade, despite awareness around the issue being on the increase. And the amount of rubbish we found was truly an eye opener and seemed to support this.
As it was a Winter beach clean, we only did an hour (two hours is typical in the Summer).
We vowed to come back to the next beach clean with a lot more Sirens.
Although a sobering experience, it was also an enjoyable morning. It was rewarding to be able to make even the teeniest dent in such a gargantuan task.
I’d really encourage you to take a look on the MCS website to see if there are any beach cleans in your local area. If there are, sign up and get involved!
If you aren’t able to, or don’t live close to a beach there are still simple things you can do to lessen your impact on our marine environment:
- Don’t flush anything other than toilet roll down the loo.
Use sanitary bags for tampons and towels and make sure to throw cotton buds and face/baby wipes in the bin.
- When you do visit a beach, use the bins provided for any leftover rubbish – including cigarette butts if there is a butt bin available. If the bins are full then take the rubbish home with you to dispose of later.
- If you walk your dog on the beach, pick up and bag their mess and dispose of it in the dog waste bins (again, if they are full take it home).
- Try to use cleaning and beauty products that have natural ingredients and less chemicals in them. Most supermarkets sell own-brand eco cleaning products now.
- Only buy or eat fish and seafood included on the MCS sustainable seafood list – and preferably those in season.
Thanks for reading. Geek Le Chic.
Photo Credits: Daddy Le Chic & Debbie Fox (Beach Watch Organiser)