A few years ago I was lucky enough to live and work on a remote island in the South Pacific Ocean. Every morning I awoke to the sight of turquoise seas and swathes of white sand peppered with palm trees, it was truly idyllic. That is until I discovered the ‘plastic beach’. Like many islands, ours was comprised of small inlets and bays swept by incoming tides. The lie and position of this particular bay meant that it became the collection point for marine debris left by the receding water.
A disposable world suddenly bestowed on a people who had no concept of how to deal with the aftermath of plastic bottles, nappies, baby wipes and carrier bags was leaving its legacy all too clearly on this paradisiacal isle. Sadly, I’ve encountered more debris strewn beaches than I care to remember. From Honduras to Fiji, they tell the same story.
It’s impossible to predict the detrimental impact that the eight million tons of rubbish we empty into our seas each year is having on marine life. I have seen distressed turtles, seals and dolphins ensnared in plastic rope, fishing lines and six pack rings. Around British waters stranded cetaceans have been found to contain large amounts of plastic in their guts. If this trend continues, it is likely that countless marine species will be driven into extinction. However, in the UK we are becoming much more savvy about the plastic tsunami heading our way. Organisations like the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers against Sewage campaign for cleaner beaches and take action to reduce litter at its source. The recent plastic bag tax has already had a significant impact on the amount of carrier bags ending up in our countryside, rivers and seas with usage plummeting by up to 80%.
Community beach cleans are a popular way to make your local beach safer for marine life and for you! This year we are holding clean-up days on our reserve beaches at Snettisham and Titchwell Marsh during August and September. The results of our litter picks will be sent to the Marine Conservation Society and this year disposable plastic bottles will be collected by Riz boardshorts, a young and innovative company which transforms plastic litter into beautiful sustainable shorts . If you would like to give our seas a helping hand then check out the Marine Conservation Society website on www.mcsuk.org and sign up for a beach clean near you.
I’ll end on a positive note with a story from two years ago when a 76 year old bottle was washed up on the shores of New Zealand. The bottle contained a message written in 1936 and requested the finder to return the note to the sender. Although that person had in fact died in the 1940s, their grandson was traced and in time duly received the bottle and its contents.
Similarly, nearly 60 love letters were discovered on the shores of New Jersery after Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012. Written by a young GI bride to her husband, the forgotten letters were reclaimed from the sea and returned to their rightful owner.