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Save our seas: become a beach clean volunteer

PUBLISHED: 12:53 10 August 2018

Michelle Duddy of the Marine Conservation Society, who along with an army of volunteers regularly clear a huge variety of rubbish that impacts the marine ecosystem (photo: Steve Adams)

Michelle Duddy of the Marine Conservation Society, who along with an army of volunteers regularly clear a huge variety of rubbish that impacts the marine ecosystem (photo: Steve Adams)

Steve Adams 2018 : 07398 238853

If you cherish our maritime environment, why not join the growing army of beach clean volunteers determined to protect it from the catastrophic impact of plastic pollution?

If we all spent just a couple of minutes picking up a few pieces of litter along the shoreline every time we visited our magical coastline, imagine how it could benefit our under-threat marine life.

Since BBC documentary series Blue Planet 2 aired last year, showing the devastating impact of the catastrophic level of plastic pollution in our seas, the issue has been propelled to the forefront of the public consciousness.

As a county, most of us have long cherished our coastal landscape and feel an emotional afinity with our sea and its wildlife, but this growing awareness of the damage being done to the marine environment has inspired even more people to get involved – and where better to start than a beach clean?

Michelle Duddy scouring Mundesley beach for rubbish (photo: Steven Adams)Michelle Duddy scouring Mundesley beach for rubbish (photo: Steven Adams)

Michelle Duddy, a volunteer and beach-clean organiser for the Marine Conservation Society, says numbers taking part have soared. “More and more people are getting involved with beach cleans and they are now happening around our coastline, most weeks throughout the year. What’s also fantastic is many more are organising their own mini beach cleans and I see people out on the beach walking with a carrier bag of plastic they have picked up.”

Michelle grew up in Bacton and it was her own experiences which inspired her to get involved.

“I spent a lot of time on the beach and love marine life, but not only did I start to see more litter, I also started to see seabirds with rope caught round them. Then my son cut his foot on a tin can at Sea Palling. I did some research and discovered the Marine Conservation Society’s Beach Watch campaign. I saw you could become a litter picking volunteer and organiser and there were none in Norfolk at that time so I decided to get involved. That was in 2013. It started off with Bacton and Walcott, then Sea Palling and then Mundesley. I also do the MCS beach surveys four times a year,” she says.

Rubbish like this burst balloon can be lethal to marine life (photo: Steve Adams)Rubbish like this burst balloon can be lethal to marine life (photo: Steve Adams)

Her first litter pick was just her, her daughter and a few friends.

“I had no idea about what was going on in the sea, I was simply looking at the litter on the beach. I didn’t really understand about the impact of micro-plastics but of course you quickly learn and I suddenly realised what was happening out there.”

The beach cleans not only focus on the litter which is easily visible to the eye, but the tiny specks of micro plastics which find their way out of the sea and onto the shoreline. And when you know what you are looking for, suddenly you can see them everywhere.

Mundesley beach (photo: Steve Adams)Mundesley beach (photo: Steve Adams)

“You look out to sea on a sunny day like today and you don’t see litter floating in it, it looks clean. But those tiny micro plastics are everywhere. This green fleck of plastic here,” she says, “that’s how small they are. This would probably have been a milk bottle top which has over the years been gradually broken up into these tiny particles.”

The sea at Mundesley on the day of our beach clean is washing up foam onto the shoreline. This, explains Michelle, is actually a sign of a healthy sea – but something which can also illustrate the threat to it.

“The foam is plankton waste not pollution; it is actually very healthy and very nutritious for biodiversity. Unfortunately, though, when it gets washed up it brings with it with it the plastics. As it sits on the beach with all the flotsam and jetsam, you can see so many tiny particles of micro-plastics which have come straight out of the sea.”

Just some of polluting rubbish found on Mundesley beach's shoreline (photo: Steve Adams)Just some of polluting rubbish found on Mundesley beach's shoreline (photo: Steve Adams)

Another major issue around the coastline are nurdles. Tiny, clear discs, they are the base plastic used to create packaging or goods. They are almost impossible to see to the untrained eye yet cause utter devastation to many marine species. Once you have spotted one, a second, third and many more follow.

“The nurdles are carried on huge cargo ships and sometimes they spill over the sides and thousands and thousands end up in the sea. They are easy to confuse with fish eggs so it is a huge problem for marine life who feed on them. They are often made from recycled plastic, which is obviously a really good thing as it means the plastic is being reused for something new. But it isn’t good if it can’t be delivered safely to its destination. If it is being lost overboard during transportation, then there is no point recycling it if is still ending up in the sea.”

Since Storm Doris last year, a major problem at Mundesley in particular has been the huge swathe of polystyrene washed up.

“It was about six inches deep behind the revetments after Doris. There were bags and bags of it but we are getting there; there are now clear areas of sand. But polystyrene is a nightmare. It never goes away. You can’t burn it because it gives off dangerous toxic fumes, you can’t recycle it. So what do you do with it?

“The sea breaks it up and it is absolutely devastating to wildlife. Like the nurdles, the tiny pieces look like fish eggs which juvenile seals and seabirds love to eat.

“All this comes together to make a microscopic plastic soup in the ocean, which everything living in it is absorbing.”

Other culprits found littering the shoreline include debris from the fishing industry – known as ‘ghost gear’, balloons, drinking straws and cotton bud sticks, cellophane, and innumerable types of plastic and polystyrene cups, packaging and waste.

“See this,” says Michelle, “This piece of rubber looks exactly like a piece of long seaweed but it is from broken lobster pots. We all have to take responsibility and that also includes the fishing industry.

“Balloons are another major problem. They end up bursting over the sea and they just don’t deteriorate. The leatherback turtles confuse balloons for jellyfish and the impact is horrific; they eat them and then suffocate. See this little piece of balloon here? It has got tiny fauna growing on it, which shows how it becomes part of the ecosystem and food chain.”

Michelle says the response to beach cleans and from local businesses committing to using more environmentally-friendly packaging and practices shows there is an appetite for real change.

“It is a hugely complicated issue to deal with. It is not just the litter washed up on the beach, it is the micro plastics in the sea, it is the way we recycle, where we send it, how it is managed; it is working with governments all around the world, with big businesses, all of which have so many different agendas.

“I think some believe it is an issue too big to ever tackle. It is almost overwhelming, but we can’t give up. If we all do one simple thing – whether a beach clean, using reusable shopping bags and coffee mugs, encouraging the next generation not to drop litter, swapping plastic straws for paper ones, not letting off balloons, it can, and it will, make a huge difference. And if everyone around the world did the same, imagine the impact.”

Would you like to get involved?

There are beach cleans happening around our coastline throughout the year, so there is plenty of opportunity to get involved. They are run by a variety of different organisations, individuals and groups, including the Marine Conservation Society, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Keep Britain Tidy, Anglian Water, North Norfolk District Council and Surfers Against Sewage.

Check individual websites for details, follow North Norfolk Beach Cleans on Facebook, or check out norfolkcoastaonb.org.uk for more information about beach cleans happening across the county.

On September 14 - 17, the Marine Conservation Society holds its Great British Beach Clean big weekend, the biggest beach clean and survey in the UK. To find out how you can get involved see mcsuk.org/beachwatch

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