Less litter has been found on Scottish beaches in 2009 than in the previous year, according to the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) Beachwatch Big Weekend 2009 report. It also reveals that while total litter has increased by 77% since the first Beachwatch in 1994, plastic litter has increased by a staggering 121% in the UK.
MCS Scottish Projects Officer, Anne Saunders, said ”A fantastic 61 beaches took part in Beachwatch Big Weekend in Scotland last year. 821 Volunteers filled 479 rubbish bags with 46,763 bits of litter. Our seas and beaches are becoming overwhelmed with plastic litter, which not only looks horrible, but kills and injures many of our fantastic marine animals every year.”
MCS has campaigned for UK and devolved governments to act to stop the growing marine litter problem. The UK and Scottish Governments as well as the main UK political parties have all committed to reducing marine rubbish.
Anne Saunders says this could be a turning point. “The solution is to stop litter getting into the sea in the first place and the Marine Conservation Society is delighted that the Scottish Government has announced their commitment to drawing up a strategy to reduce marine litter.”
MCS Beachwatch Big Weekend 2009 results were collected by 4,655 MCS volunteers who went to their favourite beach over the 19th and 20th September 2009 and not only removed the litter, but also recorded what they found. The haul included 7,393 plastic bags, 16,243 plastic drinks bottles, 17,712 fishing netsand 70,546 small plastic pieces in just ONE weekend. The litter filled an enormous 2,742 rubbish bags.
Washed up on beaches in Scotland were a pineapple from France, a baby monitor, a laboratory incubator, a Scottish Power sign, a rubber frog, a set of fake vampire’s teeth and a Merchant sailor’s hat. The amount of sewage related rubbish like cotton buds and tampons found on Scottish beaches was also well above the UK average.
Among the rubbish found by MCS volunteers across the rest of the UK were syringes, nappies, half a boomerang, a message in a bottle from ‘Sly Sally’, a joke severed finger and a pile of spring onions.
As part of their commitment to tackling the problem of marine litter, Scotland’s Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “It’s greatly encouraging that Scotland’s communities are taking decisive action to clean up our environment. Over 800 people took part in this clean-up and the amount of litter collected on our beaches was down significantly on 2008 levels – however there is still much more to do."
“Marine Scotland is currently developing a new marine litter strategy in partnership with stakeholders and I’m confident we can make considerable progress on the plan this year.
"Scotland's natural environment is worth around £17 billion to our economy. We all have a role to play in ensuring Scotland becomes a cleaner, greener place and dealing with our waste responsibly is a huge part of that."
MCS is particularly concerned about the growing amount of plastic litter. Plastic does not biodegrade but breaks down into small pieces that will last for hundreds if not thousands of years. In parts of our oceans there are now six times more plastic particles in the water than plankton. Plastic fragments have also been shown to attract toxic chemicals onto their surfaces and marine creatures are eating these fragments. Ultimately, plastic litter may be providing a new method for these chemicals to be passed up the food chain to human consumers.
Anne Saunders continued: “We are so grateful to all our dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers that joined us last September. They are determined to help MCS make our seas and beaches cleaner, healthier places. Beachwatch Big Weekend 2010 is over the 18th and 19th September this year and we ask everyone to register now to take part and make a real difference to our marine environment.”
Public support for government action to tackle marine litter is high. Over 6,000 people signed petitions run by the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage calling for a government action plan to reduce marine litter.
MCS is continuing to gather public support on this issue and is running a petition calling for marine litter action plans to be published by UK and devolved governments by December 2011.