Why I’ve joined the fight to save Bri­tain’s beaches

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

sand, some no big­ger than a grain of rice. Fast-for­ward a few hours and her glass jar was al­most full of nur­dles. Not fa­mil­iar with this modern-day spawn? Nur­dles are the pre-pro­duc­tion pel­lets that form the build­ing blocks of “tas­tic” or, as it’s more com­monly known, plas­tic. It was a crash­ing in­sight into what a trip to the beach will likely mean for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Sci­en­tists and cam­paign groups have been high­light­ing the risks to the world’s oceans from plas­tic pol­lu­tion for a num­ber of years. How­ever, it was the broad­cast of Blue Planet II in au­tumn 2017, with a stark warn­ing from Sir David At­ten­bor­ough, that made the big­gest global splash and in do­ing so pro­pelled the plas­tic waste is­sue into the world’s con­scious­ness. It has been a hot topic at this week’s meet­ing of Com­mon­wealth heads of gov­ern­ment in Lon­don. Glob­ally, more than eight mil­lion tons of plas­tic – equiv­a­lent to 381,000 whale sharks – is re­port­edly tossed into the oceans each year at the rate of one dust­bin lorry load per minute. The Ma­rine Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety es­ti­mates that more than 70 per cent of rub­bish washed up on Bri­tain’s beaches is plas­tic. On Earth Day, which is marked to­day across the world, our coast­line needs pro­tect­ing like never be­fore.

Hav­ing grown up by the sea and at the urg­ing of my sis­ter, a ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist, I had trav­elled to the Cor­nish re­sort of Per­ran­porth to take part in an or­gan­ised clean and to see the scale of the prob­lem for my­self – its beach was de­scribed by lo­cals as a “plas­tic war zone” after Storm Eleanor bar­relled through in Jan­uary.

Ar­riv­ing late af­ter­noon the day be­fore the clean, I made straight for the town’s glo­ri­ous two-mile strip of golden sand. I set out ex­pect­ing to net a haul of plas­tic, but all I man­aged to find as I strolled along the length of the beach and back was a food pack­ag­ing lid (best be­fore: Jan 2017). I naively left the beach that evening think­ing there would be very lit­tle to do at the clean the fol­low­ing day.

A shark-shaped kite flut­tered over­head the next af­ter­noon as more than 150 vol­un­teers, aged from three to 73, gath­ered for the event or­gan­ised by Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), a ma­rine con­ser­va­tion char­ity based in nearby St Agnes. The work of SAS re­cently re­ceived the Royal seal of ap­proval after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle named it one of just seven char­i­ties to ben­e­fit from do­na­tions to mark their wed­ding next month.

Lizzi Lar­balestier, a vol­un­teer mem­ber of the SAS team, ex­plained at the pre-clean brief­ing that we should col­lect all rub­bish found but keep “avoid­able” sin­gle-use plas­tic items such as bot­tles, straws, cups, lids, stir­rers and bags, which are used for a mo­ment be­fore be­ing dis­carded, sep­a­rate from other waste. This would en­able us to as­sess the ex­tent of what SAS de­scribes as the “scourge of the seas”.

I in­tro­duced my­self to Dom Fer­ris, head of com­mu­nity en­gage­ment at SAS, who was also there to take part in the clean, and men­tioned that the beach had ap­peared largely plas­ticfree the pre­vi­ous evening. Dom asked me about the route I had taken – down by the waves and then back along the mid­dle of the beach – and tact­fully ad­vised that I’d been look­ing in the wrong place.

Equipped with bags and durable gloves, a group of us headed down the beach to Pen­hale Sands, its fur­thest point and where rub­bish from the ocean is known to ac­cu­mu­late. “The best place to look for plas­tic and other waste is along the stran­d­line,” ad­vised Dom, point­ing to clumps of sea­weed at the rear of the wide beach that marked the ear­lier high tide. The group fell silent and I in­wardly reeled as we ap­proached to find count­less pieces of brightly coloured mi­croplas­tics, small pieces of plas­tic mea­sur­ing less than 5mm in di­am­e­ter, dot­ted through­out the sea­weed and strewn across the sand. It was an over­whelm­ing sight.

Plas­tic tossed into the world’s oceans is bro­ken down into mi­croplas­tics by waves and UV light. Ow­ing to their small size, these frag­ments are then mis­taken for food by se­abirds and other ma­rine life, re­sult­ing in in­jury or death. With sci­en­tists pre­dict­ing that, by weight, there could be more plas­tic than fish

To get in­volved at a Surfers Against Sewage beach clean at lo­ca­tions na­tion­wide or do­nate, visit sas.org.uk

To take part in a Ma­rine Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety (MCS) beach clean, visit mc­suk.org/ beach­watch/ events

To learn more about A Plas­tic Planet, visit aplas­tic­planet. com or fol­low on Twit­ter @aplas­tic_­planet.

which Sir David At­ten­bor­ough de­scribed as “one of the most im­por­tant doc­u­men­taries of our time”, is avail­able on Net­flix. For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion, visit plas­tic oceans.org

For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion on Earth Day, visit earth­day.org

For a guide to the 40 best beaches in Bri­tain, see: tele­graph.co.uk/ tt-40best­beaches

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