On Saturday 5th November, members of the Thomson Ecology team headed down to West Wittering beach in Sussex to take part in a beach clean on behalf of the environmental charity, Surfers Against Sewage (SAS).
Marine litter kills 100,000 marine mammals and a million sea birds each year. Earlier this week, the BBC reported that plastic pollution gives off a smell similar to rotting seaweed, which attracts foraging birds, tricking them into swallowing the plastic. Two thirds of all beach litter is plastic, with 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris estimated to be in our oceans.
The Thomson volunteers spent the day collecting rubbish from the beach – an area of coastland which is famed for its long stretches of golden sand dunes.
The team reported that they found a variety of plastic debris, which is unfortunately something that the Thomson lab are used to seeing, because as well as carrying out fish, freshwater invertebrate, marine macroinvertebrate, and particle size analysis, the Thomson Unicomarine lab also assess plastics in water samples, to determine how many fragments the water samples contain and what they are.
The water samples that we see often contain microplastics. Over 680 tonnes of microbeads are used in the UK every year, and due to recent rising pressure from the public, scientists and MPs, the UK government has recently announced plans to ban microbeads used in cosmetics and cleaning products by 2017.
Our beach team also found a large number of plastic cotton bud stems washed up on the beach. Water companies urge people not to flush cotton buds, but still hundreds of thousands are flushed away from Britain’s bathrooms each week, and now the plastic stems are making their way to our seas and shoreline.
This increase has resulted in various groups campaigning for manufacturers to switch the plastic stem to a paper one. The message seems to have been heard, as, earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson announced that it planned to “end production of all plastic stick cotton buds by the end of the year” and replace them with paper sticks. Waitrose also recently announced its plan to end the use of plastic stems by the end of this year.
Tom Offin, Thomson Ecology’s Senior Operations Assistant, said, “The beach clean was an enjoyable and worthwhile day. But despite having fun with the rest of the team in the beautiful surroundings of West Wittering, it was sad to see how much rubbish gets washed up on UK beaches. We were glad to do our bit, but hope that more can be done to reduce plastic and rubbish making its way to our oceans and washing up on our beaches.”
Surfers Against Sewage target coastal environmental issues including marine litter, sewage pollution, climate change, toxic chemicals, shipping, industry and coastal development. They undertake and promote the conservation, protection, improvement and ecologically sustainable management of the marine environment. For more information on Surfers Against Sewage, click here.