Cork community project aims to put paid to coastal plastic pollution

A small community project in Cork that encourages people to pick up three pieces of plastic whenever they visit the coast is fast gaining momentum, writes Rebecca Stiffe.

What began as a small community project in a coastal village in Cork, is now fast gaining momentum and co-founder Jim Upton has no intention of slowing down.

Take 3 for the Sea is really as simple as it sounds. Originally founded in Australia by three friends, it has grown considerably, and inspires people worldwide to pick up three pieces of plastic whenever they visit the coast.

“I live in Crosshaven, surrounded by the ocean and facing the harbour,” says Jim. “And you know, we’re all watching the TV programmes like Blue Planet and becoming more and more aware of the plastic.” After seeing a post on Facebook a few months ago of a plaque on a beach saying ‘Take 3 for the Sea’, he shared it to his own profile and got the usual likes and comments of support, but felt frustrated with not directly doing anything about it.

A few calls later, Jim got in touch with Audrey Buckley, a Fianna Fáil candidate and fellow Crosshaven resident who is on the Tidy Towns Committee and she agreed something needed to be done, as did Aoife Deane from the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy.

“We have to start seeing plastic differently,” says Jim. 

We can’t all have an argument saying the supermarkets should do it. They have a limit of what they can do. We have these lovely beaches that everyone in Cork would be aware of and this summer people will throng those beautiful beaches that local people have cleaned and leave their plastic behind.

Jim personally funded four plaques made by local sculptor Mike Wilkins for the Fountainstown, Myrtleville, Graball and Church Bay beaches, and was pleasantly surprised when a group of young people fundraised €140 for the cause.

A UK art installation piece of Bertie the Seabass, right, was part of the inspiration for Seamus the Salmon, a 4m x 1.5m salmon that will be made entirely from marine grade steel and will travel around the country and bring awareness to the Take 3 for the Sea campaign.

“It’s all about awareness,” says Audrey. “You read the plaque and you’re more inclined to actually do something about it.

"In schools, Aoife is going in to TY students and has been teaching them about how to stand in front of other groups and talk about Take 3 for the Sea, so they’re our ambassadors.

"They’re very eager to help, and every year new kids will be coming in and learning about it and they’ll learn from each other.”

An early blitz of the beaches collected an entire truckload of rubbish and plastic, and Audrey says it can be disheartening for volunteers to see cans strewn along the coast the next day after spending so long cleaning, but change is definitely happening.

“I was at the beach two days ago and I actually saw two ten-year-old girls picking up rubbish with their own litter pickers! So the message is definitely getting across,” she says.

Take 3 for the Sea has the backing of multiple organisations in the area; from hairdressers and beauty salons with special offers, to restaurants creating starters after ‘Three for the Sea’, to ice cream shops with three for two deals, all donating the proceeds to the cause.

“There is not one business or club in the village that is not support of us,” says Jim.

Jim hopes that local businesses and those who profit from the likes of The Wild Atlantic Way might think about giving back to the ocean and perhaps get encouraged to help fund more plaques in their own areas.

Left to right Liam Kennedy, Crosshaven; Jim Upton, Crosshaven; Audrey Buckley, Crosshaven Development Committee, and Colin Morehead, vice-admiral, RCYC.

“We originally planned for four plaques, and our hope was if a small coastal village like Crosshaven community can come together and do this, hopefully other communities will see it and replicate them, and they would start to appear all around Cork Harbour and spread all around the country.

I just think if there were plaques it would be like the Angelus… It would encourage people to take a moment and really think about it.

A UK art installation piece of Bertie the Seabass made entirely out of stainless steel coupled with the realisation that 2019 is the Year of the Salmon caused a lightbulb to go off in Jim’s brain and the idea of Seamus the Salmon was born.

“The salmon is synonymous with Ireland, from smoked salmon to the Salmon of Knowledge. The salmon is so obvious, it crosses the ocean and rivers and lakes and back to where it was spawned.”

With plans for Seamus already drawn up, the goal now is to fundraise as much as possible for Mike Wilkins to be able to construct a stunning 4m x 1.5m salmon made entirely from marine grade steel and solar lighting that will travel around the country and bring awareness to the campaign, but help is needed from businesses and larger corporations to finance it.

Right now, they have just two on board: The Good Fish Company and Kingspan.

“Our hope is that Seamus will be funded by corporate groups, and we’ll set up a logistic plan and he can move around the country, appear at different places, and every year he’ll come back to Cork harbour, where he was spawned,” explains Jim.

The installation of the Fountainstown plaque takes place on June 2 as part of The Cork Harbour Festival’s Family Day event. Find out here: www.seafest.ie/en/

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