Irish beaches scourged by plastic

A stroll on a beach anywhere in Ireland reveals the scale of the marine littering problem, says Donal Hickey

Plastic floating on the oceans is catastrophic for sea life, globally, with 100,000 turtles, whales, dolphins, and seals being killed annually by various forms of marine waste.

The other day, while walking on a popular beach at Inch, in the Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry, which I’ve known for decades, the clear impression was the littering problem has got even worse. Plastic was everywhere, entangled in clumps of seaweed washed in by the tide and scattered on the sand. There, too, was the rotting carcass of a dead goat.

What a shame one of the country’s finest beaches should be damaged in such a way. It was the site for scenes for the epic film Ryan’s Daughter in the late 1960s. All this despite the work of local volunteers in collecting litter.

This year, the Clean Coasts’ Ocean Hero Awards celebrated 11 years of honouring the contribution of coastal communities towards conserving the coastline. The programme now engages more than 600 Clean Coasts groups. What’s most encouraging is the involvement of many young people, with St Colman’s Community College, Midleton, Co Cork, winning the school of the year award. Forty-six pupils in two transition year classes collected more than three tonnes of rubbish from east Cork beaches on a September day.

Their work resulted in almost 120 bags of waste, including 75 tyres and heavy industrial fishing nets. The government has allocated over €1m to eradicate stockpiles of tyres which are illegally dumped around the country, potentially causing toxic fire threats and damage to human health.

The Clean Coast group of the year award went to Maharees Conservation which is working to combat worsening erosion in the Maharees Peninsula, on the northern side of the Dingle Peninsula. Here, Eugene Farrell of NUI Galway has been conducting experiments into the use of drones to map the coastline. That should help quickly get information vital to understanding erosion which is eating parts of the Maharees away. The same technology could also be used countrywide.

Aerial photographs show the success of marram grass planting in Maharees as a barrier to further erosion. Users of the beach have also been co-operating with requests to keep away from the dunes to give the marram a chance. However, a long-term plan for erosion is needed, says Dr Farrell.

Recent litter collection in the Maharees resulted in 15 full bags along a 1km stretch, with 40% of the contents being pieces of netting, rope and other fishing debris. The remainder consisted of plastic bottles, oil containers, gloves and shoes; quite similar to what we saw at Inch.


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