It must be impossible to stroll by the sea anywhere in Ireland without coming across an assortment of rubbish, including buoys, nets, crates and a range of plastics washed in every day.
We’ve seen dead sheep and used nappies left on beaches and it just beggars belief that, in this so-called enlightened age, people can’t use bins or take their rubbish home.
Last year, Clean Coast groups picked over 500,000 items of marine litter in Ireland. Worldwide, an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic enters the oceans each year, with consequences for the environment and, possibly, adverse effects on people who eat waste-contaminated fish. Scientists believe at least a million seabirds and 100,000 mammals, such as turtles, whales and dolphins, die from starvation and choking after consuming plastics.
Clean Coasts Big Beach Clean is taking place on the weekend September 16-18. Clean Coasts is teaming up with the International Ocean Conservancy for the international clean-up and is looking for volunteers.
Surveys have found that plastic bottle caps tend to be the number one culprit. Plastic bottles, aluminium drinks cans and cigarette ends are among the highest ranking litter items found. Other common items in the top ten include food packaging, sweet wrappers and fishing litter such as ropes. Sewage-related litter are also often in the top 10 litter items found on our beaches.
As most marine waste is plastic, this can takes years to break down. Plastic bottles, for instance, can take up to 400 years to disintegrate; aluminium cans, 80 years; foam cups, 50 years and fine fishing net, 500 years.
While much of the clean-up work in Ireland is left to volunteers, Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) has taken started a BIM Fishing for Litter project in three ports — Castletownbere and Union Hall, in West Cork, and Clogherhead, Co Louth. The aim is to encourage fishermen to collect litter, both on board and what comes in on their nets or drifting at sea. So far, the response has been described as very positive, with harbour and local authorities and community groups getting involved.
A much bigger programme has been underway successfully in Scotland for more than a decade, with 15 harbours and more than 200 boats taking part.
During the Big Beach Clean, run by An Taisce, volunteers are asked to carry out marine litter surveys to quantify the amount and types of litter on Irish beaches. These surveys are aimed at heightening awareness of the issue and to give an indication of its magnitude. To register for the clean-up and receive a free beach clean pack, log on to www.cleancoasts.org