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What we doClean seas and beaches › Pollution and litter problems › Pollution and litter problems

What's the big deal?


Sewage... swimming in our seas can make you ill

Pollution gets into the sea from many sources but it all results in the same thing – swimming in our seas can make you ill. Raw, untreated sewage gets washed into the sea through combined sewer overflows (CSO’s) which discharge storm water, supposedly only in heavy rain. However, MCS is aware that many CSO’s spill more frequently and pollute our seas.

Raw sewage is full of bacteria and viruses. Swimming in water contaminated with sewage can cause gastroenteritis, respiratory illness and ear, nose and throat infections. Shellfish grown in sewage-contaminated waters can cause food poisoning, because shellfish concentrate toxins in their tissues.

Combined sewage outflows onto beaches

Sewage pollution is not the only problem. Nutrients from agricultural chemicals leach into our seas and cause giant blooms of algae, which remove oxygen from the water and create ‘dead zones’. Oil, radioactive waste, heavy metals and toxic chemicals all pollute the seas because of our actions, and much of it is preventable. 

Beach litter... at the highest level since records began

Litter is swamping our oceans and is washing up on beaches. It kills wildlife, looks disgusting, is a hazard to our health and costs millions to clear up. There are nearly 2,500 items of rubbish for every kilometre on a beach (Find the latest report here). Marine wildlife gets entangled in litter and accidentally ingests it. 

Turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and the bags block their stomachs, often leading to death from starvation. Seabirds mistake floating plastic litter for food, and over 90% of fulmars found dead around the North Sea have plastic in their stomachs. 

Plastic litter on beaches has increased 140% since 1994. Plastic never biodegrades. It just breaks down into small pieces but does not disappear. Microplastic particles are now found inside filter feeding animals and amongst sand grains on our beaches.

Litter comes from many sources - the public, fishing activities, sewage pipes and shipping, but it is all preventable.

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