Sky News joins MCS to kick-start campaign

By: Catherine Gemmell
Date posted: 25 January 2017

Tonight, (8pm, 25th January 2017) Sky News will be showing a documentary called ‘A Plastic Tide’ highlighting the issue of plastic pollution and highlighting what we can all do to stop this incoming plastic tide - and even turn it around. This is just the start of their new and exciting campaign “Ocean Rescue”. Our Senior Pollution Policy Officer Sue Kinsey attended these first few meetings and they were very keen on our amazing Beachwatch citizen science project.

Catherine Gemmell, MCS Scotland Conservation Officer, has written about her experience working with Sky on beachcleans around Scotland and highlights what campaigns we are running that can help get you involved in tackling the plastic tides.

Catherine

‘Our Beachwatch project has been running for over 20 years now and involves local volunteer organisers not only cleaning a 100m stretch of beach, but they also survey it for us so we can track trends in litter on beaches across the UK. It also enables our policy officers to use this data to create effective campaigns such as the successful 5p carrier bag success that has led to plastic bags nearly halving on UK beaches – a fantastic result!

I therefore offered to organise a beach clean for Sky News to come along to in Scotland to see first hand the amazing work our volunteers do and where our data comes from. We were due to meet in Arrochar on the edge of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park at the end of December as unfortunately the local community, council and park rangers have a monumental task in dealing with huge amounts of litter on their local beach. We spoke to Argyll and Bute council, the National Park Rangers and also local B&B owner Christina who heads out and cleans Arrochar beach once a month with a band of amazingly dedicated volunteers to get everything in place. However the weather was against us and the day before Reporters Chris and Thomas were grounded in London due to fog so we agreed to reschedule for the New Year.

We all decided on the 11th of January and as I was driving up north to Arrochar with Sea Champion John after a lovely two day meeting with colleagues at Head Office. We were pleasantly surprised by the glorious sun that followed us all up the bonnie shores of Loch Lomond. However as we took the turn off for Arrochar the sky darkened, the snow started and our joy at having a sunny beach in clean in Scotland in January was soon shot down!

Catherine

We arrived at Christina’s B&B and were treated to hot cups of tea and homemade chocolate brownies – I am now a firm believer that all beach-cleans in winter should start this way! I had first met Christina at the Millport Litter Symposium last year and her passion and drive to protect the marine environment is incredible, plus I was a huge fan of her lovely New Orleans accent so said she could talk to me about beach litter all day!

I discovered that she had been heading out once a month with a group of local volunteers to pick up as much rubbish from the beach as possible with the council picking it all up at the end. After my presentation on Beachwatch at the symposium she was extremely excited to start doing the surveys so we could start gathering more evidence on what types and the amounts of beach litter that was present at Arrochar. The National Park Rangers have done a fantastic job taking part in our Beachwatch surveys over the past couple of years so now having two organisers to survey the beach will mean more data and more evidence for our pollution campaigns so we can stop these litter items right back at the source and prevent them from entering the sea at all.

Unfortunately due to the weather we were unable to do a litter survey that day as we just had to nip out in between the squalls of snow, hail and freezing rain to do some beach cleaning with Thomas and Chris. There six of us altogether plus Lucy the litter picking dog who headed down to the shore.

In just the 30minutes we were on the beach before the weather drove us back inside we collected 30kg of rubbish! Everything from crisp packets, plastic bottles, cotton bud sticks to a workers helmet was picked up! Lucy was a great help and had a specialty in fetching plastic bottles for us. The local café owner invited us all in for a hot cuppa to warm up which was very much appreciated! However Sea Champ John and his work wasn’t yet done as Thomas and Chris wanted to interview me down on the beach with John beach cleaning in the background so we drank up our tea, put on our game faces and headed back down to the shore.

Luckily the sun did come out for some of the interview and Thomas and I had a great conversation about everything we were finding on the beach and what impact we did. Tonight you will hopefully see some of this conversation and yes I probably do slightly look like a drowned rat but the look kind of comes with the job ;)

We talked about how much of what we were finding is made of plastic and why this was a concern. Unfortunately plastic litter is a huge threat to our amazing marine wildlife whether it is entanglement issues, where we have all seen those awful pictures of some of our favourite sea creatures getting trapped in nets and can holders, or ingestion where we have the Leatherback Turtle visiting our shores every summer to eat jellyfish but are now getting their favourite food confused with plastic bags and are dying of starvation. Its horrific to think that due to an increasing ‘throw away’ culture we are having such a huge negative impact on our crucially important sea life.

Unfortunately its not just the bigger items that cause issues, all bigger plastic items will continue to breakdown in the marine environment until they become microplastics, essentially so small you would need a microscope to see them with! This now means that those tiny creatures right at the bottom of the food chain are eating these microplastics, which then moves up the food chain – and who is at the top of the food chain most of the time? Us! So not only is plastic an issue for our marine life it is an ever increasing concern for us too.

So what can we do about it? One of my first challenges I accepted when started at MCS two years ago was the Plastic Challenge. For the month of June you had to give up as many single use plastics as possible to help highlight the issue and to also examine your lifestyle and see if there were any long term sustainable changes you could make to decrease the amount of plastic being used. It was extremely difficult to do but I found that LUSH sold shampoo bars and deodorants that were then just wrapped in paper and I haven’t looked back since! I definitely encourage everyone to give it a go and see what changes you could make.

As we were walking along Thomas commented on the amount of plastic bottles we were finding and if there was a potential solution to cut down how many we see on the beach. I explained that it is actually a very hot topic just now as MCS is campaigning for Deposit Return Systems to be put in place across the UK. This would mean that on every drinks container, be it a plastic bottle, metal can or glass bottle, a small deposit of maybe 10p would be added onto the price of the bottle.

When the bottle was recycled either through something called a Reverse Vending Machine or handed back to a shop the deposit would be returned. This incentivised recycling is being used all over the world already and in countries that have it in place like Germany and Norway it not only decreased the amount of litter but has also majorly boosted recycling rates – a win-win! I laughed that we could actually get paid to do beach cleans if these drinks cans and bottles were worth money!

We carried on walking, litter picking and talking about our other campaigns such as our wetwipe, microbead, balloon and fishing litter campaigns and it became apparent to Thomas that even if you don’t live near the sea you can still make a huge difference to the amount of plastic entering our oceans. Volunteers are the reason we can do the work we do, whether its collecting date on beach cleans, reporting #wildbottlesightings, signing petitions, responding to consultations, reporting balloon releases or even just being aware of what you are flushing down the toilet or what you are buying during your weekly shop you can all make a difference.

And so we had made it back to the end of the beach where we packed up and headed back up to Christina’s for another very welcome cuppa and a chance to change into dry clothes! Thomas and Chris were then away to catch their flight back to London so they could finish editing the documentary which is being shown tonight and Sea Champ John and I were sent on our way with some homemade marmalade and a promise to come back for another, hopefully warmer and dryer, beach clean soon!

So when you are all watching the documentary tonight, even if you are hundreds of miles away from the coast. Have a wee think, what could I do to help turn this plastic tide?’