My wife Kate and I joined the crowds at Sennen in Cornwall during storm Imogen to watch the great seas march into the cliffs and small harbour. It was very exciting and the atmosphere was filled with an energy that only uncontrollable nature can provide. Then twenty four hours later it had gone and the seas had returned to the normal winter state.
We walked the beach to look at the aftermath which all said and done wasn’t too bad. There were a few feet of railing and granite blocks torn away from the steps to the beach and huge boulders had been thrown around which sooner or later would have to be moved. All fixable.
Along the beach small piles of fish netting caught my eye and entangled in one of them was a dead Gannet. Very sad to see, but it wasn’t clear how it had died. It may have been caught up in the net while at sea and drowned, or it may well have died some other way and got washed in with the net.
Then I began to see all the plastic washed up and deposited between the rocks and caught in the shallow tide pools. Bags, bottles, plastic rope, and a host of undetermined synthetic detritus. But there was worse to come and yet not so obvious. Piles of small bits lined what was the high water mark. I always look closely at this stuff to see what little creatures have been stranded in what should be broken and mashed up sea weed. But it wasn’t organic, hardly at all. In fact I guess that around 90% was tiny bits of broken up plastic. This mini plastic waste is now well and truly ensconced into the marine food chain and has become a substantial part of the marine animals lives. Birds, fish, seals, whales, dolphins, all of them. These mini plastic pieces are eaten, clog the intestines and give no nutrition at all. Ultimately the animals starve to death or become so weak that they fall prey to disease or are unable to survive harsh conditions such as the storm we just had. Maybe that is how the Gannet died.
Soon, perhaps even on the next high tide, all the plastic and possibly the dead Gannet will be taken back out to sea and so out of mind. But for those animals who live in and on the sea, the plastic won’t disappear so easily.
While walking back and as I contemplated the waves of plastic still out there, Kate picked up a few bags and a bottle to put in the bin in the car park. It wasn’t much really, but imagine if everybody did the same. Walking along the beach and picking up a few bits of plastic to put away safely. Try it next time you are down by the sea.
If you would like to know more about plastic in our sea visit www.plasticoceans.net.