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Marine Life & Conservation

Beach litter going down, but plastic still polluting UK shores

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  • Marine Conservation Society reveals results of 2021 Great British Beach Clean
  • On average, litter found on UK beaches dropping year on year
  • 75% of beach litter made of plastic or polystyrene
  • An average of just 3 single-use plastic bags found on UK beaches

The Marine Conservation Society’s annual Great British Beach Clean, which took place from 17th – 26th September this year, saw 6,176 volunteers head outside to clear litter from their local streets, parks and over 55,000 metres of UK beaches.

A total of 5064.8kg of litter was collected and recorded over the week by dedicated volunteers and the results are in.

In positive news, the average litter recorded per 100 metres is dropping year on year across the UK. This year, an average of 385 items were found, dropping from averages of 425 in 2020, and 558 in 2019.

Cotton bud sticks moved out of the UK’s top ten most common rubbish items this year, with the number of plastic cotton bud sticks collected being the lowest in the Great British Beach Clean’s 28-year history. This year, an average of 6 plastic cotton bud sticks were found, dropping from 15 in 2020. These decreasing figures are a positive indication that policies are working.

Scotland was the first UK country to ban the manufacture and sale of plastic cotton bud sticks in October 2019. England followed suit last year, introducing a ban on single-use plastic straws, cotton bud sticks and stirrers. It’s likely that the drop in numbers found on beaches is, at least in part, as a result of these policies over the last couple of years. The Welsh Government is yet to introduce a ban on plastic cotton bud sticks.

Numbers of single-use plastic bags on beaches have continued to drop, from a high of 13 on average in 2013, down to just 3 in 2021.

Plastic pieces remain the most prevalent form of litter on UK beaches, with 75% of all litter collected being plastic or polystyrene, with an average of 112 pieces found for every 100 metres of UK beach surveyed.

Top five most common litter items on UK beaches (average per 100m)

  1. Plastic and polystyrene pieces (111.7)
  2. Cigarette stubs (27.8)
  3. Crisp and sweet packets, lolly sticks etc (25.9)
  4. Plastic caps and lids (15.5)
  5. String/cord (15.3)

With so much beach litter being made from plastic, the Marine Conservation Society is continuing to campaign for ambitious single-use plastics policies which would phase out the manufacture and sale of plastic products in the UK.

Dr Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society: “UK governments’ current piecemeal approach to single-use plastics policy just won’t cut it anymore. While we’re seeing a downward trend in litter on beaches, we’re still seeing huge volumes of plastic washing up on our shores.

“A shocking 75% of all the litter we collected from UK beaches this year was made of plastic or polystyrene, so it’s clear what we need to focus our attention on. Comprehensive and ambitious single-use plastics policies which reduce the manufacture and sale of items is the quickest way of phasing out plastic from our environment.”

Lizzie Prior, Beachwatch Manager at the Marine Conservation Society: The ongoing downward trend we’re seeing in litter levels on UK beaches is a positive sign that the actions we’re taking at a personal, local and national level are working. But we can’t sit back and relax, now is the time for even more ambitious action.”

The Marine Conservation Society included PPE items on its survey form for the first time this year*, providing a baseline from which to understand the impact and presence of face masks and gloves in the future. Levels of PPE found this year were similar to 2020, when masks were made mandatory across the UK. 32% of UK beaches cleaned found PPE litter though masks ranked  59 out of 121 for most common litter items.  Inland, for the charity’s Source to Sea Litter Quest, 80% of litter picks found PPE in 2021, in comparison to 69% found in 2020.

Read more about the Great British Beach Clean, and the Marine Conservation Society’s year-round Beachwatch programme on the charity’s website: www.mcsuk.org.

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

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Marine Life & Conservation

Endangered Mako Sharks win vital protection

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The Shark Trust are celebrating this week. After many years of hard work with their Shark League Colleagues, the team has been successful in securing protection for the North Atlantic Short Fin Mako Sharks. This hard-fought ban on the catching of North Atlantic shortfin mako sharks was adopted this week by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). It is a giant step toward in reversing the decline of this seriously over-fished population.

“At long last, we have the basis for a game-changing rebuilding plan, but it won’t be successful if we take our eyes off the EU and their egregious intent to resume fishing a decade before rebuilding is predicted to begin,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust. “In this moment, however, we focus on the overwhelming chorus of concern that helped us reach this critical breakthrough. We’re deeply grateful for the ‘voices for makos’ – the continuous calls from conservationists, divers, scientists, aquarists, retailers, and elected representatives to protect this beleaguered shark.”

While the ban in initially in place for two years, this move shifts the emphasis of the debate and parties will now have to justify the reopening of the fishery of an Endangered shark.  The Shark Trust will be keeping a close eye on future discussions.

Makos are exceptionally vulnerable to over-fishing. These oceanic species are classified by the IUCN as globally Endangered and so this new ban on fishing them will help populations recover. Whilst the Shark Trust are delighted at this positive result, they will not be standing still and will both continue to safeguard Makos and fight for all the other endangered shark species.

The dive community, assisted by Shark League partner PADI AWARE Foundation, played their part in achieving this win, putting their many voices behind the Voice for Makos campaign. Together the Shark Trust and the dive community will raise awareness and share their love of sharks in the ongoing fight to protect them.

For further information on the work of the Shark Trust: www.sharktrust.org

For further information on the Shark League: www.sharkleague.org


Header Image: Jacob Brunetti

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Marine Life & Conservation

UK Ghost Gear Coalition formed to reduce diving team response time

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Abandoned, lost, or discarded fishing gear (ALDFG), otherwise known as ghost gear, has been receiving more and more attention in recent years. Scientific reports indicate that ghost nets are the deadliest form of marine plastic pollution, killing millions of marine animals.

Thankfully, there are many organisations working to combat this problem internationally. Specifically in the UK, several marine conservation groups have thrown themselves into the fight against ghost gear, carrying out cleanup projects with expert divers.

To reduce the response time to reported sightings of ghost gear and to widen their geographical reach, Fathoms Free, Ghost Diving UK, NARC and Sea Shepherd Ghostnet Campaign have decided to form a coalition to combine their extensive resources and improve efficiency.  The new coalition will be named the UK Ghost Gear Coalition.

From now on, when members of the public report ghost gear sightings on the platform of one coalition member, the data will become immediately available to all members of the UK Ghost Gear Coalition (UKGCC). This will ensure the quickest and most efficient response, minimizing travel times by using the closest resources available.

Retrieving ghost gear is demanding in terms of logistics, and the coalition aims to meet these demands in the best way possible. By utilizing divers who are most closely located to the reported sighting, response times will be dramatically reduced, and the carbon footprint will be significantly reduced.

As well as these improvements in efficiency, UKGGC members will work together to ensure safe practices and use each other’s experiences in a program of continuous development.

The coalition also aims to build awareness of marine pollution and the ghost fishing phenomenon by participating in school programs and public events.

The UKGGC is open to working with other organisations dedicated to removing ghost gear from the sea before it harms marine life or reaches our shores. If there are any other organisations who would like to join the coalition and work with us, then please contact us.

Tony Land: tony@seashepherduk.org

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