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Marine Life & Conservation

British beaches are the final resting places for mountains of litter with more arriving on every wave and gust of wind, says the MCS

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What do half a TV, a French bullet-proof vest and an unopened pack of bacon have in common?

They were all cleared from UK beaches during a single weekend last September and were among the 223,405 bits of litter that volunteers bagged up and removed as part of the Beachwatch Big Weekend 2013, organised by the Marine Conservation Society.

The UK’s leading beach cleanup and survey has now been running for twenty years and over the two decades the amount of litter found on our beaches has been steadily increasing. The 20th anniversary clean up, which took place between 20th and 23rd September 2013, saw 2,309 items of litter found on every kilometre cleaned – the highest in Beachwatch history.

MCS says that in 20 years 59,493 volunteers have taken part in Beachwatch Big Weekend, removing 5,528,399 pieces of litter from 3,080.5km of coastline.

“This is a disgusting tide of litter which is threatening the safety of beach visitors both human and animal. It’s coming in from the sea, being blown from the land or simply being dumped and dropped. After 20 years of campaigning it’s disheartening that in 2013 we are seeing worse litter levels than ever,” says Lauren Eyles, MCS Beachwatch Officer.

MCS Beachwatch volunteers record where the litter they find comes from to help the charity campaign to stop it getting there in the first place.

Here’s where the litter recorded last September came from:

Public – 39.4% This is all the stuff littered by people – it’s dropped intentionally, left behind accidentally, or it arrives on the beach carried on the wind or in rivers.

Fishing – 12.6% Includes commercial and recreational fishing stuff – line, nets, weights, floats.

Shipping – 4.5% This is all the stuff that gets dropped, lost or thrown overboard from small craft to massive cargo ships.

Sewage Related Debris (SRD) – 4.3% The really nasty stuff – bits people put down the loo but shouldn’t – cotton bud sticks, tampons, nappies and the like.

Fly-tipped 0.9% People use some beaches like the local tip – fly-tipping things like furniture, pottery and ceramics.

Medical – 0.2% Inhalers, plasters, syringes – stuff you really don’t want your kids picking up.

Non-sourced – 38.1% All the bits and bobs that can’t really be identified – generally small things or damaged stuff.

Lauren Eyles says 2013 was a vintage year for finding strange things on beaches: “As well as half a TV, a French bullet-proof vest and a pack of bacon, there was a brass candlestick, some plastic bird feet, a birdcage, a bath plug, half a canoe and a set of dentures!” Top of the finds was once again plastic pieces. These are tiny bits of plastic that have broken off larger items or have been in the sea for possibly decades and become smaller and smaller.

“Plastic is a real issue for our oceans and beaches,” says Lauren Eyles. “This year we also picked up lots of lids and caps. However, despite it being a really warm summer, we saw less crisp, sweets and lolly wrappers and fewer plastic bottles. There’s continued good news though for Sewage Related Debris (SRD) – there’s still less of it about after we asked people, in 2011, to stop flushing things down the loo that should go in the bin.”

Regionally, beaches in the North West of England had almost double the amount of litter per kilometre than the national average at over 4,000 pieces, whilst the South West, which normally has high litter levels, had well below the national average at just over 1,750 pieces per kilometre. Litter on Welsh beaches increased by 60% between 2012 and 2013 with almost 4,500 bits of rubbish per kilometre.

MCS says urgent steps must be taken to reverse the rising tide of beach litter. During June it will be launching its Marine Litter Action Network which will be tasked with changing behaviour in a variety of areas from the plastics industry to manufacturing, retail to shipping.

“Marine Litter Action Network meetings and workshops will take place between June 2014 and June 2015. Experts from the areas that we believe can do more will be joining us to identify ways that everyone can help reduce marine litter. This is no talking shop – we will have a year to make a difference and will be presenting the Government with our plans which we will be asking them to implement as part of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive which gives the Government certain objectives it has to meet,” says Lauren Eyles.

MCS will be running beach cleans and surveys around the UK coast this Spring and Autumn, and the charity is calling on the public to take part and make this the biggest year of beach cleans and surveys ever. The first big event will take place at hundreds of beaches between 24th and 30th April. You can find out more and register at www.mcsuk.org/foreverfish.

Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Paul Cox, CEO of the Shark Trust about the Big Shark Pledge (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Paul Cox, CEO of the Shark Trust UK about the Big Shark Pledge.

The Big Shark Pledge aims to build one of the biggest campaigning communities in the history of shark conservation. To put pressure on governments and fisheries. And make the positive changes required to safeguard awesome sharks and rays.

Find out more at: www.bigsharkpledge.org and www.sharktrust.org.


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Marine Conservation Society to take legal action over ocean sewage spills

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The Marine Conservation Society is announcing joining as co-claimant in a legal case against the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to protect English seas from sewage dumping.  

The legal case seeks to compel the Government to rewrite its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan 2022, impose tighter deadlines on water companies and redevelop the Plan to effectively apply to coastal waters which are, currently, almost entirely excluded.  

Sandy Luk, Marine Conservation Society CEOUntreated sewage is being pumped into our seas for hundreds of thousands of hours each year; putting people, planet and wildlife at risk. 

We’ve tried tirelessly to influence the UK Government on what needs to be done, but their Plan to address this deluge of pollution entering our seas is still unacceptable. We owe it to our members, supporters and coastal communities to act, which is why we’ve joined as co-claimants on this case. We’re out of options. Our seas deserve better.”  

Launched and funded by the Good Law Project, the Marine Conservation Society will stand as co-claimants on the case with Richard Haward’s Oysters, and surfer and activist, Hugo Tagholm. 

Before reaching this point, the charity responded to a government consultation in March 2022 and met with DEFRA to express concern. In August 2022, the charity wrote an open letter to DEFRA outlining the ways in which the proposed Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan fails to protect the environment and public health from dumping raw sewage into the sea. However, the Plan hasn’t been amended and still fails to adequately address water companies’ excessive reliance on storm overflows and the harm their heavy use causes to our ocean. 

The plan virtually excludes most coastal waters (except for bathing waters) either directly or indirectly, with some types of Marine Protected Areas and shellfish waters totally excluded. 600 storm overflows are not covered at all by the Plan and will continue to – completely legally – be able to dump uncontrolled amounts of sewage directly into English seas and beaches. What’s more, the Plan lacks all urgency – with long-term targets set for 2050, and the earliest, most urgent targets not to be met until 2035.  

Meanwhile, Marine Conservation Society analysis finds that raw sewage is pouring into the ocean at an alarming rate. In total, there are at least 1,651 storm overflows within 1km of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in England. These overflows spilt untreated sewage 41,068 times in 2021. Of these, almost half the overflows spilt more than 10 times in 2021, with an average of 48 spills for each of those overflows. Overall, in 2021, sewage poured into Marine Protected Areas for a total of 263,654 hours. 

According to DEFRA’s own latest assessments, only 19% of estuaries and and 45% of coastal waters are at ‘good ecological status’, with none meeting ‘good chemical status’, and three quarters (75%) of shellfish waters failing to meet water quality standards. 

Rachel Wyatt, Policy & Advocacy Manager for Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation SocietyUntreated sewage contains a cocktail of bacteria, viruses, harmful chemicals, and microplastics. It’s nearly impossible to remove microplastics and ‘forever chemicals’ once in the environment. Due to their persistence, with every discharge, these pollutants will continue to increase, meaning eventually they will pass – or may have already passed – a threshold of harm.”  

In addition, it’s not just invisible toxins that are causing problems. In September this year at the charity’s annual Great British Beach Clean, sewage related pollution, such as wet wipes and sanitary products, were found on 73% of the beaches surveyed across England.  

A new DEFRA report, Ocean Literacy in England and Wales, shows that 85% of people say marine protection is personally important to them. Yet this is being ignored. 

Emma Dearnaley, Legal Director at the Good Law Project, said: “The Marine Conservation Society is at the forefront of tackling the ocean emergency and standing up for coastal communities impacted by climate change and pollution. We are delighted to have them on board as a co-claimant. 

“Good Law Project will work closely with the claimants, including the Marine Conservation Society, to put forward the case for more ambitious and urgent measures to reduce sewage discharges by water companies. These sewage spills are threatening human health, biodiverse marine life and the fishing industry. We believe that taking legal action now is vital to help safeguard our coastal waters for generations to come”. 

If the case is won, the Marine Conservation Society hopes to see the UK Government amend its Plan so that it meets the DEFRA Secretary of State’s legal obligations to protect the ocean and its inhabitants from raw sewage spills.   

For more visit the Marine Conservation Society website.

Header image credit: Natasha Ewins

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