Beach Litter – Leave nothing but your footprints

Litter & Marine Wildlife

Tobi Carver - 29th July 2020

While shooting a unique sunrise last week TDT photographer Keiran Brimson collected and disposed of several bottles left on the beach. Only the week before he’d had to remove someone’s unwanted pants! 

In this case the drinks bottles were glass. As the majority of glassware is silica-based – the main component of sand – some people may say ‘what’s the big deal once the sea has done its work they’ll be sand again’.

Litter is litter – whatever it is – and should always be disposed of properly.

While the beaches we work on are among some of the cleanest in the country, if not the world, all of our photographers far to often end their morning shoots by disposing of some form of litter.

Where does it come from?

Some is maritime litter. Accidental debris or cargo unintentionally jettisoned from the decks of ships or broken away from fishing gear and floats. On some of my days I’ve collected washed up ‘ghost gear’ – the broken away ropes, plastic floats, even lobsters pots – of the fishing industry and even a broken umbrella!

This is bad enough, but what really gets our goat is the intentional laziness of mankind. I have also collected plenty of plastic and glass bottles, wrappers, broken plastic buckets and spades, used disposable BBQs, “use once and chuck away” surfboards, broken beach tents and windbreaks. Generally on the beaches where a bin is within 100 yards.
Now we know that, to our customers and those of you reading this, we are probably just preaching to the choir but it does rather get on our ***s. Especially as each piece of litter is potentially fatal to the marine wildlife we all enjoy seeing so much.

One thing the coronavirus lockdown has proven is just how much we humans affect the environment with our activities. It also shows how quickly the environment can ‘recover’. Swans and fish returned to the waters of the Venice canals – after just a couple of weeks.

So bear in mind that if we can limit our impact on the environment the environment will reward us with a greater abundance of nature to enjoy.

The dangers:

The danger of litter on the marine wildlife can also be extreme. We’ve all seen the photograph of seals with plastic wrapped around their necks, or sea birds dead after being caught in fishing nets. What you don’t see is the litter which gets into their systems. I don’t mean the limbs of the odd surfer found in a shark’s belly. I mean the small plastic scraps which end up in the stomachs of all manner of marine mammal.

Being indigestible these scraps will stay in there. For the life of the animal. That life will be reduced due to the toxins released into the body – slowly poisoning the individual – as the stomach attempts to digest that indigestible mass.

So in short: 4 major reasons not to litter: 
  1. Marine mammal safety. 
  2. You’re an idiot if you do. 
  3. It is unpleasant for everyone. 
  4. You’re an idiot if you do.
Beach Cleans: 

Over recent years the growth of Beach Cleans has shown how much litter is on the beaches. These cleans, such as the regular ones run by campaign group Surfers Against Sewage, have been gaining in popularity. All to the good but all of those beach cleaners would much rather they didn’t have to do it.

Studies have also shown how plastic is worked by the sea – just like the rocks and shells. Worked and worked. Reduced and minimalised – but still there. The beach may look clean and litter free but years of plastic pollution are still there. Reduced to ‘micro plastics’ which sit in the sand. These can end up in the gullets of fish and sea birds – and of course your favourite dog or even young child eating the sand while they play on the beach… 

Get involved:

Try and fill a bag next time you’re at the beach, get the kids involved (they may even get a Blue Peter Badge for it). Here are some helpful links to some wonderful organised initiatives: 

Surfers Against Sewage

Marine Conservation Society

Clean Cornwall

#2minutebeachclean

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