Great British Beach Clean: Gloves on - Let's Hit the Beach!

** This blog has been updated in 2018

My favourite time of the year is upon us! It is nearly time for the Great British Beach Clean (14th - 17th September 2018) that I have taken part in organised by the Marine Conservation Society. They encourage people to clean beaches and survey their results to help front campaigns to educate people about the litter found on beaches. They have joined an International Coastal Clean-Up, so I will be one of thousands who want to make a positive difference on the marine environment I adore.

Using the public’s survey results, they have found levels of beach litter have doubled over the last decade. There is more litter than ever before on British beaches - 2,309 items of litter found on every kilometre cleaned. They work to clear our seas of the rising tide of rubbish that is so dangerous to sea life, including seabirds, whales and dolphins. 

So what is the problem with leaving your chip wrapper on the beach and an empty fizzy drink bottle? It will just disintegrate or blow away won’t it? Wrong! If it takes a banana up to 5 weeks to decompose, I wonder how long plastic would take? Nobody has lived long enough yet to see it disappear as it is estimated a normal plastic bottle may persist for more than 450 years if left on a beach. A single one-litre bottle could break down into enough small fragments to put one on every mile of beach in the entire world.

Fancy a trip to a man-made floating plastic island known as the “Eastern Garbage Patch?” It is unbelievable that an area equivalent in size to Texas, or Turkey, or Afghanistan, actually exists in the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, this rubbish will never end up on a beach to be disposed of as it slowly swirls in a never-ending rotation.

My next project at school will involve helium balloons due my increasing dislike for them. Today, I asked the children to write on my whiteboard reasons why they are our friends or foes. The children recalled fond memories of how balloons were at birthday parties and weddings. The only disadvantage was that they scare you when they burst. I asked them what they thought happened when you let them go, to which they replied that they just went up to space. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. I have seen many balloon pieces washed up on the shore and seen the devastating effect on birds who get tangled up in the cords. With the many balloon releases for charity days or celebrations, many people don't realise they are risking an animal’s life.   

Around 100 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year, of which about 10 million tonnes ends in the sea. About 80% of it comes from land. Plastic breaks into smaller parts, can absorb toxic chemicals and becomes part of the food chain; recent research has shown that it is in the fish we consume.  

When I visited Spain this year, I brought home more that the usual souvenirs. The local beach looked amazing, fine sand and clear water. As I ran my hand through the sand as I relaxed on my beach towel, I came across small white, blue and black hard balls. I collected a few and realised what they were; nurdles! I had heard of these but never seen them. A marine organism? I wish! These were plastic pellets that are liberally dispersed across the oceans when drum-loads or even container loads are lost at sea. They were everywhere, disguised in the sand so we filled a box and brought them back to show the children at school.

Luckily, through the many beach cleans I have organised, I am proud to say I have managed to sign up over 60 volunteers to help me at some point or another (I do bribe them with a hot drink and their favourite biscuits!). Along with the many strange things we have found such as false teeth, a tube of toothpaste and a letter in a bottle, I hope it has opened their eyes to what damage litter can cause. With two high tides a day - who knows what we will find this Saturday!

Kerry Briffitt is Eco-Schools Co-ordinator at Hempstead Junior School

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