Seas of Plastics and Great British Beach Clean

Seas of Plastics and Great British Beach Clean

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Last week the Bristol Greenpeace Group held a talk called “Seas of Plastics – Adventures in Search of a Healthy Ocean” presented by Emily Penn, an ocean advocate dedicated to studying plastic pollution in our oceans.

Emily’s story began in 2008 through her commitment to “slow travel”, finding alternative travel methods to plane. When faced with travelling to Australia she had the opportunity to travel on Earthrace, a bizarrely designed biofuelled boat which at that time had just broken the world circumnavigation record. It was on this journey that she learnt how plastic pollution and other human behaviours were affecting other, more remote parts of the world.

She spoke of island communities whose fishing stock had been depleted through commercial fishing and now had plastic-wrapped and tinned food shipped in, and also of how these islands knew little of how to dispose of their waste, either burning it producing toxic fumes or simply discarding on the beach.

One story she told that particularly struck me was how she was awoken one night by thud on the side of the boat. Upon deck she found a piece of plastic floating in the ocean. The shocking element to this is that at that point the nearest other human to the vessel was the space station hundreds of kilometres above them, rather than any humans on land.

The presentation continued with further stories of pollution across the seas, showing images of dead fish and birds with stomachs full of plastic debris, discussing the 5gyres in the oceans (huge collections of plastic debris) and highlighting her current work with exxpedition, an entirely female led sailing expedition to investigate the toxins found not only in the sea but also the level of toxic exposure in women.

I left the talk feeling a mixture of emotions – anger and upset at our continued wasteful attitude to life on this planet but also with hope that there are individuals out there fighting against it. We’ve already seen a rapid reduction in the use of plastic shopping bags through the 5p charge, and in recent news the UK’s commitment to ban microbeads by the end of 2017, following a petition signed by over 350,000 people. Now Bristol-based organisation City to Sea, have launched a new campaign call Switch the Stick, calling for the stems of cotton buds to be changed from widely used plastic to paper, which if flushed can be washed out to sea and are a common occurrence on our beaches.

All those positive actions inspired me to do my part in the war against waste so last weekend I went to Redcliffe Bay in Portishead to take part in the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean where myself and about 15 volunteers went out to see what we could find and survey the results. I didn’t come across any cotton bud sticks, but what I did find was large amounts of polystyrene, along with the usual suspects of plastic bottles and disposable BBQ’s, and surprisingly various pieces of ceramic and pottery. All the data will be fed back to the MCS along with beach cleans across the country to form their next report.

It’s certainly encouraged me to think more about the plastics I use every day and how I can reduce my waste. If you’re thinking about cutting down your plastic use too we posted some great tips in our recent blog to help you on your journey.

Samantha Hadfield

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Bristol BS4 3EH

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