Coast and Country Nature

NATURE -- Shore Patrol's War On Litter

It's that time of year when we get weary of winter and wish spring would come quickly, writes David Carnduff.

Once the days get longer and people are more inclined to get out and about, many blow away the winter cobwebs by taking a bracing walk along the Clyde. Our famous river has a special place in people's hearts, and its potential for recreation is well recognised both by locals and visitors from farther afield.

But how is the health of our well-loved firth? While all looks fine on the surface, delve a bit deeper and there is cause for concern. That's because, like seas everywhere, the Clyde is badly polluted with plastic and other types of waste.

Rubbish lying among seaweed at Lunderston Bay. Picture by David Carnduff

Take a look along any stretch of Clyde coast and the evidence is there: litter of all types, from lengths of discarded fishing nets and plastic sheets to the minutae of society's throwaway culture.

Globally, the problem is now so immense that it has become one of the biggest environmental issues of our time, with sea mammals, turtles and diving birds becoming trapped in discarded packaging, and fish eating tiny fragments of plastic which they mistake for food.

But there is hope amid the dire warnings of environmental disaster. Thanks to a growing number of motivated people, our beaches are under scrutiny as never before. For what washes up is indicative of the type of litter polluting the sea, and valuable data can be gathered if the debris is identified and counted.

I recently joined such a band of determined volunteers on a bitterly cold day at Lunderston Bay near Gourock for a beach clean and survey organised by Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

John Maclean from the Regional Park and MCS Sea Champion Kathleen McMillan brief volunteers at the Lunderston beach clean. Picture by David Carnduff

The event was led by Kathleen McMillan, a sea champion with the MCS, and John Maclean of the regional park. They explained that all the litter collected that morning would be counted and categorised to give an accurate picture of what was being washed up.

Working in pairs (one picking and bagging, the other filling in a log) the volunteers worked methodically over the beach, finding a typical mix of marine rubbish. Predictably, shreds of plastic were abundant, as were copious numbers of cotton buds strewn through the seaweed.

Lengths of fragmented fishing nets and anglers' line were also common, along with  wipes and other assorted plastic items. Cotton buds typify the pollution problems caused by inappropriate items being flushed down the toilet. That's because they are too small to be trapped by sewage filters and they end up on beaches.

So, it's good to hear that some cotton bud packaging now carries a clear warning about the pollution problem caused if these little plastic sticks are flushed away.  Kathleen told me that moves are also under way to replace the buds' plastic stems with ones made from cardboard, which is bio-degradable.

At the end of the morning clean-up, 25.8 kilos of rubbish had been collected and categorised by the 45 volunteers -- the largest number of participants who have turned up for a January clean-up at Lunderston. Similar beach events are planned at Lunderston throughout the year,  so if you care about the Clyde, go along and lend a hand. Watch out for details on the regional park website.


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