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Published on October 25th, 2016 | by Rosslyn Watret

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No Rest for the Litter: The Beach Clean Diaries

With litter plaguing our oceans and causing irreparable damage to the ecosystem and marine organisms, the call for beach cleans and recycling over the past decade has grown exponentially. Many partake in the activity for the satisfaction of giving back, or to help our marine wildlife that many find charismatic. With the Anthropocene fully in motion, the demand for renewable and recyclable products is higher than ever and the science of biodegradable materials is creating wonders — from biodegradable six-pack rings and carrier bags to wellington boots. This upcoming revolution, however, does nothing to combat the litter already within our ecosystems and the hundreds more that will arrive on our coasts. In further attempt to combat the problems that litter poses, The Marine Conservation Society has now come up with a way to study the litter on our beaches whilst educating and involving the wider community in marine conservation through citizen science.

Throughout the year, the society encourages people to organise and partake in beach cleans all over the country whilst recording the litter they gather. This has allowed the society to gather countless data points that can be used to determine what litter is causing the most problems in specific areas around Britain while also being used to suggest and create policy. One of the main achievements that this has had in the last couple of years is the reduction in plastic bags due to the implementation of the charge for single use carriers. In some areas the reduction in carrier bags has been 80% which is an amazing achievement that all the helpers can be proud of.

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Having just moved to Aberdeen the week before, I joined the Marine Conservation Societies ‘Great British Beach Clean’. This yearly event sees almost every coastline having an autumn clean over one weekend (16th-18th September 2016). On the Friday, I found myself East of Aberdeen harbour on the rocky coastline of Greyhope beach, around 30 volunteers combed the beaches and surrounding grass banks lifting everything from light bulbs to carpets and some 11 tyres and a set of car keys! The team had done themselves proud by gathering a massive 391kg of rubbish, one great achievement for the two hours of work. The Saturday found me on the completely different coastline of sands and man-made seating at Aberdeen bay, the rubbish down here was similar as another 30+ people banded together, another load of rubbish was lifted and volunteers left with a sense of glee, made all the better for seeing bottlenose dolphins frolicking on the horizon. Sunday was a surprise, with the beach clean starting at the protected saltmarsh habitat in Forvie National Nature Reserve 30 mins north of Aberdeen. The litter here was relatively different from the other two areas, with less glass and plastic bottles, car parts or carpets but plenty of broken debris having been washed in, including the ‘innocuous’ plastic bags. Again, a great show of people, including young children, attended to show their appreciation of our marine ecosystem. Starting on the muddy flats, there were people scrambling to keep their footing, with me falling within minutes. Past the mud flats we were greeted with dozens of seals curious of our activities and flocks of birds feeding in the estuary. This area was also home to some of the most spectacular sand dunes I have ever seen that could have had me believing I had walked on to the set of Aladdin. At first glance, the important area for roosting seabirds and seal haul-outs looked free of litter; with further inspection, however, this was far from true. Copious amounts of netting that is disastrous for both seal and bird populations, along with crates, wooden pallets and macroplastics were all gathered and devotedly removed from our shoreline.

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With the sun setting over Aberdeen on my weekend of beach cleans, my mind was cast back to the past three days, the amazing amount of compassionate and dutiful people I had met, all with an admiration of the ocean and our coasts, and the even more astounding volume of rubbish that was gathered. I took part in three beach cleans out of 100s throughout the UK and was one of thousands of volunteers, and it was this thought that filled me with hope that there are people that are willing to take the small steps and provide their time to make a real difference to an entity that really needs our help. This project is evidence that community spirit and citizen science really do work. To find out more on partaking in or organising a beach clean as well as other ways to help please visit the Marine Conservation Society at www.mcsuk.org.

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