What’s the problem?
All sorts of litter ends up polluting our beaches and coasts, from plastic bottles to oil drums, fishing boxes to take away packaging, plastic shopping bags to industrial strapping bands, the list goes on…It ended up there due to the influence of people, the movements of the ocean’s tide and currents and the shape of the coastline.
In 2017 the Marine Conservation Society found an average of 491 litter items per 100m stretch of beach monitored in Scotland, with plastics topping the list. This represents a 7% increase from 2016 figures. In some areas the problem simply cannot go unnoticed, with beaches swamped in plastic debris. Last year a study produced by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation produced some truly disturbing conclusions: the equivalent of one entire truck of plastic (8 tonnes) is dumped in the sea every minute and, if we don’t change things, by 2050 we could have more plastic than fish (by weight) in the sea. This litter impacts the ecosystem health and the wellbeing of the coastal environment as a whole. The rising tide of plastic is impacting marine wild life through entanglement, ingestion and breakdown into microplastics that pose hazards, known and as-yet unknown, for both wildlife and human health. Over 90% of North Sea fulmars that have been autopsied contain ingested plastic. Pre-production plastic pellets or nurdles are mistaken for fish eggs and fed on by seabirds. Plastics in the sea also attract carcinogenic and endocrine disruptive chemicals like PCBs, BPAs and pesticides.
The presence of litter on our beaches and coasts isn’t new, but it is growing. Recent publicity and policy actions highlight the issue and are helping drive initiatives to understand the distribution of coastal litter and drive cleaning operations. Clean, safe and healthy coastal environments are critical for a variety of reasons from maintaining ecosystem diversity to contributing revenue to the economy through attracting businesses and tourism. Scotland’s Marine Litter Strategy was launched in 2014 providing a framework for the delivery of a multisectoral approach to the control and monitoring of marine and coastal litter in Scotland. This will also contribute to the UK’s obligations under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2010) to deliver Good Environmental Status in marine waters by 2020.
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