Watch out litter, it’s Coastwatch!

This month I participated in Coastwatch’s beach clean-up, which takes place on the first Saturday of each month. The clean took place at Sandymount Strand, which is said to be the most famous beach in Irish history, having featured in the epic novel, Ulysses:

“In long lassoes from the Cock lake the water flowed full, covering greengoldenly lagoons of sand, rising, flowing.”– Ulysses, James Joyce.

Plastic bag ruining the iconic view of Sandymount Strand (Image: Bas Boots)
Plastic bag ruining the iconic view of Sandymount Strand (Image: Bas Boots)

Not that I have read the entire novel… Nevertheless, the volunteers met at Booterstown Dart Station on Saturday morning, easily identifiable by their colourful waterproofs and sturdy wellies.

Some of the volunteer beach cleaners (Bas Boots)
Some of the volunteer beach cleaners (Bas Boots)

Apart from its cultural significance, Sandymount Strand is also an important habitat for wildlife, and has been listed as one of the top five sites for birdwatching in Dublin. Some of the regular beach cleaners were members of Birdwatch Ireland, keen to protect the habitat of their feathered friends. I was quickly educated on the difference between “twitchers” and “birders” and (still really none the wiser) off we set armed with gloves, pickers and biodegradable rubbish bags! We collected all sorts of plastic bags, fishing nets, ropes, drink cans, food trays and even car tyres, but the dominant litter item on the strand was plastic bottles. Plastic bottles are one of the most common litter items found in marine habitats. Their prevalence as litter, and the fact that their production is not sustainable while often not recycled, have led to their sales been banned in several parts of the world. The first to ban such plastic bottles was a small town in rural Australia called Bundanoon in 2009. More recently, large cities in the USA, including San Francisco and California, have also banned the selling of bottled water. It is predicted that other major cities will soon follow suit.

Defoliating the “litter-tree” (Image: Bas Boots)
Defoliating the “litter-tree” (Image: Bas Boots)

Most of the litter we removed during our clean up were single-use plastic items, such as food packaging. Despite the plastic bag levy to reduce the sale and use of plastic carrier bags, the production of single-use packaging has steadily increased each year, and now accounts for almost 40% of the total plastic produced in Europe. The good news is that it is not too late to make a change. We can all reduce the amount of plastic we use and get involved in local initiatives to reduce littering, such as organised by Coastwatch.

Pickers, protective gloves and bags are all provided by Coastwatch
Pickers, protective gloves and bags are all provided by Coastwatch (Image: Bas Boots)

Since 2013, I have been researching the impacts of plastic debris on marine ecosystems. After conducting an experiment on plastic litter at Booterstown Marsh last year I began to take more notice of local litter. The marsh is also an important habitat for bird populations. It includes the only salt marsh, and the only bird sanctuary in south Dublin Bay and is managed by An Taisce. Despite its ecological significance, it is subject to intense littering, with rubbish being either windblown from the nearby streets, or actively dumped into the marsh. Organisations like Coastwatch help preserving our valuable natural resources. Coastwatch, co-founded by Karin Dubsky from TCD, is a Europe-wide initiative. Their organised beach cleans are the first Saturday of every month, but the location varies depending on where it is needed the most. Come out, get involved and help protect your local environment!

I must admit that I felt a smug satisfaction during my trip into work on Monday, seeing the strand “littered” with flocking birds rather than rubbish.

Result! Two hours worth of collecting beach litter (Image: Bas Boots)
Result! Two hours worth of collecting beach litter (Image: Bas Boots)

Authored by Dr. Dannielle Green, TCD Geography

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