SAS is working on a number of different community, corporate and government levels to tackle the growing tide of marine litter that washes up on UK beaches every year. The rapidly rising number of SAS beach cleans help remove marine litter from the environment and raise public awareness, and longer term SAS initiatives including Return To Offender, Break the Bag Habit, Think Before You Flush and No Butts on the Beach aim to solve litter problems on a larger scale.
Marine litter is made up of abandoned objects that do not occur naturally in the marine and coastal environment i.e. its water surface, water column, seabed, and seashore. Over the past 15 years the amount of marine litter washing up on UK beaches has almost doubled.
Sources of marine litter*:
Typical examples of marine litter include household waste; waste from beach users; sewage-related debris; galley and cargo room waste from commercial shipping; nets and fish boxes from fishing vessels; waste from industrial production or distribution and medical waste.
Marine litter can blow around, remain floating on the water surface, drift in the water column, get entangled on shallow, tidal bottoms or sink to the deeper seabed. It can also get caught up around a surfboard leash, a boat propeller or diving kit that can be a right pain!
Plastics makes up the vast majority of marine litter and never truly breaks down. Experts suggest plastic left in the environment will be with us in some microscopic form many thousands of years. When in the sea, plastics can adsorb toxic chemicals, becoming increasingly harmful over time, and often entering the food chain when mistaken for food items by marine organisms. Over 100,000 marine mammals and over 1 million seabirds die every year from ingestion of and entanglement in marine litter.
Plastic debris can be found littering beaches all across the world’s oceans and seas even on the most far flung and inaccessible of beaches. Unfortunately due to its’ versatility the production of plastic is increasing. Plastic is not biodegradable and will degrade slower in the marine environment than on land. A normal plastic bottle may persist for more than 450 years if left on a beach.
Marine litter impacts on both humans and wildlife.
For wildlife, entanglement is a real issue. This can result in reduced movement, serious injury or death depending on the type of litter involved.
Beach users have to be wary of injury from broken glass, rusting metal or discarded medical waste. We should also consider that water quality is likely to be poor if we find sewage related debris on a beach.
Marine litter strewn all over a beach can also have a detrimental effect on tourism with visitors put off from using it for recreation. It can cost tens of thousands of pounds to remove marine litter from one beach alone over the course of a year so it’s in everyone’s interest to reduce the problem at its source.