The Marine Litter issue.
Marine litter is made up of discarded objects that do not occur naturally in the marine and coastal environment. Alarmingly, over the past 15 years the amount of marine litter washing up on UK beaches has almost doubled. Typical examples of marine litter include waste from beach users, sewage-related debris, medical waste, shipping debris and fishing waste.
Sources of marine litter*:
- 40.4% from the public
- 4.5% Sewage related Debris
- 13.9% fishing litter
- 0.7% fly tipping
- 3.9% shipping
- 0.2% medical waste
- 36.3% non-sourced
(*MCS Beachwatch Survey 2012)
The vast majority of marine litter is plastic, which 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 also adsorb toxic chemicals, becoming increasingly harmful over time, and often entering the food chain when mistaken for food items by fish, seabirds, marine mammals and other 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 coastlines all across the world’s oceans, even on the most far-flung and inaccessible of beaches. 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.
Beach users have to be wary of injury from broken glass, rusting metal or discarded medical waste. We should also be aware that the beach is likely to suffer from sewage discharges if sewage-related debris such as cotton bud sticks or tampon applicators are present. Marine litter strewn all over a beach can also have a detrimental effect on tourism with visitors put off from using it for recreation.