Island communities lead the fight against plastic pollution


Surfers Against Sewage and Parley for the Oceans are launching a pilot project aiming to tackle marine plastic pollution on Cold Water islands by implementing innovative, community-based solutions. The initiative is part of our ‘Cold Water Islands Project’, a collaboration with Parley for the Oceans to develop a strategy that volunteer-led island communities will work to implement throughout 2019.

The plastic pollution crisis can have a disproportionate negative impact on island ecosystems, wildlife and communities from the tropics to the tundra. This new project, targeting small cold water islands around the UK, is based on the learnings from Surfers Against Sewage’s award winning Plastic Free Communities campaign’. The programme will explore plastic pollution pathways and promote community-based solutions under the Parley AIR Strategy (Avoid, Intercept, Redesign) to demonstrate how these microcosms can provide a template for global action towards a plastic-free future.

The programme connects island communities across a broad geographic spread, from the Northern Isles to the Channel Islands, each of which faces unique challenges in respect to addressing plastic pollution pathways. The list of selected islands includes:

  • Shetland, Northern Isles, Scotland
  • Orkney, Northern Isles, Scotland
  • Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland
  • Skye, Inner Hebrides, Scotland
  • Tiree, Inner Hebrides, Scotland
  • Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland
  • Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli), Wales
  • Hayling Island, England
  • Alderney, Channel Islands
  • Herm, Channel Islands

Isle of Harris, Carolyn Cluness

The selection was based on detailed applications by prospective ‘island community leaders’ – individuals who are instigators of change and ocean activists; passionate individuals who can stimulate positive change and grow a movement within their community.

Michael Cecil, the selected community leader coordinating the project on Rathlin Island said:

“Rathlin islanders are very proud of our island home and proud to be its front-line guardians.  This is a great opportunity to strengthen our resolve to work for cleaner, plastic-free shorelines and oceans.  If a small island can achieve a positive impact, with limited resources, then anyone can do it.”

The project aims to demonstrate how these small island microcosms can provide a template for action for transitioning to a plastic-free future on a global-scale.

Protecting marine wildlife from the effects of plastic pollution was a key theme for many of the community leaders, including Carol Campbell from Orkney

“Orkney is an inspiring collection of islands, providing clean air and diverse natural habitats. The islands are home to 15% of the world’s seal population, providing important breeding grounds for several animals. For the protection of all Orkney’s species, it is vitally important we remove pollutants to ensure a safe and sustainable home.”

Ben Hewitt, Director of Campaigns and Projects at Surfers Against Sewage says:

“Our island communities are on the front line battling the scourge of plastic pollution and we want to support the groups and individuals working tirelessly to tackle avoidable single-use plastic.”

Bardsey Island – Photo credit Myles JenksCyrill Gutsch, Founder of Parley for the Oceans says:

“Islanders know that plastic has to go. It doesn’t belong on beaches and it has no place in a circular economy. Together with SAS, we’ll continue to grow our Parley AIR Strategy and SAS’s Plastic Free Communities to 10 new islands by empowering and connecting communities and their leaders, whose local actions can shape both a nationwide and global model for change”

The strategy involves a community-based approach, with local businesses, stakeholders and individuals all encouraged to participate in the project’s positive action through steering groups, events and beach cleans.

Lara Hayward, Hayling Island community leader said:

“Growing up on Hayling Island has given me a life-long love and respect for nature and the ocean. It’s really important to me that we try and preserve that environment for future generations.  Being part of the Cold Water Islands project will allow me to give something back to my hometown and help grow the engagement within the community so that it’s sustainable – I can’t wait to see what happens over the coming year!”

The programme incorporates the learnings of both SAS’s community initiatives and Parley’s AIR strategy (Avoid. Intercept. Redesign.) to empower and mobilise community action against plastic. Each community leader will be supported with a toolkit resource that will be crafted to guide the island’s strategy and detail the tactics for achieving change.