Surfing in the waters surrounding Edinburgh might sound like a chilly prospect for most, but some local enthusiasts and beach goers are facing a much bigger problem than frost bite – pollution.
An estimated 12.7 million tons of plastic enter our oceans every year and 20,000 tons of marine litter is dumped into the North Sea with 15 per cent washing up on Scottish coastlines. However, a group of surfers down in Cornwall have launched a clean-up campaign that will see communities across the country gather together to help purge UK beaches of plastic – including editions in the Lothians.
Marine Conservation Charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) began working towards improving the quality of the water at beaches by pressuring local authority and government to change the way sewage is disposed of.
Dom Ferris, Head of Community and Engagement, said: “We were sick of getting sick every time we went surfing. Everything that went down our toilets in the UK just went straight out to sea.
“At best it went out of a 1km pipe but it often got pulled back in with the tide and at worst it just went straight on to the beaches.”
Over time their focus began to widen: “We realised it was very selfish and naïve to just look after surfers and to think that sewage was the only threat to the oceans and beaches we love. We have made huge improvements to the bathing water quality in the UK through the revised bathing water directive. However, we have seen plastic on our beaches more than double,” said Dom.
In order to get rid of the problem plastic, the group organised nationwide Beach Cleans, by calling upon volunteers to pitch in. He said: “In 2009 we had seven beach cleans with fewer than 1000 volunteers and last year we had 475 beach cleans and nearly 20,000 people volunteered.”
He attributes much of the hike in volunteer numbers to the so-called “Attenborough effect” – a wave of interest in the environment coinciding with the Blue Planet TV series and other events – and hopes the reaction will convert to a real change in behaviour.
He said: “Awareness is absolutely key; we were prepared for this explosion in awareness off the back of Blue Planet 2 because even though we were busy before, it’s now unprecedented. We’re seeing up to 500 people turn up to a beach clean in Aberdeen where we used to have five to ten people come.”
One local helping to make waves in the fight against plastic pollution is Emily Devenport who’s been involved with SAS for the past two years.
She’ll be taking part in beach cleans in North Berwick and Musselburgh this month.
She said: “Every time we have a beach clean it gets easier to get people to come along.
“They are really fun and it’s a really good excuse to go to the beach and do something that makes you feel a bit more connected to nature.
“It doesn’t feel like a hard task, it’s just a nice day out.”
Julien Moreau, who works as a ranger for the John Muir Trust and works part time with SAS, says they fully support the Spring Beach Cleans and that trustees take part when they can.
He said “It’s important in terms of action because if you have bigger groups of people you can pick up larger items.”
The clean ups also offer benefits beyond shipshape coastlines, he said, explaining: “It gets the community together and it’s a good opportunity for people to get outside and spend time with their neighbours.”
While there are a lot of people talking about the issue, many like him still believe there isn’t enough being done by government and industry to curb plastic pollution, particularly when it comes to “single use” items.
He added: “A plastic bottle is a design disaster as it takes hundreds, if not thousands of years to break down but it’s used for 20 minutes max.”
This year’s event continues through until April 15 and will see teams involved in North Berwick, Gullane, Longniddry, Prestonpans, Musselburgh, Portobello, Cramond and other areas in the region.
To find out more visit www.sas.org.uk