Sunday, 11 January 2015

Beach Clean at South Walney Island with Cumbria Wildlife Trust

The weather forecast predicted it to be windy...very windy...and it didn't let us down! I set off in the dark at 7.00am wondering why I was leaving my cosy, warm house to go and pick up rubbish in foul weather. As I drove down through the Lakes I reminded myself how much I enjoyed beach cleaning (yes I do have strange hobbies!) and how good it was to remove all the harmful human induced waste off the beach. 

As I arrived at Walney Island I saw that I had a message from Nick, one of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust's marine trainees. The message read that I was the only volunteer who had signed up to help with the beach clean and that it was cold and windy at the reserve. Should we go ahead or drink tea?!
A cold, grey and wild day out at sea off Walney Island
We had a cuppa and along with Gareth and Amy who also work for Cumbria Wildlife Trust debated whether it was worth trying to conduct a beach clean with uncontrollable bin bags! Whilst we were making up as many excuses as possible 2 more volunteers arrived, Betty and David. It was agreed we had to at least give it a try. So many layers later and with a bundle of bin bags, litter pickers and hoops we headed down to the beach.
Litter picking equipment - hoops and pickers

We decided to march into the wind and then work our way back down in pairs collecting as much litter as we could. The key was to get something heavy in the bin bag as soon as possible to try and keep it under control!
Nick trying to keep his bin bag under control

Rope netting
The main reason I help with beach cleans is to get rid of the litter that is harmful to wildlife. Items such as discarded fishing line and nets can be fatal to sea birds and can continue 'ghost fishing' whilst still at sea. That is they continue to catch fish and sea life but are never recovered by fishermen as they are loose in the sea. So the marine life caught in them are stuck there until they die. Other harmful items are the dreaded plastic bags which turtles mistake for jellyfish, eat them and then block their stomachs. The plastic rings off a 4 pack of beer cans, can strangle birds and animals as they grow. I have seen disturbing pictures of seals with rope or plastic cutting into them as they grow. I have also seen pictures of dead sea birds with bellies completely full of plastic items. There are many other injuries that rubbish and plastic can cause to our marine life, so to me it is important to try and reduce this risk.
A bundle of fishing line
And then the other reason I like beach cleaning is all the random stuff that you find... it astounds me, what we as humans discard and somehow it ends up washed up on a beach. In the past I have found odd shoes and wondered where its partner was?? I have found a fishing box tag on Parton beach, near Whitehaven with Scottish address on, so it has somehow made its way down the coast. I have found toys and dollies - no longer loved by the child they belonged to.
On Walney Island people are not allowed onto the beach, to protect the nesting birds, so the rubbish must have been washed up from elsewhere.
Bags of rubbish heading back to the truck

We soon had our first bin bags full and Nick carried them back to the truck and then we battled against the wind to get another bag on the hoop - easy in calm weather!
Attaching a bag to a hoop - only possible in pairs!
Some of the other random things that we found were a well sea travelled handbag, a pair of ear defenders, a car air filter, a babies dummy, lots of bottle tops and lots of plastic in general.
Car air filter and more netting
Braving the storm and trying not to get sandblasted!
After about an hour and a half we decided to call it a day. The wind was getting even stronger and the truck was almost full. It is difficult to stop, as beach cleaning is quite addictive. Once you start it is hard to walk away with rubbish still on the beach, but it could be an endless task.

A truck full of rubbish
Braving the elements!
We headed back to the reserve office feeling quite pleased with ourselves for managing to get the truck full. Hopefully we may have prevented some wildlife from being harmed by removing all that horrible waste. We also all felt quite refreshed to say the least after a morning in the wild weather - lots of rosy cheeks tonight I think. 

Below I have added a couple of photos from a beach I visited in Cyprus. It is a turtle nesting beach and there was a nest protection ring left set up. I think they are for protecting the eggs from predators and that this one was left over from the breeding season. Down on the strand line there was not only fishing nets but also lots of the little plastic biodegradable balls. I visited out of season, so I don't know if they clean it up before the turtles come ashore to breed. But if they didn't the turtles would have been surrounded by it. It is such as shame for the turtles and also for the fact it is such a beautiful beach.

Plastic bits on the beach, Cyprus
Small plastic particles, Cyprus
Turtle nest protection, Cyprus
A mess of fishing net and rope, Cyprus
Today was the second beach clean I have helped with at Walney Island and I did organise my own a few years ago at St Bees in conjunction with the Marine Conservation Society. Beach cleans are beneficial to any marine or coastal life that may come into contact with rubbish and also they are a great way to get outside and meet other like minded folk. It only has to be for a couple of hours and you can achieve a great deal. And they are actually great fun....honest. It was a bit hard to take photos today in the wind but next time I will get some smiley faces!

A few useful websites:
Check out their website for future dates of beach cleans
Lots of beach cleaning events all over the UK

A few good books:

'Ocean of Life' Prof. Callum Roberts
'The Unnatural History of the Sea' Prof. Callum Roberts
'Mobu Duck" Donovan Hohn


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