Carelessly discarded plastic waste is causing major pollution problems – particularly in the world’s oceans. As well as killing marine animals who have become entangled in plastic rubbish, it can poison them when ingested and get into the food chain – and even end up on our dinner table.
Waste such as plastic bags and ring can-holders present some of the biggest threats for marine life. Whales, dolphins, seabirds, fish and other wildlife are ingesting waste, or becoming tangled in it, often with fatal consequences.
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Environmentalists and scientists estimate around one million seabirds and 100,000 marine creatures are dying every year due to being tangled in waste plastic. Shockingly, the same plastic bag can kill several animals, because it takes around a century before it finally disintegrates.
With a horrific 12 million tonnes of plastic rubbish ending up in our oceans every year, plastic bags, bottles and food wrappers are causing a pollution disaster.
Where does waste plastic come from?
According to scientists, rivers are responsible for depositing between 1.15 and 2.41 million tons of plastic waste into oceans across the world annually. One of the main sources is the single-use plastic that wraps food and drink.
Even if it isn’t thrown on the beach or directly into the ocean, plastic can still end up there. When rubbish is discarded in the street, it can be swept along by rain and wind into the drainage system. In addition, around 20% of plastic waste comes from old fishing gear, including nets, floats, lines and other items thrown off boats.
More waste comes from industrial processes, including the production of nurdles – plastic pellets that are shipped around the world to manufacture into other goods. They have been found dumped in rivers, or near the coastline, or they have fallen into the sea by accident.
Plastic fibres from synthetic clothing can infiltrate the water system during washing and can end up in the sea. There are endless ways that plastic is polluting our oceans – in fact, reports suggest there are an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, with a combined weight of 250,000 tons, floating around in the oceans.
The North Pacific is the worst affected, according to Greenpeace, with around two trillion pieces of plastic floating around. The second worst hit is the Indian Ocean, which has 1.3 trillion pieces.
What can we do about it?
It may seem like an insurmountable challenge tackling the plastic mountain, but if every individual made even one small change in their lifestyle, in terms of using less plastic, or ensuring it was properly recycled, this would begin to make a difference to the planet as a whole.
A good way to start is to make a lifestyle change and stop buying products that contain single-use plastics. You can also recycle plastics at home or in your workplace – or go one step further and complete a beach litter-pick.
Launched in 1990 by a group of Cornish surfers from Porthtowan and St Agnes on the north coast of Cornwall, the marine conservation charity, Surfers Against Sewage, is leading community efforts to save our seas.
Why are surfers “going green”?
Surfers have become painfully aware, over the years, of the amount of plastic infesting the oceans. They will encounter at least one piece of plastic, and probably more, when they are surfing.
It’s predicted that in just 30 years’ time there will be more plastic waste in the sea than fish if we carry on dumping at our current rate. In some areas of the Pacific, plastic particles already outnumber plankton by 46 to one, according to the Rise Above Plastics website.
Surfers Against Sewage was one of seven charities chosen to receive donations by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle when the royal couple asked for donations to worthy causes, instead of wedding presents, in 2018.
The Cornish coastline has some of the most popular surfing hotspots in the UK. These include Crooklets Beach in Bude, a west-facing beach that can be enjoyed by a mixture of surfers of all abilities. Just down the coast, Sandymouth Beach (a National Trust beach) stretches for a mile and is reached by a scenic path across a pebble ridge that descends on to the beach. It offers great surfing for the more experienced surfer.
Gwithian and Godrevy beaches are separated by the Red River and were once in the heart of Cornwall’s tin mining area, but today are among Cornwall’s cleanest, safest beaches for surfing near St Ives Bay.
The south end of Sennen Cove, a picturesque fishing village, is popular with surfers of varying abilities, from beginners through to advanced. There are so many popular surfing destinations in Cornwall that everyone is pulling together to do their bit to help save our seas.
Surfers Against Sewage has been spearheading national initiatives, such as the Big Spring Beach Clean and the Autumn Beach Clean events.
How can people get involved?
Local residents are urged to take practical steps to clean up the beaches by organising litter-picks along the coast. Surfers Against Sewage is creating a beach and river clean-up community that spans across Cornwall and beyond.
Today, the network of volunteers who support the charity’s efforts have been cleaning up more than 100 tonnes of plastic rubbish every year. SAS also liaises with local schools to target future consumers and raise their awareness of the pollution problems facing our oceans.
Their Protect Our Waves campaign is spreading the word that our ocean’s resources should be valued and preserved. The Big Spring Beach Clean 2019 has already started – email Surfers Against Sewage at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can be a part of it.
Surfers Against Sewage has partnered with Cornwall Council and Clean Cornwall to organise local beach clean-ups. Contact the SAS Beach Clean Team if you know of a beach that needs some TLC.
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