|Sea More Sense - A New Conversation about Pollution in our Rivers, Sea and the Environment|
Sea More Sense
Writing this commentary and ‘call to action’ for Sea More Sense has proved extremely difficult and in fact I have been pondering over it for the last few weeks. It has been tricky to find the right tone for something that is so critical and needs to be hard hitting in its message but without sounding like I am preaching. I hope you will bear with me and read through to the end. We want to help to bring about positive changes to monitor and reduce litter, rubbish and pollution before it is too late. Our rivers and coastline are straining with the burden that mankind is putting on the planet. The Sea More Sense campaign aims to educate, challenge and support initiatives and simple concepts to help us all work towards practical solutions to the problems facing our marine environment and waterways.
In the last 2 years as part of the Big 5 Kayak Challenge team we have paddled with dolphins, whales and with a wide variety of marine birds and enjoyed many spiritual moments in awe of amazing wildlife. It is a privilege and a gift to be able to enjoy some time with these stunning creatures in the wild. Sadly we have also experienced first hand the deluge of rubbish, pollution and debris threatening to harm this wildlife, our seas and eventually, our planet. We believe that it is time for new ideas and new conversations to address the issues. The trends are going the wrong way at the moment. (For example the density of beach litter has increased by 77% between 1994 and 2009, plastic litter has increased during the same period by a staggering 121%). Marine Conservation Society Beachwatch information.
Recently our kayak club polo team supported the Bedford Borough Council river clean up. We have often felt that we have witnessed the best and the worst of our marine environment and have been compelled to make a stand. We are all of course part of the problem and must take responsibility for our own actions and their consequences. The current reports on level of litter indicate almost 2 items of litter for every metre of beach surveyed. This position is deteriorating each year. If we want to leave a healthy planet for our children and grandchildren then standing by and doing nothing is no longer a realistic option.
During January 2011 six members of Viking Kayak club poloteam paddled a one mile stretch of the River Great Ouse. In one hour we filled six refuse / recycling bags with cans, glass bottles, Styrofoam, plastic bottles and many other types of rubbish. Six full bags in 1 mile stretch of river. What makes this even more concerning is that this had been following a week of the river in flood which would have flushed much of the ‘normal’ rubbish down the river and out to sea. The Marine Conservation Society estimate that 80% of the rubbish in the sea comes from rivers. As we were in our polo kayaks we were not able to remove the five shopping trolleys, the three bikes or any of the other larger debris that we also saw.
The following day we went for another training paddle and were shocked to find 5 more plastic bottles and cans strewn on the bank beside our clubhouse – an area we had cleaned the day before. We paddled off on a five mile training paddle. We had almost reached the turn-around point when we saw something hanging from a tree. Upon closer inspection it was clear that it was a dead owl snagged by a fishing lure. The owl clearly had suffered a slow and cruel death as no doubt it would have continually attempted to fly away and shake off the hook and fishing line that tethered it to the branch. Exhaustion had presumably then set in and it had drowned. I can honestly say it was shocking and left us distressed as this is something that could have so easily have been avoided. I could not help but feel angry at the needless way it had died. Dan one of our team offered a few words of apology on behalf of mankind, and our lack of awareness of the impact of our actions. Clearly our actions do have consequences and we need to take some responsibility for proactively cleaning up after ourselves and where necessary helping others.
This is not the first time this year that I have witnessed an animal snagged in this way. We freed a Canadian Goose desperately trying to swim away from the bank close to our clubhouse but not getting anywhere because it was caught on a fishing line. Another of our club members reported seeing a fisherman cast and catch a swan on his line, and Ellie my collie was running on the river bank and got hooked by a spinner. The situation is potentially worse on the coast where nets and lines and fishing litter account for 279 items / km (2009 data) and impact the lives of many birds and animals. Carrier bags, plastics and other pollutants also affect marine life and ecosystems on a in a significant way.
We need a new conversation to deal with this problem both locally and nationally. Consequences and responsibility, by the way, mean we need to clean up your mess either on the day or a few times a year. We need to work together to develop ways to clean up the rubbish, stop litter and debris being thrown into our waterways and of course clean up lost fishing tackle.
During the 10 expeditions of the Big 5 kayak challenge covering almost 5,000 miles of human power by sea kayak, canoe and bike we have seen plastic bags, bottles, cans and other debris in ditches, rivers and in the sea. It is shocking and in places it was in such quantities that it appeared as if someone had emptied a shopping trolley into the water. This is why the Big 5 kayak challenge decided to get more involved with the Marine Conservation Society and their work to protect our beaches and coastlines. Did you know you can vote on www.yourseasyourvoice.org. to protect your favourite areas of our coastline as part of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ’s)? These will become legislation next year and will provide protection to about 1% of our coastline with a new framework on usage for recreation, fisheries, industry and other uses.
It is clear that we don’t have a panacea to cure all evils and the problems that we have referred to. This is not a new problem but one that is getting worse. During our travels we received a poignant message from a first nation guide we met in Alaska who said “ What will we tell our children and our grandchildren about why we have over consumed the planet. Nothing will make any sense ”. A more well known quote reads” Only when the last tree has been cut down and the last fish caught , only then will the white man realise that you cant drink the oil or eat money”.
The Big 5 Kayak Challenge has launched an environmental campaign linked to measuring the pollution in our rivers and seas by brand and type to allow us to lobby government and brands for a new conversation about a new way to behave. We need action to counter the growing problem - a problem that grows every day. The conversations need to focus on what we can do now, in our own small and simple ways to improve the situation. Talk of the Pacific and Atlantic gyres is of course relevant but the focus needs to start with rubbish in our own local areas that ends up in our rivers and that flows to the sea that forms gyres (floating seas of plastic). Did you know that the top 10 worst offenders in terms of litter on our coasts includes plastic pieces (20%), crisps and wrappers (9.4%), plastic bottles (5%) and even cigarette butts makes up 3.4% of the total. Plastics are estimated to remain in the environment for between 500 and 1000 years. Even beaches that appear visually clean can contain up to 5,000 plastic fibres per litre of sand all of which affects our ecosystems and the food chain.
We all need to take some ownership of the problems including littering and pollution. We also need the companies that make the products and packaging in the first place to take a lead and to acknowledge their responsibilities. Local authorities and communities in the areas that rivers flow through and the coastal locations also need to take responsibility to protect these special places.
The new conversation involves making a stand for the things that are important. Change need not be difficult but it needs to start now before it is too late . Sign up to our new website www.seamoresense.org where we will be developing ideas, initiatives and sharing best practice to help reduce litter and pollution in our marine environment and in our waterways.
We will be developing ideas that make a difference and help change habits during the coming year. We hope to unite interested parties - you, me, environmental charities and organizations through to companies and governments – to engage in meaningful conversations and working on the solution. If you enjoy walking on the beach, sun bathing, wading or swimming or watersports then surely it makes sense to do more and play a bigger role. Do you really want to swim in a sea of plastic or let your kids build sandcastles with plastic rubbish and cigarette butts. Seriously see more sense! Register now at www.seamoresense.org
Some of the simple ideas we want to promote and implement as part of a new conversation and adopt as new habits personally and in our communities
Register now at www.seamoresense.org