England is surrounded by water, so 70% of anything that goes down the drains (tampons, condoms, wet wipes) or up in the air (balloons, fire lanterns) lands in the sea. So we have huge amounts of beach litter, as well as well in the sea itself (mostly plastic and ghost fishing waste). The most common items you’ll likely to encounter on the beach are:
- Plastic bottles
- Glass litter
- Cigarette butts (use a beach ashtray)
- The tear-off bits on grocery plastic bags
- Plastic tea bags
- Nylon hair bands
- Crisp packets
- Golf balls and tees (launched from ships)
- Swimming costumes, goggles, snorkels
- Fishing line waste
- Footballs, frisbees etc
bags to pick up beach litter
Waterhaul beach clean bag is made in Cornwall from end-of-life spinnaker sails, a durable sailcloth that is designed to be used with their litter-pickers, so you don’t have to up tin cans etc with your hands. Onya’s backpack is made from recycled plastic bottles and folds into a pouch so you only need to use it if you see litter, and can still walks hands-free, and has a front pocket to hold your keys and sunglasses. Ask your council to install a marine clean station.
Divers can join Neptune’s Army of Rubbish Cleaners, which regular goes on trips to remove rubbish (you don’t get paid but are rewarded with a ‘leisure dive’ afterwards). They collect ghost fishing waste but have found nearly everything else – including once, a kitchen sink!
Be wary of ocean-clean-up machines as they collect floating marine life (‘neuston’) and most sea plastic is too small to be caught by machines. More hopeful solutions are ‘seabins’ that suck up marine trash (but can be almost immediately emptied back in the ocean so wildlife can escape). and ‘Water wheels’ (placed at river ends to move at very slow pace, so creatures/fish can move away in time). The sentiment is there, but we must be careful to avoid ‘gadgets’ being the answer. Instead, pay fisherman to collect discarded fishing gear.
the haunting (very cold) North Sea
The North Sea is the coldest in the world, with northern areas (like Northumberland) being on the same latitude as Scandinavia (the North Sea also houses several islands on the Scottish and Danish coast including Sylt, known as The Hamptons of Germany, first made popular in the 60s by playboy Gunter Sachs and his then-wife Brigitte Bardot). It’s still expensive to visit today, known for its 40km of beautiful seaside walks alongside ‘kniepsand’ dunes’. The North Sea is also majorly over-fished, so native seabirds are at risk of starvation (a Bill is presently going through to hopefully ban fishing of sandeels (those silvery fish you see in photos of puffins) so they have food to eat.
Never take pebbles from beaches (illegal in Italy) as it disturbs ecosystems. Keep dogs away from seaweed (they like to play with fronds) as it expands in the stomach as it dries. If exploring rock pools, leave creatures alone (crabs etc) as many are injured, once returned to sea. Wear wellies (not flops) as wet rocks and seaweed are slippery.
Ghost-fishing waste (discarded fishing nets etc) is a major issue in the North Sea, as is pollution from oil, which affects seabirds and marine creatures. In 2023, Anglian Water was fined £2.65 million for letting untreated sewage overflow into the North Sea due to decommissioning equipment, and failed to act on data due to no alarm system (this is the largest ever environmental fine). Report sewage overflow to Surfers Against Sewage. This is usually brown foamy water that laps at the shore. They say ‘if it smells funky – it’s probably shit’.
Recently the government approved a controversial oil and gas field in the North Sea, saying it will lower people’s bills. But climate lawyer Tessa Khan says that the oil field (to be located near the Shetland Isles) will keep us locked into fossil fuels for decades, and do nothing to reduce bills, as oil will be shipped abroad, then sold back at high profit. Greenpeace says that the Prime Minister has proved that he puts profits of oil companies above everyday people.
a brief guide to the world’s seas
Our oceans make up 70% of our planet’s habitat, and hold 97% of our water supply. they also drive the world’s weather, provding half the oxgyen we breathe, and provide work for over a billion people.
The Pacific Ocean is the biggestdeepest ocean, covering almost a third of the world’s surface. It has over 25,000 islands and is home to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, along with thousands of volcanoes. Modern pressure from industrial fishing, pollution and climate change has been accompanied by a rise in drug smuggling and military use (due to China’s conflicts with America and Australasia). But on a more hopeful note, the future could also include ecotourism, in particular in Acapulco, Hawaii, Tahiti and Cairns.
The Atlantic Ocean is straddles the Equator to link both Americas, Europe and Africa. It has icy Baltic sea to warm Caribbean waters. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge helped form volcanic islands including Iceland and Azores. Today the Atlantic ocean faces major struggles due to urgent issues like climate change, pollution and the trials of the economic rise in the Indo-Pacific World. And only by knowing the issues and what causes them, can we find lasting solutions to help.
The Indian Ocean connects Africa with Asia and Australia. Its warm waters are home to unique wildlife, colourful coral reefs and dense mangrove forests. Due to major cities operating in the ocean, again it’s at risk from pollution, and rising sea levels.
The Southern Ocean is an icy sea across the bottom of the globe, surrounding Antarctica. With harsh winds and towering waves, often only explorers sailed the stormy seas. Today tourists flock to see penguins, seabirds and blue whales, but this brings pollution.
The Arctic Ocean is perched at the northerly tip of the world, a small icy ocean with pack ice and icebergs. Polar bears and people have adapted to make the place their home, but rising temperatures and pollution put their habitat at risk.
an exploration of ocean plastic (for children)
Plasticus Maritimus is a wonderful book to educate children on the threat of ocean plastic. When she was young, the author played on a beach and walked along the shore, looked at tide pools and collected fossils. But as she grew older, she noticed a new species and gave it a Latin name, to warn people of its dangers to our planet.
Filled with engaging science and colourful photos, this book looks at why ocean plastics are so harmful, and how they end up in our rivers, lakes and oceans. She shares the chemical composition of plastic and physical properties and gives an overview of the harm of fishing nets, water bottles and tiny clear microplastics. Then calls for deep changes in daily habits to make a difference together. To number the days of this artificial and almost indestructible species. Together, we can send it packing. Ana Pêgo is a marine biologist who combines art and science, to raise awareness and educate about the planet.
sustainably surfing the ocean waves
Surfers tend to be a pretty eco-friendly lot, so most are fully aware of trying to find sustainable alternatives to petrochemical surf wax and boards that leach microplastics into the sea.
Download the Surfers against Sewage app to report sickness or pollution, to help them take action against water companies that don’t clean up their mess.
Finisterre wetsuits (also for women and rental) are made from wetsuits. This is the best we have so far, and there are eco touches that they have added. These are made with natural rubber that produces 80% less Co2 than traditional neoprene.
organic cotton surf clothing
Surf Kernow is a wonderful little company, making 100% organic cotton clothing for surfers, or anyone who enjoys the beach life. The problem with most ‘surf eco clothing’ is that it’s made from recycled plastic. This material is wonderful to use in items like bags, wallets and skateboards, but when used for clothing that is laundered, unless you have a microplastic catcher (and most people don’t), the plastic fibres just go straight out to the sea again, polluting the ocean.
Unlike the big clothing brands that get on the eco surf bandwagon, this company is authentic. Everything is designed in Cornwall and made ethically with green energy in India, rather than mass-produced designed made by workers paid poverty wages without proper standards or rights. The founder of this company is an environmentalist and social justice campaigner, with everything Fair Wear certified (better than Fair Trade) and guaranteed organic.