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Plastic Drinks Container Litter Still the Most Widespread - Survey

4th March 2020
Coastwatch Ireland volunteers on board Brian Boru in Grand Canal Basin with results of Coastwatch 2019 survey Coastwatch Ireland volunteers on board Brian Boru in Grand Canal Basin with results of Coastwatch 2019 survey

Coastal litter caused by drinks containers has halved in one year, but macro and micro debris is still plentiful around the Irish coastline.

As Afloat reported earlier, results from 541 survey areas recorded by a team of Coastwatch Ireland volunteers last autumn found the continued distribution of abandoned vehicles, girders and machinery, household, construction, fishing, aquaculture and angling litter.

Green Party South MEP Grace O’Sullivan was invited to publish the full survey report at an event on board the Brian Boru sailing vessel in Dublin’s Grand Canal Basin on Sunday.

The report notes the “most dramatic change” in the Coastwatch survey results 2019 were in the drinks container counts which halved in one year.

“While this is the biggest reduction ever over a year.... a total of 3333 bottles, 2831 lids and 227 tetra packs is still a lot of drinks related plastic,” it notes.

“It must also be borne in mind that figure is only a one visit survey count in 541 survey units. It is a fraction of what is collected in weekly and daily shore cleans all over the island on over 7300 km,” the survey states.

Plastic drinks container litter was “still the most widespread macro litter” found around Ireland with plastic bottles recorded on 73% of survey sites as a “peak litter item”.

Metal cans were recorded on 60% and bottle lids on 52% of surveyed shores, the report notes.

“Other” items included cotton bud plastic sticks, followed closely by cigarette butts and wrappers, along with balloons, golf balls, farm plastic and full dog pooh bags.

Tyres were found on 19% of shores and surveyors counted 877 tyres. Tyres used to trap peeler crabs for angling competitions or sale in bait shops were recorded in a number of areas, but particularly in the south of the island.

“When crabs moult, they are very vulnerable to predation and normally hide under seaweed or stones,”the survey notes.

“ If tyres are offered, they appear to prefer these,”the survey notes, but this has a detrimental impact on the local crab population and the trapping is not a licensed activity.

Coastwatch Ireland is looking for more information on other trap lines as it says the Government is “set to tackle the problem”.

There were 397 records of fishing, aquaculture and/or angling gear , with fishing nets and net pieces the most frequent (38%), followed by aquaculture waste, traps (24% )and angling waste (18% ).

Large aquaculture waste and abandoned gear was found in 8.5% of the sites surveyed in 2019. The items ranged from abandoned broken trestles to long line floats or sorting equipment, and netlon bags and hooks.

Aquaculture litter “hotspots” of Dungarvan spit and Woodstown beach, Waterford in the south-east, and Lough Foyle on the Donegal coast - known as aquaculture litter hotspots in the past - were “badly littered “, according to surveyor comments.

“Published aquaculture waste management practise reviews and systematic aquaculture operator license compliance checks are needed to tackle this,” Ms Dubsky said yesterday.

Large machine parts were noted on 9.2% of shores, being the only waste category which had risen slightly. Landfill materials were recorded on 16.3% of shores.

In 33 sites (6.6% of shores), the surveyors noted that the earth and stone landfill included construction/demolition waste or appeared to consist mainly of this material.

Surveyor photos included tarmac, walls with polystyrene insulation and wiring.

Ropes and string litter has also increased over the last six years, the survey notes.

Surveyors were also asked to count wet wipes in 2019 as a new pilot initiative, but results were judged unreliable due to the difficulty in separating them from seaweed and sand.

“Judging by shelf space now allocated to wet wipes, they are the latest single-use plastic success story,” the survey notes.

The increase in wet wipe use not only causes pollution, but also sewer blockages, stormwater overflows and treatment plant breakdowns, the survey notes.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!