Words by Martin Dorey
So, the storm has passed. The epic swell has been and gone. The monsters that crashed half a mile out to sea, swept beach huts from their footings and kept us rapt from the safety of the highest headlands now only exist in our memories. But the legacy of the storm will be with us for a while to come yet. Pieces of marine plastics, once floating offshore and out of sight and mind, have made landfall in their hundreds of thousands.
Here on the Cornish coast we’ve seen epic piles of flotsam and jetsam gather on our shore. Thankfully, locals, surfers, walkers and beach lovers are mobilising to drag what rubbish they can off the beach and out of harm’s way. We’ve seen huge community clean ups all along the coast. Here, at home in Bude, Ade Shorland, who is the local Keep Britain Tidy volunteer beach clean organiser and founder of Widemouth task Force, supervised a crew of 58 as they cleared 120 bags of plastic from Widemouth Bay. It’s a great effort and proves we really do value our oceans.
The tragic thing about this, however, is that this plastic will just keep on coming. And until we change the way we use it and discard it, and work out some way of clearing up these gyres of plastic in our oceans, it will just keep mounting up.
But you don’t need a lecture from me about this, do you?
As a surfer, ocean lover, thinker and humanitarian you already know that we have a problem with plastics in the ocean. So you probably don’t need it rammed down your throat, especially when you, as an individual, can do so little. I feel the same way. Sometimes, when I go to the beach I feel so small and insignificant when I see strand-lines strewn with plastics. I can’t possibly see how I could do anything to make a real difference when all it does is keep coming, tide after tide. How could I begin to tackle this? Anything I do will be insignificant.
However, recently I’ve been trying to do something positive. I’ve been doing 2 minute beach cleans every time I go to the beach, walk the dog or exit the water after a surf. It couldn't be simpler. I spend just 2 minutes picking up litter on my way home and put it in the trash, or I recycle it. Sometimes I focus on plastic bottles that can be recycled, sometimes I pick up nothing but fishing detritus or old shoes. Whatever it is, there is always something to pick up that doesn’t belong on the beach.
You might think it’s pointless, utterly pointless, when the next tide will only bring more. But it isn’t. Every piece of plastic I remove from my local beach is a piece of plastic that is no longer a threat. It is no longer leaching chemicals into the marine environment. It will not be ingested by wildlife. It will not strangle a seal or entangle a seabird. It will not end up in the stomach of a turtle, albatross, fish or cetacean. It will not ghost fish for eternity. Its killing days are over.
Doing something as simple as picking up litter may also help the problem, and in bigger ways that you could imagine. If enough of us pick up a few bits, snap them and post them to Instagram or Twitter (with the hashtag #2minutebeachclean) then we may be able to see patterns emerging. In 2012, thanks to tweeted pictures of the same plastic bottles washing up all over the UK, a global cosmetic company admitted they had lost over 150,000 items to the North Atlantic from a container and paid £3000 to a leading UK marine charity to help pay for beach clean ups. It doesn’t stop the plastic being there but it will certainly make companies think a little harder if we start holding them culpable.
So I’m trying to make this idea a habit. I’m making an effort – like many people I know - to make it a part of my life. Do you think you could do this too? How about taking a little time each time you surf or go to the beach to do your own 2 minute beach clean? I know lots of you do already. But, if you don’t, think of it as returning the favour to the ocean for giving you some nice waves. Instead of taking pleasure from this greatest of natural resources without giving back, you, like me and many others around the world, will be helping to heal it just that little bit.
Doing a #2minutebeachclean will also help you to strengthen your resolve. It will stoke the fire. You’ll get to look at what’s happening on your patch. You’ll notice more. It might even help you to think about how you use plastics in your daily life or make you think twice about buying single use products. Then again, if it doesn’t but you simply remove just one plastic bottle every time you go surfing, you’ll still be a hero.
And if everyone turned on to the idea? Then we would be getting somewhere.
Post your pics to instagram and twitter using the hashtag #2minutebeachclean and we’ll soon be able to see what our efforts add up to.