Hometown Heroes: Proinsias believes in leading by example

Proinsias Ó Tuama tells Roisin Burke volunteering has lots of benefits and has taught him many important things.
Hometown Heroes: Proinsias believes in leading by example

Proinsias Ó Tuama of Ballynamona Clean Coasts walking his dog podge on the beach at Ballynamona, East Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

A TEACHER by profession, Proinsias Ó Tuama is a volunteer who believes in leading by example.

Having founded Clean Coasts Ballynamona in 2015, Proinsias is also part of the East Cork Biodiversity Networking Programme and the Sea and Land Trust.

Clean Coasts engages communities in the protection of Ireland’s beaches, seas and marine life. The East Cork Biodiversity Networking Programme works to enhance biodiversity and environmental sustainability while the Sea and Land Trust looks at climate breakdown, the biodiversity crisis, and plastic pollution.

“I founded Clean Coasts Ballynamona in 2015. Ballynamona beach is only 1.2 km long and it was the beach I used to bring the dogs walking on. There was lots of marine litter and debris washed up on the sand. I started to bag the litter and bring it home with me.”

From there, the initiative grew momentum.

“I created a Facebook page and started advertising cleanups and before long the local group grew to about 20 volunteers in a short space of time. I also spoke with the students in the school where I teach, St Colman’s Community College, and it was through discussions with the students where they want to also get involved. That first year we removed 12 tonnes of marine litter from Ballynamona beach.”

'A real eye-opener'

Proinsias said that the amount of litter picked up was a real eye-opener.

“The fact that we removed so much from that 1.2 km stretch highlighted for me the extent of the litter problem that we have in our seas and oceans, and that that problem is right here on our own doorstep.”

Since then, Proinsias has been a big driver in cleaning up the Cork coast.

“It really affected me seeing all the litter washed up on the beach and I knew I could do something about it.”

He said that as a secondary school teacher he is always involved in some sort of fundraising activity and volunteering was something that came very easy to him and after identifying the problem and the solution, he got stuck in.

“I am motivated by achieving all we have achieved since all this started. For example, in the last two years, we have helped implement biodiversity plans on more than 600 acres of land. We actively manage 34 acres for wildlife. We are fast approaching the regular management of 80km of coastline for marine litter, that’s 3% of the total Irish coastline. We have begun a new project and have €5,000 towards buying a boat, the total project will cost about €45,000-50,000 and this project will be a multiplier of what we can do, it will allow us to do seabird surveys, it will get us up the Blackwater river, the Womanagh river, and into Cork Harbour. It’s a really exciting project and it’s a game-changer.”

Proinsias Ó Tuama with bags of items collected by volunteers in a socially distanced one hour beach clean organised by Clean Coasts Ballynamona at Ballycrennane beach, East Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.
Proinsias Ó Tuama with bags of items collected by volunteers in a socially distanced one hour beach clean organised by Clean Coasts Ballynamona at Ballycrennane beach, East Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.

Benefits of volunteering 

Chatting about the benefits of people giving up their time to volunteer, Proinsias said there were a lot of positives.

“I love meeting new people and I love seeing the difference that volunteering makes in other people’s lives. We’ve made some great friends doing what we do. I think in particular it’s fascinating to watch students in the many different schools we work with, engage with what we do.

“I hope that when we bring these kids out cleaning a beach, or planting a tree that they’ll carry that with them into their adult lives and that the simple practice of bringing their litter home with them it’s something that they will practice long after the beach clean is over.”

The teacher said being a volunteer has taught him a number of important things.

“Volunteering has taught me that there is great satisfaction to be had in doing something that you love. I love what we do and the people we have in our group. I have a huge appreciation for the sacrifices that my wife Lorraine makes so that our children and I can head off on a beach clean.

“I think all of us get a great satisfaction in making a difference and supporting our coastline and all the businesses who depend on the coast at a local level, by maintaining it through beach cleans, raising awareness and doing educational programmes.”

 Proinsias encouraged schools, businesses and individuals to get involved in protecting the natural environment.

“We welcome any companies/businesses of any size to get in touch with us if they want to do a CSR (corporate social responsibility) day, or any schools at both primary and secondary level who’d like to do a beach clean by emailing us at info@seaandlandtrust.org.

“If you would like to fund our educational programmes or make a donation to help us on our journey then visit SeaAndLandTrust.org or email us at info@seaandlandtrust.org.

“If you want to volunteer with us, then send us an email or follow us on Twitter or Facebook by searching Clean Coasts Ballynamona. We’d love to have you along with us.”

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