John Dolan: How we can all play our part in cleaning up Cork’s plastic- riddled coast

Plastic is choking our oceans and killing wildlife, plants, and fish at a frightening rate. But as members of the public, we can all do our bit to try to alleviate this situation, even in small ways, so says John Dolan
John Dolan: How we can all play our part in cleaning up Cork’s plastic- riddled coast
Bag of rubbish from Dunmore Strand collected by John Dolan and his family.

I REALLY shouldn’t be a beach person at all.

Yes, yes, of course I have fond memories of yomping over sand dunes as a boy, splashing around in the shallows, and eating ice-cream. Don’t we all?

But even back then, I found the idea of building sand castles... well, too much like hard work. Other kids seemed to be able to construct amazing palaces, while mine lurched alarmingly and resembled ugly mud huts from the Neolithic era.

You know what a sand castle looks like when a bully has stomped all over it? That was how my actual ‘sand castles’ looked. I couldn’t wait for the tide to come in and wash away my incompetence.

Not that I was bourgeoisie about it — I come from a long family of builders, who must have witnessed my feeble attempts at construction years ago and steered me firmly in the direction of journalism.

Then I grew up and, thankfully, became too old for buckets and spades. When I was a teenager — in the days before we knew much about skin cancer — everyone wanted a tan, a real one if possible and a fake one if not.

But I was never one for that sunbathing lark. I’m a restless soul and, anyway, my Celtic white skin merely goes freckly, then pale salmon, then back to white again. Rinse and repeat...

And then I became a dad and the clock re-wound back to buckets and spades again. Only this time, instead of the older generation mocking my efforts, the younger generation palm me aside and tell me they will build the castle alone, thanks dad...

Like I said, I am the opposite of a beach bum.

But in latter years, I have changed my mind about the beach. I find myself now drawn to the views, the beauty, the soothing echo of lapping waves. The sound of your kids’ laughter in the breeze is balm to the soul.

Now, I find there is something almost primal and spiritual about drinking in the beauty of a beach and sea.

During the lockdown days of spring, when the sun burst through, I found my mind wandering and looking forward to that first carefree day of the year at the seaside.

When they initially announced a 20km radius for travel, I was crestfallen. A quick check on a map revealed I could now go to Ballincollig, Bandon, Blarney and Berrings — lots of places starting with ‘B’, but not a beach!

It looked like our first beach day out of the year would have to wait a while longer... then they altered the lockdown lifting schedule and we could travel anywhere in Cork.

Bliss! More beautiful beaches than you could shake a stick at.

At the earliest opportunity, we packed the car and headed to our favourite coastal location — Dunmore Strand, just around the coastline from the more hectic Inchydoney and the ideal size for families with smallies.

The journey seemed to take longer than usual, but then we saw it. The gleaming blue sea, the white horses, the inviting sands. The coast!

It wasn’t just me who felt it either. When we parked up, the squabbling stopped and the kids fled to the four winds across the sands, running, laughing, and drinking in the unconfined joy of a day spent at the beach.

Behind them, mum and dad dragged bags of buckets and spades, tents, picnics, toys and assorted paraphernalia — both wreathed in smiles.

Every sense is both heightened and relaxed on a trip to the beach. Within minutes, you’re cast adrift in a world away from the worries of viruses and finances. Life is good.

We paddled and we played, we explored the cliffs and rocks, the kids built sandcastles (without my help), we munched on sandwiches... bliss.

Then, shortly before it was time to go home, we did something that has become a ritual whenever we visit a beach.

We took out an empty bag, put on some gloves, and walked up and down the beach, collecting any rubbish we could find — particularly plastic.

We bagged a Coke bottle, netting and rope, paper, all kinds of litter, most of which had been washed up on the last tide. And we made sure it wouldnt be washed out on the next tide, then washed back in again.

We put the rubbish we had collected in our car, took it home, and plonked it in our bin.

It’s a simple task, but it is just a little something for the local community — and the coastline belongs to us all.

It’s educational too. It instills into our kids an awareness of the problems of rubbish, especially plastic, in our otherwise pristine seas.

Plastic is choking our oceans and killing wildlife, plants, and fish at a frightening rate. It’s not just an Irish problem of course, it’s global.

But as members of the public, we can all do our bit to try to alleviate this situation, even in small ways.

Removing just a bag of them is a great way to show your love for the environment. And imagine if everyone who went to the beach did that: Just filled one bag. How much cleaner our coastlines would be.

It’s funny when you have a day at the beach with your family, and you often find yourself thinking of your own days out in those places as a child, with parents and grandparents.

I thought of my kids possibly bringing their children to Dunmore Strand in the coming decades, by which time I fear the beaches may well be inaccessible through all the detritus and gunk.

I pictured them taking their own children by their hands, raising an arm across the apocalyptic landscape, and telling them: “I remember when all this was sand...

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