WHEN we talk about the Irish coast, stunning images come to mind: beautiful beaches, epic cliff faces, charming coastal villages and raging rivers. With the summer months on the way, an increasing number of people are enjoying the beautiful coastal areas around the country, whether it is for sea swimming, getting involved in water sports, or simply enjoy the landscape.
The issue of marine litter
We have all seen marine litter along Ireland’s coastline, which not only spoils the beauty of such a spectacular and diverse landscape but is also a threat to the marine environment.
What is marine litter? Marine litter is human waste accidentally or deliberately released into the marine environment, which represents a threat to over 600 marine species with one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals’ deaths each year caused by ingestion, choking and entanglement.
It is estimated that more than 150 million tonnes of plastics have accumulated in the world’s oceans, with this figure growing annually by at least 8 million tonnes. In addition, an unquantifiable amount of microplastics enters our oceans every year, estimated to be in the trillions of pieces. Microplastics have been found in every area of the world’s oceans including at the bottom of the Mariana trench, 360,00 feet below the surface.
While Clean Coasts is all too familiar with this litter, we know our coast is in good hands. When 24,000 people volunteer their time to help clean Ireland’s foreshores, you know there is a strong community will to act as guardians of marine life. These volunteers are part of the approximately 1,400 registered Clean Coast groups covering every county of Ireland: that’s approximately one group for every 3km of coastline.
Through its groups, the Clean Coasts programme carries out thousands of beach clean-ups each year removing large quantities of marine litter from Ireland’s coastline and helping to preserve the coast and its ecosystems.
While cleaning Ireland’s coasts may seem like a mere drop in the ocean in global terms, the hope of the volunteers is that their ripple will connect with other similar efforts across the planet, and that one act will lead to another here in Ireland.
After engaging in beach cleans Clean Coast volunteer groups across the country have extended there efforts to coastal restoration works, upgrading local facilities and promoting regional messages to reduce littering and human impact in their local area.
We know that the news about the state of the oceans and the climate crisis can be overwhelming, and we want to do all we can to empower people in this context. At Clean Coasts, our aim is to support people who want to improve and protect their local area. In order to achieve this, we provide them with on the ground support, through our Clean Coasts Development Officers, and resources and information they need to tackle the problem head on. If our groups encounter specific challenges, we work with them to overcome the obstacles.
Making a difference in 2 minutes
While our community spirit is strong, we also welcome individuals who prefer enjoying their time on the coast alone, and maybe cannot or do not want to meet in group.
With the #2minutebeachclean campaign we see volunteers all around the country making a difference two minutes at a time. This campaign simply asks people to remove litter items they find on the beach or in their local area in two minutes, and pop it in the bin. By share this action on social media you can inspire others and show how simple it is to create a positive change.
By only volunteering two minutes of your time, it may seem to you that you are only doing something small, but each piece of litter removed is one less threat to our marine ecosystems.
Beyond litter picking
Beach cleaning is often, for members of coastal communities around Ireland, the start of someone’s journey into protecting our ocean. It is something simple to do, and a great way to spend time outdoors, create a connection with the coast, socialise and meet people with similar interests and even exercise. You don’t need to have any particular knowledge to take part in a beach clean and you’ll be rewarded by the immediate and visible difference you are making for our planet.
However, our work is not just about cleaning litter, it’s also about preventing litter ending up in the ocean in the first place. We do this through our awareness initiatives such as ‘Think Before You Flush’, ‘Think Before You Pour’, which raise awareness about litter entering our waterways through our homes, or ‘Break Up with Plastic’, a campaign targeting one of the main sources of litter overall.
At Clean Coasts, we acknowledge the solution is much bigger than removing marine litter and ultimately, we need to all be informed enough to bring about meaningful change in how we manage our precious resources. For this reason, we run regular events online and in person where we discuss viable solutions with expert voices, as well as we celebrate what we strive to protect.
Would you like to get involved?
Anyone, anywhere in Ireland can register as a Clean Coasts group. Just go to the www.cleancoasts.org website and select the register function. The group has staff covering all regions of Ireland. Once you have registered, you will be contacted by one of the Clean Coast team members, who will help get you/ your group up and running. As well as removing marine litter, Clean Coast groups have contributed to citizen science projects, rehabilitated their local ecosystems, organised pieces of useful infrastructure and signage for their beach and much more.
You can also pledge to do a #2minutebeachclean and receive your own individual beach clean kit: https://cleancoasts.org/our-initiatives/2minutebeachclean/
A River Clean up takes place in Cork city on June 12, in association with Clean Coasts and subowti, as part of the Cork Harbour Festival.
The event is open to kayakers, canoeists and stand up paddleboarders - but you have to register. Participants will set out on the river to do a co-ordinated clean up to remove the ever-growing amounts of marine litter that floats in the river. Clean Coasts will have an information stall set up to interact with people on the shore. See http://corkharbourfestival.com/2021/river-clean-up/ and register on eventbrite.ie