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Monday, 6 March, 2000, 01:19 GMT
Beach rubbish harms sealife
Birds such as gannets get caught in litter
Birds such as gannets get caught in litter
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Plastic debris is the greatest hazard to marine creatures, according to the organisers of a survey of rubbish found on UK beaches.

And they say tourists are responsible for much of the ugly and sometimes dangerous litter it found.

If you drop your litter, you could be responsible for the deaths of turtles, dolphins and seabirds worldwide

Marine Conservation Society
The survey, Beachwatch '99, was the work of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), which publishes the Good Beach Guide. It took place on 18 and 19 September 1999, to tie in with the International Coastal Clean-up occurring in more than 75 countries.

Nearly 1,700 volunteers were involved in surveying and cleaning 171 beaches, covering 92km of coastline in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands.

They found an average of 1,913 pieces of litter per km of beach, with the total haul weighing 11.6 tonnes.

Plastic problem

Items of litter found included a wig, a wooden clog, a weather balloon, a dustpan and brush, a phosphorus bomb, and a life-size leg and foot made of foam rubber.

Most of the litter, though, was more prosaic, with plastic predominating - the biggest category of all was plastic pieces bigger than a centimetre.

The survey report says plastic is the major hazard faced by marine creatures, which can become entangled in everyday items like the loops used to hold drink cans together. The animals can also swallow plastic bags and balloons which they confuse for prey.

1,700 volunteers took part
1,700 volunteers took part
The MCS says an autopsy carried out on a leatherback turtle washed ashore in Scotland in the 1990s showed that it appeared to have died as a result of starvation caused by plastic and metal litter blocking its digestive tract.

More than 90% of gannet nests on the Welsh island of Grassholm contain plastic litter. The MCS says: "It is likely that millions of seabirds and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals die each year after swallowing or becoming entangled in marine debris.

"If you drop your litter, you could be responsible for the deaths of turtles, dolphins and seabirds worldwide."

Tourist trap

The MCS has been running similar surveys since 1993, and for the sixth year in succession it says: "Holiday makers and day trippers stand accused as the worst offenders, responsible for over a third of the beach litter recorded".

It says 39% of the litter found came from tourism, 11% from fishing, 7% was sewage-related debris and shipping accounted for 3%. The survey teams concluded that 39% of the litter must be classified as "non-sourced".

"The levels of tourist and recreational litter continued to rise, while the levels recorded from other sources had decreased compared with the previous year," said the MCS.

Since the first Beachwatch survey, recorded litter levels have almost doubled overall. The 1999 survey found a decrease of 2.2% on the 1998 level in the quantity of litter found for every kilometre surveyed.

But the MCS says this "still represents the second highest level on record, and unarguably remains too high".

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