TSD Fencing Club Beach Clean; plastic or seaweed, polystyrene or pebbles?
By Iona Mokanpuri (Lampeter Fencing Club President)
November, as well as being the month known for shorter days and darker nights, is the month for raising money and volunteering for charities. Commonly known as RAG (raising and giving) month, it is an important date in the Student Union calendar and a great opportunity for students and their sports clubs and societies to get involved in helping to make the world a better place. One example of such an endeavour wasundertaken by the TSD fencing club with their decision to run a beach clean for the students of Lampeter to take part in.
The beach clean took place on the 10th of November. Typically for a Saturday in November, it was forecast to be a miserable day with downpours, but the high spirits and enthusiasm of our volunteers could not be dampened. As it happened though, there was no need to worry; the forecast was fortuitously mistaken, so we only had to brave a few drops of rain and even had a surprisingly high amount of blue sky.
Upon our arrival to Aberystwyth beach, we distributed bags, gloves, and litter-pickers and began the clean, dispersing ourselves along the beach. As the day progressed our eyes became more and more adjusted to finding the plastic hidden amongst the seaweed and pebbles. It was surprising how few large pieces of plastic we collected, but in turn it was terrifying how many small pieces we found. There were so many broken fragments of water bottles and non-descript shards of plastic that had obviously once belonged to a much larger object in the process of degrading into microplastic. As I walked along the line of seaweed stretching along the beach, I increasingly found myself having to distinguish between bits of plastic and bits of seaweed. We’re always told how similar they can look and how this poses an obvious danger to marine life, but I was still shocked at just how hard it can be to tell the difference. This shock continued when examining piles of shingle against the beach sea wall. When upon first look all appeared like an innocent heap of pebbles, however a keen eye that wasdeveloped from the day of spotting litter, could find small bits of polystyrene shaped and rounded by the waves to be uncannily disguised as the pebbles they were masquerading as. Another seriously worrying problem was the amount of nylon string and fishing wire that we found. What made this worse was the fact we couldn’t simply remove it. So much of it was entangled and impossible to fully separate it from the seaweed.
Everyone knows the problems that we have with plastic, and we all know that littering is bad, but having this knowledge is not enough if peoples’ actions do not change accordingly. The beach clean took place shortly after bonfire night and this was reflected in the litter we collected. Two of our volunteers came across a large pile of nails where someone had had a bonfire. We also came across numerous bits of debris from fireworks. This begs the question that why, given that we all know littering is something we shouldn’t do, is it still acceptable to let off fireworks? The same is true with balloons (that we also collected an alarming amount of). If people released hundreds of plastic bags into the sky there would be an outcry, yet this is essentially the same as what we do with balloons.
The beach clean was a successful and fun day out. But more than that, it was a valuable and eye-opening experience and despite being only a drop in the ocean in the measures that need to be taken, hopefully this will the first of many beach cleans.