Article 5 for the Dawlish Gazette by Vanessa Ryley, writing for Dawlish Against Plastic. 17th Feb 2020

Keeping our beaches clean

The Dawlish Against Plastic steering group carried out our first Town Beach Clean in May 2018 although we had previously joined in with a Surfers Against Sewage beach clean at Dawlish Warren in April.

Since then we have only missed two possible events; one in December 2018 and one in January this year making our total monthly beach cleans 20.

In addition to this we have assisted Exeter College students and pupils from both Gatehouse and West Cliff primary schools to carry out their own beach cleans.

We started collecting data showing the weight of recyclable and non-recyclable waste collected in March 2019 and so far, we have recorded 265 kilograms. The recyclable waste is 13% of the total and this is separated out and disposed of separately.

We have found a wide selection of items on the beach, especially after storms. These range from plastic cotton bud sticks to iron girders and a huge variety of items in between.

Significantly, we have found a selection of microplastics at Boat Cove. Microplastics are defined as all forms of plastics less than 5mm. They can enter the oceans as beads from personal care products, microfibres from clothes or plastic pellets (nurdles), used to produce many plastic items. We have also found small pieces of plastic derived from larger plastic items which slowly get broken into smaller pieces by the motion of the sea.

Microplastics have been found in fish and shellfish bound for human consumption, and it has been estimated that an average European seafood consumer ingests 11,000 plastic particles a year.

They can be ingested by everything from zooplankton which make up the base of the food chain in the oceans, all the way up to seabirds, fish, turtles and whales. Research has shown that they can adversely affect growth and reproduction.

The full consequences of this for human health are not yet fully understood but it is clear to me that we need to stop plastic from getting into the oceans.

BBC Spotlight recently reported that lumps of charred plastic that highly resemble pebbles are increasingly being found on beaches in the south west. These pebbles are thought to originate from plastic bottles and other items melting after being thrown on to beach bonfires or barbecues. They are also thought to be the result of plastic that was burnt in the 1980s that has since leached out of coastal landfill sites that are now starting to erode, so this is another hazard to look out for.

Although we continue to carry out our regular beach cleans with up to forty people attending, it should be remembered that there are also many unsung heroes who collect waste washed up on the beaches on most days of the year as they are walking, jogging or coming to the beach to swim. This quiet army of people is working tirelessly to keep the beaches clean and in the best possible state for visitors and those of us who live locally, and they deserve our thanks and gratitude.

The other group that deserve our recognition and thanks are the Open Daw litter pickers, who have been working for years to keep the Dawlish streets as clean and clear as possible, thereby ensuring that a reduced amount of rubbish reaches the sea.