Carcasses, plastic, rusting cars, nappies... the disgusting state of our rubbish tip shores
Shocking survey reveals 4,000 pieces of litter in one kilometre
Litter strewn on Northern Ireland's beautiful beaches is the biggest blight on our coastline.
Black agricultural sheeting strewn in dense lines across Minearny Beach, near Limavady, can be seen for miles.
The remains of a truck chassis has also been abandoned on the strand on the shores of Lough Foyle.
The beach is one of 14 that were examined in the first systematic survey of the litter marring our coastline, highlighted in a report being launched by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan (below) this morning.
The shock findings of the survey, co-ordinated by Tidy NI, reveal that, on average, 4,033 items of litter are present per kilometre of shoreline studied between September 2012 and April 2013.
Among the discarded items found were dead sheep, the remains of a car, a live distress flare, blue fishermen's gloves, urine-filled bottles, bags of rotting fish heads and a decapitated seal.
Nearly three-quarters of the litter was plastic, including cigarette lighters and bottles (290/km) while there were also crisp packets and pieces of rope and string (462 pieces per kilometre).
Of 262 metal items found per kilometre, 148 were drinks cans and there were 276 sanitary items such as cotton buds, wet wipes and nappies, which NI Water stresses should not be flushed down the toilet.
The three beaches that were close to fishing harbours were covered in significantly larger amounts of litter than average.
Tidy NI said that although much of this rubbish was not directly attributable to fishing, volumes of litter in general were higher and the levels of cord and string were 25% higher than those found on non-harbour beaches.
It emerged that north coast beaches have more litter than east coast beaches and small pieces of plastic, polystyrene and cotton bud sticks were four times more common.
The survey forms part of DoE Marine Division's response to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which requires Northern Ireland to achieve "good environmental status" by 2020.
It uses an internationally recognised method to record the amount and type of litter on 14 reference beaches every three months from Limavady via Rathlin Island to Warrenpoint. Northern Ireland has pledged to achieve an overall reduction in the number of visible litter items within specific categories on coastlines.
The information is fed into a Europe-wide database, which will help to inform future decisions on how to manage our seas.
"The amount of drinks-related litter highlights the problem in Northern Ireland with inconsiderate people enjoying our beaches and not having the decency to remove their litter," a Tidy NI spokesman said.
"Every one of the 4,033 pieces/km originated with people discarding their litter somewhere other than a bin.
"Recent good weather has resulted in huge strain on councils and other beach operators, who have struggled to cope with the mounds of litter left behind.
"This survey relies heavily on the goodwill of people who care for their local beach.
"Following each survey a local community group collect and remove all the litter from the surveyed area.
"Northern Irish businesses such as Translink, McDonald's and Citi Belfast have also helped carry out these clean-ups.
"Not only does this mean that the next survey will not recount items, but it is an immediate way to improve the local environment."
Mr Durkan said raising public awareness was the only guaranteed way of reducing marine litter.
"A combination of education, provision of adequate waste reception facilities and enforcement of legislation is needed to tackle beach litter. Beach cleans are an excellent public participation exercise, focusing the public's attention on the issue of marine litter and creating a sense of environmental responsibility," he said.
Ian Humphreys, chief executive of Tidy NI, said: "We can all do our bit to help clean up our beaches, even if it is to simply start recycling that plastic bottle or tin can.
"More fundamentally, though, we need to tackle the pervasive littering behaviour.
"Tidy Northern Ireland is calling for a joined-up anti-littering/civic pride campaign – if we take this seriously we can increase tourism, generate inward investment and protect the environment as well as save millions of pounds in rates bills spent annually for clean-ups."
Copies of the full report and a summary information card are available from www.tidynorthernireland.org or www.beachni.org.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q What is the scale of Northern Ireland's coastal litter problem?
A The survey shows there is an average of more than 4,000 pieces of litter per kilometre of shoreline.
Q Has anyone been doing anything about it?
A The Department of the Environment's Marine Division has been working with environmental, volunteer and fishing organisations for over a year to prepare a marine litter strategy. This aims to reduce the amount of our litter entering the seas, and find ways to remove what's already there.
Q How do you educate people about litter?
A Educational initiatives such as Eco-Schools teach children the value of the environment, how litter can damage it, and how to dispose of litter.
Q What's happening on the ground?
A Blue Flag and Clean Coast awards reward beaches with high standards of cleanliness and attract visitors. Twenty beaches won an award this year. Blue Flag beaches have to pass an international inspection.
Q What about sanitary litter?
A NI Water is investing significant sums in upgrading waste water treatment works and educating people with the 'Don't Flush' campaign.
Q How can people help?
A Thousands of volunteers have been gathering litter up for years. Coca-Cola has sponsored a week of Coastal Clean-ups annually, while staff from every McDonald's branch in Northern Ireland have volunteered their time to help clean up beaches and local 'grot spots', underlining the idea that a clean environment that draws visitors and investment is simply good business sense.
Q What about enforcement?
A 3,742 fixed penalties were handed out for litter in 2012-13. Enforcement plays an important role in educating people but we need to get to a point where we don't need it.