I joined forces with Tidy NI this week to transform one of Co Down’s most scenic beaches, Rossglass Beach, which lies several miles along the coast from its more famous sister, Tyrella.
A stunning beach with the Mournes looming in the background, Rossglass is home to breeding seals and wading birds such as oyster-catchers.
But in the cove we targeted we found a hideous mass of detritus tangled through the seaweed — everything from oil cans to the plastic bags that kill marine animals and a sleeping bag discarded on the beach.
We found a huge heap of building rubble that had been fly-tipped next to the car park, including — shockingly — two shattered headstones with the names of the dead clearly legible.
The distance travelled by some of the detritus became clear when we found a road barrier marked Blackpool Council and a fishing crate labelled ‘Castletownbere’ — a fishing port in west Cork. But Tidy NI national coastal officer Jennifer Smyth said the presence of domestic material such as cotton buds showed some of it had been swept to the shore in sewage.
We even had one example of the devastating effects litter can have on marine life when we discovered a plastic coffee cup filled with hundreds of tiny shrimp that had died inside. Almost every container we picked up, from bottles to crisp packets, was full of the red sludge left behind when these tiny creatures rot away.
Every year at least one million tons of marine litter enter the world’s seas, leaving an estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic litter alone floating on every square mile of ocean.
It takes up to 450 years for plastic bottles to biodegrade and a million years for glass bottles.