Belfast Telegraph

Cleaning up Giant's Causeway coast is giant task

Volunteers help clean up rubbish from the nooks and crannies around the Giant’s Causeway coastline
Volunteers help clean up rubbish from the nooks and crannies around the Giant’s Causeway coastline
Volunteers help clean up rubbish from the nooks and crannies around the Giant’s Causeway coastline
Volunteers help clean up rubbish from the nooks and crannies around the Giant’s Causeway coastline
Volunteers help clean up rubbish from the nooks and crannies around the Giant’s Causeway coastline

By Rebecca Black

Tractor tyres, lobster pots and plastic bottles have been cleaned off the beaches of Northern Ireland's most famous coastline.

Swimmers, jet skis and small boats all helped to reach bays at the bottom of steep cliffs close to Unesco World Heritage Site the Giant's Causeway.

It was the National Trust's third litter pick in the area, which is teeming with wildlife, from pods of dolphins to breeding seabirds, porpoises and even the occasional orca.

Last August volunteers lifted more than two tonnes of rubbish in the second effort, following the first litter pick, which took place in April.

The initiative came after National Trust rangers noticed litter gathering on the remote beaches from cliff-top paths close to the Giant's Causeway while carrying out daily litter picks at the north Antrim attraction.

Fiona Bryant, coastal officer for the National Trust in Northern Ireland, said the body approached local outdoor activity providers for help.

"With the mixture of different clubs - coasteering, surf and a dive school - along with fishing vessels, it has been really helpful to get into each of the bays and make an impact by lifting the litter there," she said.

However, even with all that expertise, operating on the often treacherous section of coastline - including the point where in 1588 the Spanish Armada's Girona sank - demands a great deal of preparation.

Much of the litter is washed up to the shore by high tides and storms and becomes lodged in rocks, making it hard to remove.

"This point in the sea can be very stormy and there is a lot of preparation that goes into planning a day like this, from weather and tide conditions to the activity providers being available, our conservation rangers and all the staff," Ms Bryant said.

She also described the litter collected as a "real mixture".

"There is household waste, plastics, then some from the fishing industry such as ghost netting, ropes, lobster pots and plastic crates," she said. "Then there are lots of things left behind by visitors - tennis balls, flip-flops and shoes.

"There is a lot of plastic. Last year we lifted over 1,000 plastic bottles and some of them, you can tell from the labels, have been in the sea for quite a while."

She warned of the dangers of plastic pollution in the sea to wildlife, adding the public can help by building litter picking into their day out.

"The long-term effect on marine life has not yet been determined, but we know it is negative and we know that over time those plastics are breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces of micro-plastics and that is having an effect on the marine environment," she said.

"Every little bit helps to try and remove that from the bays.

"This area is really important for marine life and breeding seabirds."

Ms Bryant said dealing with litter was a year-round issue.

"We carry out beach cleans on other properties, particularly around Murlough, Strangford Lough and Whitepark Bay. Ranger teams and volunteers work 364 days of the year on Portstewart Strand, lifting litter as well," she explained.

"The public can come along to help on those litter pick days, and also when they are visitors to special places by bringing their litter home or having their own beach clean and lifting some plastics when they are there as part of their day trip."

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