• 14 December 2020

Cleaning our beaches with the Marine Conservation Society

Waterman’s Lead for Flood Risk and Drainage in Scotland, Kim McKissock, explains how she utilises her specialist skills in environmental management as a Beachwater Leader for the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the UK’s leading charity for the protection of our seas, shores and wildlife.

With over 15,000 marine species found in UK seas, our shorelines are more than just a popular holiday, leisure and sport destination for its millions of visitors each year. Having spent the last thirty years sharing guides on the best beaches to explore and sustainable seafood sources near you, the MCS are striving towards securing a long-lasting and healthy future for our shorelines. However, with one rubbish truck load of plastic litter estimated to enter the water every minute, not forgetting rising temperatures and changes in the water’s chemistry due to our increasing carbon emissions, the ocean continues to need our protection.

Since it was founded in 1982, the MCS have launched hundreds of campaigns to help maintain and protect the UK’s beaches and marine life. In 1994, they started their Beachwater initiative in order to tackle the growing problem of marine litter and the increasing amount of rubbish found on our beaches. Seeing as around 30% of UK beach litter can be directly sourced to the public, their beach cleaning and litter survey programmes sees over one million volunteers taking care of our coastlines every year.

After first volunteering to take part in beach cleans and nurdle hunts (the search for small plastic pellets that are used to transport plastic, usually by boat) in 2016, Kim underwent further training in March 2018 to become a Beachwatch Leader and is now in charge of organising community beach cleans in and around Fife. She explains: “I grew up in a village next to the coast on the Firth of Forth so have always taken an interest in the beach and nature. This also meant I saw first-hand how the water began to become more and more polluted with litter over the years. After becoming a Drainage Engineer in 1999, I came to understand it’s a culmination of what people are putting down their toilets, the need to upgrade aging sewer systems and overflows from combined sewer systems no longer being able to cope with the amount of runoff into our drainage systems that is causing discharges to head directly into our rivers and coastal waters.”

As a Beachwater Leader, Kim prepares risk assessments and pre-clean ‘sweeps’ of the beaches to check for any dangerous or harmful items such as broken glass or syringes which need to be disposed of prior to the volunteers arriving on site. She is then in charge of promoting each event on social media, registering attendees and preparing the cleaning kits, including the provision of black bags, litter pickers, gloves and record sheets. Lasting anything from one hour to a whole day, MCS’ beach cleans have successfully removed and properly disposed of over 11 million pieces of litter to date.

Kim said: “Since joining Waterman in 2006, I’ve been involved in numerous projects which are aimed at removing surface water from combined sewer systems to reduce the risk of flooding and overflows. Now through my role with MCS I’m able to see for myself how our collection survey results contribute towards parliament implementing new laws that protect our coastlines. Evidence from our beach cleans has helped lobby laws such as the introduction of plastic bag charges in October 2015 (resulting in 50% fewer bags seen on our beaches) and the most recent ban of single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton bud sticks this October.”

“These are huge steps in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go when you consider the amount of ‘hidden’ plastics we still use around our homes. Wet wipes, especially face cleaning wipes, are a big problem because not many people realise these contain plastic and can take up to 100 years to break down in landfill. When wipes are flushed down the toilet, not only do they clog up our sewage systems because they don’t dissolve like toilet paper, they also end up tangled with seaweed on beaches and can be fatal to the local wildlife if eaten. With an average of 80 wipes found for every mile of beach, more and more cleaning and cosmetic companies are producing biodegradable products with clearer ‘DO NOT FLUSH’ labelling on their packaging.”

Unfortunately, 2020 has introduced a bigger problem due to the soaring demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the number of re-useable alternatives available, it has been reported that, globally, we are using 129 billion face masks and 65 billion plastic gloves every single month and anything that is not properly disposed of is spilling into our oceans. With the ingestion of one mask or glove being enough to kill an animal the size of a whale, it’s crucial that we take more care in putting anything containing non-biodegradable micro-plastics such as gloves, masks and wipes directly into the bin after each use. To learn more about the PPE Clean Up Appeal, click here.

Please contact Kim McKissock if you are interested in learning more or taking part in a beach clean.

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