Status: No overall trend discernible with few or no concerns*
(Baxter et al, 2011)
*Following the Solway being ranked as one of the worst areas for marine litter by the aerial photographs from the Scottish Coastal Rubbish Aerial Photography (SCRAPbook) Project, it is suggested the status is downgraded to No overall trend discernible with many concerns
Status: Stable situation since 2012
(United Kingdom Marine Monitoring & Assessment Strategy, n.d)
Marine litter is defined as:
“any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment. Marine litter consists of items that have been made or used by people and deliberately discarded into the sea or rivers or on beaches; brought indirectly to the sea with rivers, sewage, storm water or winds; accidentally lost, including material lost at sea in bad weather” (United Nations Environment Programme, n.d.)
Marine litter is a global issue which has received increasing awareness and action in recent years. It effects all marine areas in the world and highlights many issues with the way waste is managed, as well as cultural attitudes towards litter disposal and behaviour. Marine litter can be of staggeringly different sizes, from microplastics (less than 5mm) to huge items, and can include dangerous items such as glass, maritime distress flare, marine pyrotechnic, or pieces of military ordnance. Litter can also come from many sources and enter the marine environment through many means, potentially originating far from marine and coastal environments and/or travelling long distances once entering the marine environment.
Marine litter has significant environmental, social, and economic impacts which can accumulate and worsen over time. For example, in terms of plastics entering marine food webs, this issue has progressed over many years with microplastics now being consumed by humans through fish (The Independent, 2017).
Shocking statistics illustrate the significant threat posed by marine litter. Turtles are recorded infrequently in the Solway, but one stranded leatherback turtle found on the Galloway coast was given an autopsy, and it was discovered that its stomach contained;
‘1 white plastic bag,
1 black plastic bin liner,
3 transparent plastic bags,
1 green plastic bag, and
1 transparent plastic bag for chicken meat packaged by a US company.’
(Marine Conservation Society, 2008)
There is no clear solution to resolve the issue of marine litter. There needs to be a variety of new policies across a range of areas to try to combat marine litter and a change in public and industry attitudes to litter.
The UK is committed to the eventual eradication of single use plastics, endorsing the Ocean Plastics Charter in 2018, an agreement outlining steps towards this goal.
Scotland’s Marine Assessment (2020) looked at marine litter on the seafloor, the monitoring of which is required under international agreement as well as domestic legislation. The data showed an apparent reduction in seafloor litter (sea-floor litter densities, items km-2) in the Irish Sea (Clyde and Solway) region between 2016 and 2018, inclusive. However, this data may be more representative of the Clyde, as shown in the relevant section of the assessment, there was limited, and in some years no observed presence or absence of litter in sea-floor trawls for the years 2012 to 2018 in the Solway (Moffat et al, 2020). The data which the assessment is based on includes; ‘counts of the number of pieces of marine litter, collected during trawls for sea-floor living fish…available from scientific expeditions carried out by the Scottish Government’s Marine Research Vessel (MRV) Scotia between 2012 and 2018 inclusive. These data are supplemented with similar data from the research vessels of other nations operating within a similar area’ (Moffat et al, 2020).
Please remember if you come across something on the coast you suspect may be a maritime distress flare, marine pyrotechnic, or a piece of military ordnance, do not touch it, move away from it, and dial ‘999’ or ‘112’ straight away and ask for the Coastguard.
Image; Mullock Bay. © N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership