Ana Cowie – Marine Pollution Officer, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust
Marine pollution is one of the biggest threats to our oceans’ health; plastic is found almost everywhere, causing ingestion by or entanglement of marine wildlife. 20,000 tonnes of plastic are dumped in the North Sea every year and only 15% of that is washed ashore – the rest is still out at sea. Studies have shown that 98% of fulmars (grey and white seabirds related to the albatross) in the North Sea had plastics in their stomach, averaging a shocking 34 pieces per bird.
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is tackling the problem of plastic pollution through a variety of projects. This includes Fishing 4 Litter, which is a voluntary scheme that involves the direct removal of litter from the sea, and raises awareness of the problem inside the fishing industry at the same time. Studies have shown that marine litter costs the fishing industry an average of £10,000 per boat, per year – through contamination of catches, broken gear and fouled propellers. In addition, it’s calculated that it takes approximately 41 hours each year to remove marine debris from just one boat’s nets. It is therefore essential that continued action can be taken to reduce what is currently a significant marine pollution problem.
Fishing 4 Litter has two aims; to maintain a network of harbours around the country so that participating boats can land the marine litter they have caught in their nets, and to change working practices within the fishing industry – hopefully preventing litter from reaching the marine environment in the first place.
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust place (and regularly empty) dedicated rubbish bins for marine litter, or discarded fishing gear, at various ports and harbours in the region. This project has been successfully running for five years now and has been extended to encompass North Yorkshire due to its popularity with the industry. There are currently eight bins along the East and North coast of Yorkshire, from Withernsea all the way up to Staithes. In 2018, it’s estimated that 25 tonnes of litter will have been removed from these bins through the Fishing 4 Litter scheme. That’s 25 tonnes that will not be entering our sea!
I do this job because I believe that through education and awareness, our marine wildlife can recover from past decline if we all do our bit now. My job is to inspire people about our marine wildlife and teach them why we should value the sea, from the air we breathe to being peoples livelihood. We all have a duty to protect this vital resource and we are at a risk of losing it right now! There is often a disconnect when it comes to the marine environment (out of sight out of mind) so this is one of my biggest challenges. If people knew what marine pollution is doing to the environment on a daily basis I believe that everyone would think twice about dropping litter.