Day 8 Kirksanton - Plastic Pollution, the hidden oil spill?

Thursday 13th April 2017

We stayed Wednesday night with our lovely AirBnB hosts Ron and Ruth, in their amazing Victorian home just outside of Lancaster. Ruth, who is on the Women’s Institute Committee, told us how they are considering a major drive on either mental health or microplastics. Two very important causes, we did not envy the committee’s decision!  However, it is encouraging that the Women’s Institute are considering putting their resources and influences behind such causes.
 
Ron added how their sailing boat once suddenly lost power on the way into port; an investigation found their prop had disintegrated after hitting a submerged plastic container. An extremely dangerous type of incident that is alarmingly on the rise, as any vessel without sail power that loses its engine or prop effectively becomes a giant float at the mercy of the same forces our plastic are. These floats are vulnerable to collisions, capsizing or being wrecked causing injury, loss of life and environmental damage.
 
We had to prize ourselves away from a fascinating conversation with our gracious hosts, but we had a long day ahead, with an hour drive to Kirksanton in the Lake District but then a nearly 7 hour drive to Muasdale, our next stop. 
 
As we drove north from the flats around Pilling into the Lake District, the land began to grow.  Young, low hills began to rise in front of their older siblings already lost in the in a grey curtain of cloud. But soon enough the land began to fall again as we descended to the sea at Kirksanton, or more precisely through the village of Silecroft. 
 
The beach at Kirksanton was a sandy-pebble mix exposed to the ocean and some penetrating winds. Out to the horizon, just below skipping clouds, stood dozens of slowly revolving wind turbines looking like tall steel sentinels in a military style formation. Just next to the car park sat a cluster of houses who were the first to greet the onshore winds and looked suitably weather-beaten, though still beautiful. Behind us were the gradually climbing slopes stretched out like a rich green canvas flecked with yellow dots of heather flowers. The hills at the tops of the slopes were lost in the thick curtain of cloud that refused to part.

Kirksanton Beach near Silecroft, Ellie slightly cold waiting to get started!

Kirksanton Beach near Silecroft, Ellie slightly cold waiting to get started!

Kirksanton had definitely not escaped the plastic tide, which had left its mark all along the strandline. Within 100 metres we found over 500 pieces of plastic. The drones and Ellie fought against the wind as exposed as the beach was, however, we think we should have some great images! 
 
Coca-Cola, Cadburys, Highland Springwater and brands in German and some labelled with Euros were among the detritus we found. All of these will outlive us on timescales so vast that they resemble geological rather than human.

Coke Bottles and fragments of them, found everywhere.

Coke Bottles and fragments of them, found everywhere.

Continental sweets on a Lake District beach, likley from beach goers.

Continental sweets on a Lake District beach, likley from beach goers.

Cadbury 'Fun Day' include littering beaches?

Cadbury 'Fun Day' include littering beaches?

A major question we have recently found ourselves asking is why the plastic tide is not recognised as a major environmental disaster in the way other events are. 

Considering the following aspects of plastic pollution: 

-          Widespread detritus
-          Toxic chemical make-up
-          Persistent in the environment
-          Kills marine life
-          Impacts livelihoods that rely on the sea (e.g commercial transport, recreational and fishing).
-          Chemical compounds that alter the behaviour and reproductive cycles of marine life.
-          Proven that humans consume it whenever they eat fish.

Why are these deposits not classed as chemical spills? By which the companies that make the products have just as much responsibility to ensure their packaging does not harm not only coastal environments but also roadsides and waterways?

If these deposits were oil there would be a national emergency declared, with hazard zones set up. But these plastics are easily as damaging as an oil spill (and are made from oil), and far further reaching. 

Is marine plastic and litter the gas leak in our home we have not smelt yet?  Ready to ignite at any moment destroying the home we live in, changing it forever?


 
Towards the end of our clean we found wet wipes that had dried and started to come apart, and it became clear just what they are made of; hundreds of thousands of plastic strands. They resembled tiny gill nets that could easily get tangled in small marine life, and yet are used once for seconds and then thrown away. 
 
Ellie found an interesting set of plastic ties from The Arctic Fish Processing Co.  A little research says the company is part of the Atlantic Dawn Unlimited Group based in Killybegs, near Donegal.  We've messaged Atlantic Dawn Unlimited, asking how these straps might have made it here and what their policy is on marine litter and plastics. No response yet, but we will keep this blog updated!

Interestingly, the Atlantic Dawn Group Environmental Policy claims the company use environmentally friendly refrigerants listing Ammonia as one of them.  We've asked Atlantic Dawn Group for clarification as Ammonia is a toxic and corrosive substance used in refrigeration and  can be explosive when used as a fertilizer.
 
Embedded in the exposed soil, we found layers of plastic that must have been present in the soil for some time for it to get buried so deep. This lead to Ellie and Pete discussing how future archaeologists will have to dig through a layer of plastic marking the 1950s to present - a period Ellie coined the “plastocene”.

Evidence of the 'plastocene'?

Evidence of the 'plastocene'?

Last but not least, we found Private Ryan, our plastic WWII toy soldier made in Hong Kong.

Saving Private Ryan - This GI looked a little forlorn without the rest of his platoon.

Saving Private Ryan - This GI looked a little forlorn without the rest of his platoon.

Summary of Results
So at the end of a very eventful 2nd day, we found approximately 500 items in 100 x 10 metre stretch , roughly consisting of

  • 60% Fishing lines and netting
  • 20% plastic fragments
  • 10% Bottle caps
  • 5%  Plastic balloons and balloon strings
  • 5%  Food wrappings, plastic bottles and other

 
And one giant bag of dog waste!