Day 3 - Hemmick, The Hidden Treasure
Monday 3rd April 2017
We wound our way through a labyrinth of green-walled country lanes on our search for Hemmick Beach. From the green maze we emerged finally with a splash through a brook at the foot of the hill, parking in a tiny sandy car park tucked between the two cliffs. Climbing out of ‘Lucy’, Ellie’s trusted 4x4 Suzuki, we were met by a stunning vista; a beach overlooked by a high cliff and cut by jagged rocky outcrops that advanced and retreated along the beach away into the distance. As we stepped on to the beach, the smell of fresh wet seaweed and the sound of an angry surf met us on the back of a rather stiff breeze. The glorious sunshine of the last few days had been replaced by leaden skies and a biting breeze.
Inspecting how badly Hemmick Beach had been ravaged by the plastic tide, we were not expecting much litter as the National Trust had cleaned there just 3 days earlier. Initially, it seemed our work was done as it appeared to be the cleanest beach we’d surveyed so far, or so we thought. In a now depressingly familiar pattern, closer inspection would reveal much more than we’d first seen. Tiny fragments of all shapes and sizes but mainly the all-too-familiar plastic water bottle - the bane of UK beaches. There were so many pieces that at one point, instead of the soft squelch of seaweed we heard crunching underfoot; digging down revealed a pile of plastic. Could this be our future? Beaches where the familiar feeling of warm sand between our toes is replaced by a crunch of plastics? Sadly this is a reality on many beaches around the globe, with many beaches already far worse than this.
Regardless, the pieces of the plastic here were too small for our drones to detect with our standard survey height of 10m - the minimum allowed on our Pix4D Capture app. So we had to come up with another plan: Ellie taking manual control, reducing the altitude to 3m and maintaining altitude by eye, and then ‘walking’ the drone over the same area to capture much more detailed images for our online community to tag on the 26th. This type of flying is extremely tough and requires a great deal of concentration, focus and skill. With Ellie already doing the driving, filming and project managing it adds another big task to her daily schedule - however the quality of images gained will all be worth it if it helps more people to engage with our data on Zooniverse.
After the survey we headed back to prepare for the beach clean, and met Robert, (another) Robert and Carolyn enjoying a cup of tea in the warm shelter of their car. Without even a second thought they all volunteered their services for the beach clean. Giving up the next 2 hours happily, along with Richard and Laura who also saw us and wanted to join in, they were a huge help in collecting what initially seemed to be only a few pieces. However after 2 hours we’d collected at least 1,000 pieces, totalling 9.4kg, of tiny fragments of bottles, fishing line and polystyrene.
Amazingly this was after Robert #1 had said, before the clean, it had been the cleanest he’d seen the beach in 60 years. He too was shocked to see how many tiny pieces were strewn amongst the seaweed once they started looking. But we all could agree afterwards, that now it definitely was the cleanest he’d seen it in 60 years. We can think of few other things to be more proud of than that.
Interestingly, Robert said decades ago he used to find tar balls the size of footballs on the beaches, from ships dumping off the coasts. Now there are none after it was banned. Perhaps then there is hope yet for plastics as well?
Initial statistics for Hemmick showed that of the ~1,000 pieces collected, 70% were bottle fragments, 20% fishing lines and nets and 10% other plastic fragments.
Hemmick had an abnormal amount of fabric pieces (polyester cloth rags, nylon strips, neoprene chunks), more so than any other beach to date. It had just as abundant a number of plastic bottle fragments as Soar Mill Cove, whilst Ringstead had next to none - these are the patterns and anomalies we hope we will one day be able to answer, with the use of our data and the combined expertise of local beach-goers and marine science researchers.
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