Day 4 - Gwithian, a golden hope.

Tuesday 4th April 2017

The day started with a grey and foreboding sky. The wind had picked up and now brought with it a cold, dank drizzle. It didn't seem a like a good day for a beach clean, let alone for a drone survey or flight. However, the promise of fairer weather later in the day drove us on to our survey for today at Gwithian Beach.

Approaching Gwithian beach, all we could see was the high, white, angular roof of the Rockpool cafe with Godrevy point behind a sea of frozen sand dunes. Eager to start our survey, we crested the dunes just as the first rays of sunlight were breaking through the ashen sky. In front of us was a vast gold sandy expanse that stretched for half a kilometre north and south. To the north was Godrevy Point, a rocky headland marching into the sea and ending with an abrupt cliff.  Across a small gap was Godrevy Lighthouse, a white tower keeping watch over the now calming seas.   

We started our walk southward along the sands, with lines of gold racing along our path as the sun burst through breaks in the monotonous grey. The tide to our right had started its retreat back towards the deep, leaving behind the plastifc tide that never recedes.  

We set up at the southern end of the beach with Ellie setting up for the survey, and met Jill Stott from Clean Cornwall. Jill is a true Ocean Guardian. Having worked for 20 years in the area she has a wealth of knowledge on local efforts to kerb marine litter. One of the surprising issues she did highlight, although not the first time we’ve heard it, was that a lot of local organisations compete with each other for increasingly rarer funding. The concern we all shared is how detrimental the impact of this is for the coordinated effort that is so badly needed.

The wind had not died down by the time we had the drones in the air, so Ellie was flying towards the upper reaches of the safety envelope. She had to tilt the survey drone almost fully into the wind to compensate and keep steady as she flew the tracks accurately. But it was a successful survey as Ellie managed to capture the small fragments of plastic at a high enough resolution for our online tagging platform.

Our DJI Phantom 4 survey drone fighting a strong headwind.  

Our DJI Phantom 4 survey drone fighting a strong headwind.  

The very friendly staff at Rockpool Cafe sent volunteers to us and that is when we met the lovely beach cleaning gang for the day - Malcolm, grandson Archie,  Bonnie, ‘Dog’ and their mum, Tamsin.  

We also met a champion longboarder and lifeguard, Josh, who immediately saw the value in our work and told us of the surf spots around the world where our technology and effort are so badly needed.  We had barely arrived on the beach and we felt so lucky and privileged to meet so many people.

Ellie speaking to Josh, a champion longboarder!

Ellie speaking to Josh, a champion longboarder!

The sun had now broken free of cloud and drenched the beach in golden light as we started the clean. Bonnie, at 8 years old, told us how she wanted to clean because ‘I love the environment and don't want dogs eating plastic’; her mum, Tamsin, explaining that she knew of a dog that had died from eating plastic from the beach.

Bonnie our Ocean Guardian, Tamsin (mum) and 'Dog' - thanks guys!

Bonnie our Ocean Guardian, Tamsin (mum) and 'Dog' - thanks guys!

Archie, only 8 years old, is somebody we'll not forget. A true Ocean Hero of tomorrow.  He had an infectious enthusiasm for beach cleaning that we'd never seen before. We heard from Jill how he’d told many of his friends at school about the issue, who never knew it existed. We found so much dog poo in bags he postulated that this was in fact because of ‘Bag-o-tron’ a giant plastic bag that ate litter and spat out bags of dog poo.  A real menace to our beaches!

Archie, our proud Ocean Guardian, in front of his catch before he arrived for the clean!

Archie, our proud Ocean Guardian, in front of his catch before he arrived for the clean!

It is children like Bonnie and Archie who offer hope for our collective futures. Our ‘Vision for the Future’ acknowledges the importance of educating our children about the dangers of plastics and their potential solutions today, to equip them for a future where plastic litter is likely to be one of the greatest issues faced by mankind.  

Thanks to everyone who came down and helped us clean the beach on what was a hugely fun and inspiring day.  

The whole beach cleaning gang with the day's haul ~400 pieces at 7kg, jumping for joy of finishing a hard clean

The whole beach cleaning gang with the day's haul ~400 pieces at 7kg, jumping for joy of finishing a hard clean

Initial statistics for Gwithian showed that of the ~400 pieces or 7kg collected, 50% were plastic fragments, 40% fishing lines and nets and 10% plastic bottles and containers.

A lethal ball of netting, 'ghost' nets like these cause untold damage marine wildlife.

A lethal ball of netting, 'ghost' nets like these cause untold damage marine wildlife.

Gwithian did have a much higher concentration of dog waste than any other beach. Jill Stott, from Clean Cornwall, believes that this is likely because it is a very popular beach with dog walkers and some of whom irresponsibly stash the bags in rabbit holes or just leave them on the beach. From what Ellie and Pete could gather, the reason for the lack of large plastic pieces is due to previous beach cleans and the abscense of a steady onshore wind and storms.

Find out more here:  www.ThePlasticTide.com

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