Day 11 Killiechronan - Poison in Paradise?

Sunday 16th April 2017

We awoke in warm beds in a fabulous cottage with fully charged equipment and bodies. The super friendly people at the Killiechronan Estate upgraded us in support of our work and their shared concern for the marine litter and plastics.

The wind had died down too, and apart from the odd spit and spot of rain, it was a great day to do some beach cleaning!  The Killiechronan cottages command a spectacular view overlooking Loch Na Keal, the site of our next clean.  The Estate sits at the head of the Loch surrounded by mountains with the tallest, the majestic Ben Moore, occasionally we spied his regal crown through the silky white clouds.

As the tide rolled back, it revealed extensive mudflats with a multitude of feeding birds and a pair of nesting Sea Eagles – add to this 3 horse riders galloping across the shallows and you have a cinematic scene of bueaty!

But sadly, even this remote corner of Scotland could not escape The Plastic Tide gathering on its shores.  

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For today's beach clean Janie and Cathy joined us again but with reinforcements in Marie Fox from Mull Adopt-a-beach, who are doing a great job coordinating beach cleans across Mull. You could not meet a nicer or more dedicated trio than Maria, Janie and Cathy.  Janie and Cathy had even joined us again from Oban, catching the ferry to Mull and back like the day before, it was a real privilege to have their help on both days and Marie's too.

Janie, Cathy and Marie at various stages of the beach clean jump at our hosts campsite.

Janie, Cathy and Marie at various stages of the beach clean jump at our hosts campsite.

As ever we were conscious of nesting birds and wildlife in the area, so after consulting with the Killiechronan Estate we ensured we chose a site that minimised the risk of disturbing the eagles, birds and other wildlife.  A few hours after the drone flight and during the beach clean, a Sea Eagle swooped in over our heads and plucked a fish from the silvery Loch, landing on the far beach.  It was so massive, it was plainly visible with the naked eye from nearly 1 km away - Pete, rather intelligently, remarked that it looked like a flying Godzilla!

Janie, Cathy and Marie with Janie's props for her classes!

Janie, Cathy and Marie with Janie's props for her classes!

On a small beach on the north shore of the Loch we did our beach clean, calling out what we found for Janie's Marine Conservation Society Survey (MCS).  Pete had already done a survey with a phone app called The Marine Debris Tracker, a far simpler and quicker method for surveying.  Although the MCS classification records the items picked up in far great detail it it takes a lot more time and can be complicated to complete.  There is a whole discussion to be had here, but this is a subject for another blog!

The majority of the items we found here were plastic netting, ropes, food wrappers and plastic fragments.  It begs the question, why is there nothing being done about the design of these items?

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During a routine clean at the back of the beach, Pete probably found the most potentially sinister item so far; a Formaldehyde Chemical Batch label!

The label was not attached to a container but the manufactorer, Monarch Chemicals, and the batch number were still plainly visible.  We contact Monarch Chemicals who promptly investigated and traced the batch to a product sold to a now an ex-customer in the area of the Isle of Mull in 2014. They confirmed it was sold only in small amounts and has not been sold since by them.

Monarch Chemicals immediately contacted the ex-customer to enquire how the label ended up on a beach in Killiechronan.  The ex-customer informed Monarch that they believe the label was lost during a de-labelling process whilst they were re-using the containers for another purpose and assured nothing had been spilled.

As such we were assured by Monarch Chemicals that they do not believe any chemicals were spilled and that their now ex-customer were a responsible company. 

It seems plausible that, based on the manufacturer's research, it is likely that the label simply blew away when removing the label and that there unlikely to have been a spill or dump.  We could find no evidence of a dump or spill and the locals did not know of any either.

This highlights the importance of taking great care of every aspect of the use of these kinds of chemicals.  It does remind us of what might happen if manufacturers and/or their customers are less responsible with their chemicals. 

Pete finds a lethally toxic Formaldehyde Chemical Batch Label!

Pete finds a lethally toxic Formaldehyde Chemical Batch Label!

We decided to take a break after a hard day's clean for some warm grub and a hot cuppa tea.  For this we needed go no further than the excellent and very conveniently located Loch Na Keal meals!  

The spectacular view from Loch Na Keal Meals.

The spectacular view from Loch Na Keal Meals.

Where Caroline cooked us up some delicious lentil soup with locally and sustainably sourced food and biodegradable food containers.   We really had found a community on the Isle of Mull where,  the environment and sustainability are core values in business and day to day life. Indeed, Caroline told us she could not bear the thought of her containers being found on the beaches, it made our meal extra refreshing and warming!

PS the burgers are amazing (and locally sourced) too!  Check out their facebook page here.

Cathy, Marie, Caroline, Ellie and Janie enjoying the amazing lentil soup and a well earned (sustainable) cuppa!

Cathy, Marie, Caroline, Ellie and Janie enjoying the amazing lentil soup and a well earned (sustainable) cuppa!

Summary of Results

Pete collected around 240 items Marine Debris Tracker app, the majority of these items were fishing nets, lines and ropes followed by plastic fragments and an unusually large amount of containers.

Janie is still busy collating the results of the Marine Conservation Society survey, check back here soon!