Day 12 Stoer - Motherload, The 1 tonne beach.

Thursday 27th April 2017 was going to be a BIG day...

Phase III kicked off with a 13 hour journey on a ScotRail Caledonian Sleeper from London to Inverness, followed by a 3 hour drive.  But Staff at ScotRail made the journey an absolute pleasure, going out of their to ensure us and other passengers were fully catered for and comfortable.  Without their extra care it would have made the journey just that little bit more tiring - a BIG thank you to ScotRail!

In particular, with Ellie, for whom the extra sleep the journey afforded was priceless after speaking at the LA Times festival during our fund raising break, she caught an 11-hour flight and 8 hour time difference arriving in London at 4 pm.  After 2 hours she hopped straight onto the ScotRail train with Peter at 9 pm.  After the train journey, it was straight into a 3-hour drive followed by 2 ½ hour drive to our accommodation.  An EPIC day!

Little did we know that for what we were about to witness at Stoer Beach the little extra rest afforded by taking a Caledoniam sleeper was going to be doubly important!

Misty, snow capped mountains of the Highlands.

Misty, snow capped mountains of the Highlands.

We descended from the snow-capped Highlands, through grey-walled canyons topped with heather toupees, to emerge at Stoer.  We knew we'd arrived because of the solitary graveyard, walled off to the world but for a glimpse through the gate revealing immaculately kept tombstones in neat rows.  

The beach, on the contrary, was an open tomb of plastic, litter and animal carcases. By far the worst so far, it had every size of object, but overwhelmingly from the fishing industry.  In addition to this horrific mass of man’s lethal effluent, there was the gruesome spectre of rotting sheep and bird carcases strewn around the beach.  We took on the unenviable task of dissecting the birds in an attempt to see if we could find any plastics in their stomach, fortunately, we found none.

A graveyard of litter

A graveyard of litter

Pete preparing the survey drone (Courtesy David Haines)

Pete preparing the survey drone (Courtesy David Haines)

We met David and wife Avril after we arrived, they told us the beaches are only cleaned once every August and that can get very bad.  Bill Smith then turned up with a trailer, which when Pete heard had been organised thought we might not fill it, this was before he saw the beach.  Within 40mins we had almost filled it!  Even with 8 of us on the beach, we barely scratched the surface and yet gathered an estimated 3/4 - 1 Tonne.

Ellie and Pete starting the drone Survey (Courtesy David Haines)

Ellie and Pete starting the drone Survey (Courtesy David Haines)

Bill later told us that he had been cleaning this beach stretch for 40 years!  And ontop of that disappears to Svalbard to clean beaches with and host tours with Oceanwide Expeditions, which also take him to Antarctica! 

Bill Smith and a picture of him in 1979 with a similar trailer load of litter on a beach clean at Stoer Beach .

Bill Smith and a picture of him in 1979 with a similar trailer load of litter on a beach clean at Stoer Beach .

We had not that we'd get much more, but Louise and daughter Lacey turned up and bolstered our numbers, bagging us an extra 3 bags of litter!

Louise on far left and daughter Lacey far right with David and wife Avril centre

Louise on far left and daughter Lacey far right with David and wife Avril centre

The beach had a large pebble steep bank that drops about 3 metres to a flat sandy expanse, sandwiched between rocky headlands.  Bill and David said the whole beach gets remodeled each winter and can be completely different from year to year, for example barely a year ago there was no sand on the beach at all.  There has been little scientific research into what happens to plastics after they are deposited on beaches, although the general consensus is that they are only temporary stores – precisely because of this sort of beach remodeling activity.  Although, recent studies suggest this may need to be reviewed as evidence shows plastics, especially micro-plastics, can accumulate deeper where storms and/or beach remodeling has little impact or reach.

The Plastic Tide line littered with plastic and rubbish, the sandy area is visible at the top of the picture.

The Plastic Tide line littered with plastic and rubbish, the sandy area is visible at the top of the picture.

All our beach cleaners were from the local area and all said the vast majority of litter found was that of the fishing industry – indeed this is overwhelmingly what we found.  Not only on Stoer, but every beach we’ve been to the largest or at least top 3 litter item by number is discarded or lost fishing line, nets or ropes.

So why don’t we put pressure on the Fishing Industry to reduce plastics use?

This is a subject is a divisive issue between activists and fisherman, and in our opinion, generates rather unhelpful friction. Activists usually insist on change with little knowledge of the demands of fishing industry who have to make a living from their trade, for example, plastic as a durable and cheap material is ideal for of choice for fishing gear.

However, this is a subject for an entire blog!

Summary of results

Pete posing infront of the days haul.

Pete posing infront of the days haul.

Bill's trailer fully loaded!

Bill's trailer fully loaded!

Name and shame of brands!  Including Pot Noodles - every beach there is at least one!

Name and shame of brands!  Including Pot Noodles - every beach there is at least one!

The Showa fisherman's glove.  These were depressingly common on Scottish Beaches.

The Showa fisherman's glove.  These were depressingly common on Scottish Beaches.

Weight: ~3/4 - 1 Tonne

A sample of a 100m stretch of beach captured using the Marine Debris Tracker app breaks down as such:

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