Sharing ideas – Ragged University Talk

On Thursday evening I embraced  the  ethos of the Ragged University’s talks: ‘to share ideas you are passionate about and to learn something new’ and I enjoyed illustrating my ‘News from the Littoral Zone’ at the Counting House in Edinburgh. The evening also included a mind stretching talk by  Susan Brown from Manchester University on Sustainable Education and allowed the audience and myself to join in with the current thinking on educational approaches to ecologically aware education

The audience was wonderfully  attentive and I was happy to illustrate my research process of exploring the littoral Zones on the NW coast of Scotland  through images taken over the past 2 years  that I have  shared in this blog.  These included my initial shocking strand-line walks, learning survey methods, related hazards and the longevity of respective materials found, plus my trials to creatively share my findings with local community members. Take a look back through the posts.

I began by passing around  evidence bags  of litter items collected over the past two years from 18 beaches and exhibited during my residency at An Talla Solais, Ullapool’s Arts Centre during my residency in 2013 and then shown as part of my installation at Ullapool Museum in 2014.

evidence bags 1

I then shared my thoughts on how I am now honing down my research  findings to be able to focus on specific findings that are the most poignant to me and that inspire me to make strong vital imagery.  Item wise I am now looking in more depth at 3 of the less easily seen litter items found.

Gun Wads: plastic wadding to keep the ammunition in place   either in a gun-barrel or in a paper or metal shell.


180 plastic wads were collected last autumn on beaches  around Reiff on the Coigach peninsula by committed local beach cleaners concerned  by the fact that these  ‘wads’ have been found to significantly contribute to the death of porpoises, dolphins and turtles.Which is understandable when you view the gun wads floating in the sea as they are so similar to squid. Ecowad alternatives are available.

gun cartridges our contribrition to the ocean conveyor belt

Last week on Shetland I witnessed plastic gun wads on every beach I visited, as there is no known shooting activity on the islands, the Shetland Amenity Trust ‘Dunna Chuck Bruck’ team that I was working with thought it probable that they originated from the from the same place that the lobster tags washed up traced back to Canada’s east coast.   If we follow the conveyor belt of the ocean currents  round it is therefore likely that the  gun wads dropped on Scotland’s NW coast will be ending up on along the eastern Seaboard of America at some point.

Micro-fibres: degrading particles of plastic litter  e.g. rope, bags sacks, cord


Even on the cleanest looking beaches, where no obvious  litter items are seen,  I have  found micro-fibres laced within sand grains or caught up in/on the seaweed. On mass the fibres are easily visible but when not visible they can be seen easily amongst collected sand grains or seaweed with a hand lens or USB magnifier.   Marine Biologist Dr Phillip Cowie at Millport Field Study Centre explained filter feeding organisms  such as Prawns, flat fish and even sand hoppers are being recorded with such fibres in their guts.

Plastic rocks: melted plastic waste, formed by burning plastic litter on the beaches


Plastic rocks are perhaps one of the hardest litter items to ‘see’  as the process of burning so many different coloured plastic materials together, often results in  range of grey muted tones which blend in easily with the beach pebbles . I have recorded most of these ‘rocks’ in the mid zones of the beach as they are one of the densest of the plastic items and are less prone to being wind blown.

As I explained in my last post  the melted plastic rock  has now been named  ‘plastiglomerate’ by a Canadian research team and their research findings have led them to argue that the proliferation of the plastic rocks around the world can be seen as a marker horizon of human pollution.

Plastic Rock

I explained that I felt that this broad project knowledge was vital to gain before I could begin to envisage the series of  visual and performance artworks that I am now planning. I am presently working with Shetland Amenity Trust and Highland Arts organisations to raise funding to make the Littoral Art Exhibition possible in the coming year.  I intend to make installations and related stop frame animations focusing/using plastigomerate’s and the micro-fibres that I find practically on every beach I investigate.

Many thanks to Alex Dunedin who organises the Ragged University Talks, and to Susan Brown who through her fascinating talk on Sustainable Education has enabled to me see how my practice fits well in the Sustainable Education models currently being discussed and developed.



Exploring ideas in Shetland 2

16.5.15  I headed northwest on Shetlands mainland to observe a small part of  Shetlands  incredibly complex geological landscape.  Rocks found on these Isles span  3 billion years covering every era from the Precambrian to the Carboniferous and is the reason why Shetland is one of the three GeoParks in Scotland .  The most dramatic of these landscapes must be seen at Eshaness point (below) where the volcanic landscape which stretches out into the Atlantic .

Esha Ness

The  banded cliffs are the result of repeated lava flows from the nearby Eshaness volcano active 350 million years ago. The cliffs and the information they hold about past time periods have made me reflect again on what will ‘mark’ our time on this planet.  Instantly what comes to mind is the plastic ‘rocks’ I first noticed and collected on Isle May a year ago and have picked up on beaches here on Burwick beach during our big beach clean and today  on Breawick  beach (below) near  Stenness.


For obvious reasons this is one of the most un-seen forms of beach litter, the melted plastic is often in muted tones and can  through time can be rounded like stone into pebble-like forms almost indistinguishable from the stones around them. Its rare that I find a beach now without these plastic ‘rocks’

I use the word ‘rock’ ironically but at the same time that I was collecting samples of this form of beach litter on  Isle Martin’s Back Beach I became aware of the work of a team of scientist’s led by Patricia L Corcoran  ( full credits below) who made similar observations on Kamilo Beach on the island of Hawaii in 2013 went on to name melted plastic rocks  ‘plastiglomerate’ . Their research findings and  extrapolation bares chilling reading especially as they go on to argue that the proliferation of this plastic rocks around the world can be seen as a marker horizon of human pollution .  The plastic rocks having been formed by our actions which have produced the plastic litter that is washed up and dropped in vast quantities around the world and is then burned .

Burn Beach 1 Burn beach sign Burn beach melted rope
Communities close to remote beaches be they in Hawaii or here in Scotland when faced with ever increasing mounds of plastic waste often try and reduce the litter by burning it. Its an understandable reaction especially on beaches like these. But the process of burning the plastic on the beaches  releases chemicals such as carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and dioxins which can cause neurological symptoms, cancer, and hormonal disruptions in humans. The creation of this new metamorphic  ‘rock’ layer is a sad addition to our shores , Geoparks and planet.

Scall air

As I head back to the Scottish mainland today I take with me new thoughts and understandings from what I have witnessed on the beaches in Shetlands Geopark and on the beaches with enthusiastic children. My week in Shetland has been a powerful experience meeting enthusiastic people in many organisations across Shetland – interested in the potential of a joint  project that the Shetland Amenity Trust team and I are working to raise funding to make happen.

Research ref: An Anthropogenic marker horizon in the future rock record

Patricia L Cocoran, Dept of Earth Sciences, University of Western Ontario Canada . Charles J Moore Algalita Marine Research Institute California USA Kelly Jazac Dept Visual Arts, Ontario Canada


Exploring ideas in the Shetland Isles (1)

13.5.15: Arrived Sumburgh Airport

Plastic toy plane found on Shetland beach last week

I flew to the Shetland Isles to explore ideas in person with Sita Goudie of the Shetland Amenity Trust to  discuss ideas of creatively working together  to  deliver a Shetland Littoral Art Project  in the future. I was met by Jane Outram the Trust’s Environmental Awareness Officer who within the first hour introduced me to Angela Hunt manager of Sumburgh Head and gave me a fascinating tour of this  fantastic heritage centre with working ligthouse, bird reserve and arts venue.
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Sumburgh Head Lighthouse has played many important roles saving mariners lives  and through out the war with its temporary radar station.

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The Lighthouse  seemed a pertinent start to our discussions together as we walked passed a chute in the wall down which waste used to be dropped into the sea and then examined a metre high bone from a sperm whale’s head which had washed up nearby tangled in fishing nets. Some patterns of behavior have changed dropping waste directly from lighthouses is illegal in most countries, but its estimated that we dump 6.4 million tonnes of litter into the sea every year.

15.5.15  I was able to join  77 pupil plus teachers from the Scalloway  Primary School for the last 2015 Da Voar Redd Up (Spring Clean up) event organised by the Shetland Amenity Trust (SAT). The S.A.T  have managed to encourage more and more of the communities around Shetland to join in with collecting litter from beaches, roadsides cliff tops all events are catalogued on the Dunna Chuck Bruck Facebook page

Friday’s task was to clean Burwick beach a mile NW from the school. This is the third year that the school as risen to the task and spirits were high as 5-12year old children walked over the hill and down to the beach.

Burwick beach  MS before 2

The beach I took in was as bad as the beach that started me off on this Littoral Journey in 2012

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For me the mounds of  broken down rope fibres 1/2 m deep that almost created a plastic raised beach at the top of the littoral zone was painful to see.  As I  scooped and pulled at the matted fibres to bag it up. I was thinking that this is where rolls of seaweed should have been lying, thoughts especially coupled with the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of organisms will have ingested such fibres the effects of which are still to be understood.


Burwick beach  WS before   DSCF9530

In total 254 bags of litter were filled and removed from the beach, while  there was still much left to do a significant difference was made.  Well done to everyone who took place especially the youngest members of the team. Millions of reasons to work together to devise creative ideas to help to change our behavior which presently allows this to happen.

Exciting Schedule May-June 2015


Appeal Update: Over £1,000 has been pledged towards producing the ‘Guide to Beach Litter’ this will  pay for photographing found litter items, researching and writing the text, plus the design and print costs. If you pledged or would like to donate please send donations via PayPal

May 13th:  Shetland Visit 2015  I fly to Shetland to to meet the Shetland Amenity Trust whose work addressing marine and beach litter is second to none in the UK.  They have been working to keep beaches clean for over 19 years and annually lead the Da Voar Redd Up litter clean-ups across the islands which last last year involved over 7,000 volunteers. I am looking forward to joining the last day of the Redd Up in Scalloway on Burwick

Shetland_UK_location_map with position

I will be visiting  a selection of beaches,  schools and key organisations to explore the idea of collaborating with the Shetland Amenity Trust to deliver the Littoral sci-art project across the Islands over the next two years.

May 28th: Edinburgh Talk  I will be giving an illustrated talk  ‘News from the Littoral Zone’ which is my account of my processes, findings and ideas on the Littoral Art Project as part of the Ragged University series of talks at the Counting House, Nicholson Street, EH8. My talk will be followed by Susan Brown talking about Sustainability for Education. This is a free event, no booking necessary, all welcome 7pm


June 5th: World Environment Day Event   Littoral Sci-Art Lab installation/performance location to be announced.





casting votes for beaches 1

Over the last few weeks I have carefully cast my marks within the ‘littoral zones’ of our coastline.Marks  writ large on Luce Bay (Dumfries) with lines of washed up plastic gun wads threaded together

casting votes for beaches 2

Bold marks made with washed up sections of plastic prawn boxes

mixed col X white X Purplr & white X

Blue X red X green X

Small marks on Portobello beach using beach-goers litter, spoons, pens, cotton bud sticks , plastic stirrers plus commercial fishing tags and cord. These marks are addressed to all the party’s regardless of their colour.

Please cast your vote for the marine environment and the arts today @LittoralArt #cleanseas #cleanbeaches    Check out what the Littoral Art Project is doing, send me your comments, press the follow button on this page and consider supporting funding the work of this project.

Above all vote for a cleaner and creative world!

Beach style campaign

My  campaign trip to the Dumfries coastline  to raise last minute support for the ‘Guide to Beach Litter’ developed into an exciting days work on Luce Bay Beach. The bay is vast and the beach extensive and has a great mix of sand, shingle and rocks. Perfect for anyone’s bank holiday.  Thankfully the day was bright and sunny though the brisk very cold winds kept all but the hardy seaside visitors away.

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I set the van up as a Sci-Art beach investigation unit alongside the beach, highlighting a selection of my findings so far  and open to all  beach goers. Discussions with intrigued visitors ranged widely from beach litter, to concern about the increasing acid levels in the sea and to fears of over fishing. On the beach I began mocking up a ‘Guide to Beach Litter’ using the litter I collected from along the strandline. The process of laying out the litter made me realise how complex the decisions to decide what to include in the Guide will be, in order to highlight the different : materials ,  hazards, and groups of people responsible for the litter.

DSCF9316 DSCF9383  particles in petridish
The item that drew most attention was in fact the collection of minute  fragments of mixed platic pieces and fibres that are found in the sand and amongst the seaweed.  I explained that these fibres and micro plastic particles are now being ingested by fish and marine organisms. The conversations reminded me of my dismay at being told by marine biologist Dr Philip Cowie  that organisms as small as sandhoppers had been found to ingest micro-plastic fibres.  As I had the ‘lab’ all set up I placed a (found) dead sand- hopper under the microscope and placed fibres beneath it to explore the visual connection. An idea I intend to pursue.

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I was asked what I was filming as I shook a glass flaskcontain in front of the camera.  I explained that I was experimenting with the idea of how it would feel to be in the sea surrounded by plastic particles rather than plankton.

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Flask contents : water , plastic particles and fibres plus architectural model  figure.

 ‘Well you have opened my eyes  with that, I never realised that’s what happens’                                     Alan local man

Yours is a great project and is doing a great job to make us aware of our environment. When you think about it the way we live has to change! ‘ Hugh from Whithorn

To celebrate these  encouraging comments in the Littoral Art Project’s work,  I spent the evening translating their verbal votes of confidence into visual votes on the beach.  As the tide receding I marked out  two X’s  using ‘litter lines’ made of prawn boxes and gun wads stitched together on Isle Martin last May.   One for #cleanseas and the other for #cleanbeaches


A full compliment of X’s will follow soon with the appeal and sponsorship update. Many thanks to everyone who pledged support, together there has been over £1,000 pledged. I am presently setting up a  [donate] button on the blog and I hope everyone will be happy to donate their pledges via this PayPal system instead of via kickstarter. Thank you!


Campaign Trail…..heads west

Campaign trip 2draft

The count down to the close of my kickstarter appeal to fund the production of  a ‘Guide to Beach Litter’ is fast approaching  4thMay (11pm BST )

Responding to a backers comment that  ‘ I think your project is important and really interesting. We were down in Dumfries and Galloway recently after very high tides and there was mounds debris on the beach’ I have decided to take the project  van out to investigate and campaign  this weekend May 3-4th on the beaches of  Dumries & Galloway beaches.

This is an area of the coastline I don’t know well so please contact me by leaving a comment below/ or email  me with  specific suggestions beaches to  visit – I do need to be able to park the van close by so I can invite people to join me to  identify beach litter items and to make a large identification chart on the beach and to discuss the dangers they pose to wildlife , us and the wider environment.

I will encourage  visitors to  use Littoral Sci-Art Unit microscope, lenses and to carry out simple experiments and to share their observations cast their vote for Cleaner Seas and make a pledge to help the production of the ‘Guide to Beach Litter’

Please join in this campaign and send in comments photos from your beaches to me at

Take a look at the Appeal