Project base

Arrived in Ullapool to a wild shoreline . This week sees some of the highest tides of the year which is very exciting and means a bigger area to scour between the tide lines. Good news for the surveying with Ullapool High School pupils on Wednesday.

Ullapool harbour

I had my first meeting with people who are involved with existing beach cleaning in the area.  Debbie the local SYHA manager has  undertaken many along the shoreline of the harbour, she also told me about many initiatives they undertake in the hostel to encourage backpackers to  recycle and  bin used materials and how Ullapool has signed up to the Keep Scotland Beautiful campaign ‘Cottoned On’ which aims to reduce plastic bag usage.

Surprisingly my first  walk on the harbour strand line presented me with a bunch of flowers! Sadly  on my next foray onto the beach approximately 2 km north close to the mouth of the Ullapool River, the first few  metres of seaweed held  a pair of sun glasses, rope and a section of a corrugated box all made from plastic… was most of the objects noted along my 100m walk. The first of many  to be recorded.

flowers on the HTL   corrugated box section   sun glasses   an talla solais  sign

I leave my  studio tonight  happy, feeling well supported by everyone  at An Talla Solais. It is a fantastic resource for a community to have and gives a warm welcome to both visitor and artist.

Heading north

Crossed the firth of Forth in high winds and low visibility , thankfully the car is packed with so many materials and boxes of equipment that the cross winds had little effect , reached the shore of Faskally loch in sunlight and was lucky to see a kingfisher dart along the bank.

heading north

Reached my new temporary home on the banks of the River Broom  listening to the Fishing News ‘warning gales in all areas’. Looking forward to seeing the Loch Broom  beaches tomorrow.

littoral: tutorial

Arriving on the Isle of Cumbrae  early on Thursday morning at low tide I was able to watch the terns and oyster catchers rigorously working the tide lines for food. A perfect start to my day  dedicated to  focusing  on techniques to help me get to know what’s happening in the littoral zone around our coast.

My   eagerly awaited tutorial with marine Biologist Dr Phillip Cowie at  UMBSM ( the University Marine Biology Station on the Isle of Cumbrae  Millport) covered top tips on simple best practice microscopy, advantages of certain microscopes, effects of different light sources and ways of taking photographs through the microscope using a digital camera

  microscope techniques

Equipment and methods required for separating out different man-made particulates collected. As most low to medium density plastics float separation is easy and effective through immersing in trays of water and picking them out with tweezers to examine. Butchers dishes , tweezers……

 basic equipment needed

The range of plastics in one small sample from the strand line near the station at the mouth of the Clyde is huge  the cheaper end of the market using Polyethelene  eg household string, plastic bags (right hand rope).

material difference between ropes

Stronger products such as load baring ropes and clothes are made from Polypropalene this form of plastic being manufactured from individual fibres (left hand rope), the strands of which are at the centre of the stations research, filaments are now being recorded in a host of marine organisms including fish, crustaceans such as the Nephrops (pictured here) and most disturbingly in organisms as small as sand-hoppers.


 As sand-hoppers are food for so many birds feeding on our beaches I hope in someway to highlight this fact in my work . We then discussed the ways of capturing and keeping sand-hoppers alive in tanks for a display illuminating the issue of ingestion of fibres and the existence of plastic in the food chain. Dr Cowie pointed out that it’s difficult to be able to extrapolate and project the significance of their findings without continued and wider research into feeding habits of fish and other marine organisms.

Unfortunately this though will not now be continuing on at the station.

P.S By the end of the day I had been able to work on microscope techniques, build up my knowledge regards  identification of different types of plastics and the possible sources/origins of them. I was able to discuss the implications of the different            materials to marine organisms and  broaden my understanding of the proposedresponses to managing beach litter.The Station was an appropriate place for me to build  my marine education essential  for my littoral project as it was founded in 1885 on the ‘Ark’ a boat fitted out as a laboratory and  run by the islands naturalist Dr D Robertson and was visited by distinguished scientists  and inspired hundreds of amateur naturalists like myself.

I would like to thank Dr Cowie for his enthusiastic support for my project, wish him and the research team luck and success in carrying their research on in the future and to encourage  anyone who has the opportunity to visit the station.

littoral: beginnings

This blog is my way of recording the ideas, process and outcomes of my art-science project littoral, in which I will be examining and mapping beach litter with students and volunteers in coastal communities.  I welcome everyone who reads the blog to comment on what is posted adding their own experiences of beach litter and beaches to investigate in future with the hope that everyone who becomes involved will send images and information to add to the site.

littoral.sci-art project

The aim of the littoral project is to increase litter awareness and highlight its impact on the coastal and inland marine environment. The project title comes from littoral zone, the area between the low and high tide water marks this is where I will be looking for litter.

I will be mapping my findings and making artworks that encourage us to think about the issues and encourage people to help clean and take care of our marine environment.

“This project is my response to my fear of drowning in litter which I am increasingly experiencing when visiting beaches around our coast. High-tide lines are often marked not by seaweed but by a tangle of man-made materials dropped or washed up. Even on beaches which look clean, if you look closely between the stones or grains of sand we find cigarette ends, plastic pellets and fibres”.