Follow up reports

Over the lunchtime breaks at the High School interested pupils from years 1 &  2  have been joining me to catalogue the evidence that the year 3 pupils collected with me on the beaches around Ullapool. The survey information has been summarised on the evidence sheets for each 10m section along the 100m Morefield Beach survey transect and samples  have been photographed.

checking the bags    cigarette lighter  crime scene board  6 morefield   making notes on the crime scene board  quadrat evidence  IMG_0502

More detailed quadrat information collected along the West Shore beach provides a very different picture as to what has been found and who might be responsible.

Passersby to the Incident board in the foyer of the school are now offering up suggestions as to the origins of the litter.

Sunday 22nd Sept: If only

On a day when thousands of people around the UK are recording the litter dropped, washed up, dumped on the beaches as part of the MCS Big Beach Watch, I set off on my 100m walk along the strandline of Achnahaird Bay  a beach which is so clean and beautiful that I thought I had walked into a Natural Scotland advertisement, white sand  blue water . Walking a hundred metres of  the along the western edge of the  high tide line  thick with a fabulous cocktail of seaweed, I only find one piece of litter an aluminium can!  I begin to punch the air and  marvel at how clean the beach is. Thinking of all the rubbish  I have collected since arriving in Wester-Ross.

 

Walking back across the beach and upwards through the rocks forming the strandline   I notice the westerly high tide line of thick matted seaweed and notice three plastic bottles , a tennis, ball , a rubber boat defender …..I reach for my notebook to jot down another 100m of strandline.  Perhaps Achnahaird is not quite spotless but it is the cleanest beach I have seen in over a year.  Which fills me with hope and a great sense of if only feelings!  

Checking out the MCS feedback on the Big Beach Watch weekend   I see that more countries have now joined in on this world wide monitoring that takes place on the 3rd weekend every year. It’s unfortunate that that weekend is a festival weekend here in Ullapool hence difficult organise volunteers for a beach cleaning event. Recording what’s happening on our beaches is so important that  I am planning to  set up a beach survey and clean on the North East Beach  just past Ullapool sailing club next week. Posters will be going up on lamp posts and here. Everyone will be welcome.

‘That stuff never vanishes’

On Thursday  I caught up with Dougie MacCrimmond the official beach cleaner in Ullapool, who has been cleaning the beaches for the last six years, we walked and talked while  picking up pieces of  litter  along the western stretch of the beach.

 Dougie 1 Dougie 2 Dougie3

Dougie is employed by the Harbour Trust like his predecessor before him. As we walked I made my usual list of  litter objects  found each day while walking approximately 100m of the strand line along the beaches in and around Ullapool. I hope this catalogue of lists will  help me map the distribution of different  types of litter and its sources, some being more obvious than others .

As Dougie cleans the beach between three and four times a week.  This  explains why  the amount of litter seen on the beaches is relatively low compared to other coast towns and you only see the odd bottle, can or lump of polystyrene. He  tells me how the amount of rubbish depends on the wind & tides and when there has been a big storm he will come and do an extra days cleaning.  I must ask him next week whether the amount he collects is also influenced by the number of tourists in the town.

We discussed how  the smaller particles get caught and lodged between the rocks.  We talk about how overwhelming the amount of plastic on the beaches has become in the last 20 years and Dougie  adds ‘That Stuff never vanishes’.

Dougie portrait Dougie 4 litter in bag

We mused on the how to counter responses from people when we approach them about leaving litter.  Responses we have heard include’ The most usual response being ‘I am keeping you in a job’ or ‘I’m  keeping the council workers in a job !  Neither of us could come up with what words could persuade them to take their rubbish away and put it in a bin.  Any  ideas?

As we walked off the beach talking about  the issue of the day following a very wet and wild week  i.e the outlook for the afternoon  Dougie  told me ‘We say sometimes the  rain never forgets to go here’ ,  but as  I walked away the rain did stop but unfortunately  I could see another piece of plastic I had missed. By the end of our short walk he reckoned he had collected about 56lbs of rubbish in his bag , several hundred pieces of rubbish.

Collecting evidence

Yesterday September 18th,  I spent the day with 14  year 3 pupils from Ullapool High School who are studying art, biology and environmental sciences.  A perfect group for a  truly cross curricular project as littoral .  After a brief introduction to the project  we spent the morning reflecting on how clean they  considered the beaches near to where they live are and what they commonly find washed up on.  We went on to share thoughts about what the dangers and consequences  are  for wildlife and ourselves and the economy.  A huge amount to grapple with in a short time.

Having a brief overview we headed out to  examine three  beaches around Ullapool .  Morefield beach just below the golf course west of the Ullapool River , the harbour beach west of the pier and West Shore beach near to the sailing club.

MOREFIELD BEACH - Copy

I selected to use the MCS ‘s beach watch survey methods on Morefield,  this involves dividing 100m of beach into 10m sections to be surveyed in detail cataloging all the man-made materials you find walking from the high tide line to the strand line. This was no easy feat as the weather suddenly changed from bright and blustery to gale force driving rain not easy to stand up in or to hold clip boards and take details down. A challenge for everyone!  I am now in the process of deciphering what we noted down .  What is  easy to say is that there was plenty of litter to fill our sample bags several times over.

Thankfully  the task  became  much easier when we got into the protection of the harbour, the shelter of the pier  reducing the wind chill factor markedly. So we were able to focus the scale of our survey  down using  quadrats approximately 50cm square, the observations revealed litter levels were still high though with an increase in the amount food of  packaging .

HARBUR BEACH SURVEY - Copy         harbur beach QUADRAT - Copy         SAMPLE BAG - Copy

While looking more closely we had the opportunity to discuss the dangers  that each type of object presents.  I intend to find ways of sharing looking even more closely into the issue with the pupils over the next few weeks at the high School and at the primary schools.

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…..as 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.

Nephrop

 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.