Shetland Notes 5: Collecting

As my expedition to Shetland enters its last few weeks I am travelling to as many beaches and foreshores that I can to examine the littoral zones and to collect Plastiglomerates.


This morning I picked my way carefully along the tideline of Channer wick beach a steep pebble beach on the eastern side of Shetlands mainland keeping an eye out for waders nests and watching the Fulmar chicks fledging out of burrows set in the bank of the back beach while I myself was being in turn watched by three common seals basking close in to the shore line. Facing southeast this beach is cleaner than most beaches around the  Shetland/World though plastic litter is there  knitted into the raised  back beach landscape

My main aim is to collect up as amny of the Plastiglomerates I can find, so far I have found them on nearly every beach I have surveyed, even on the beautiful world renowned St Ninians (tabola), where they tend to be small fragments collecting usually at the south west corner of the beach.

My notes help me keep track of my finds, the type of beach, aspect amount of easily visible litter and the amount of  what I collect.

The numbers of sacks are a  crude summary of the amount of litter that each beach is subject to and the prevailing  tidal  flows and whether the  tidal flows are able to wash  the litter out to sea once it’s there or whether the landforms entraps the litter like at beaches such as Burrick (above left) where so far we have collected 6 sacks,  or at  Meal where I lifted several large slabs off the rocks,  or at Mangaster (below) and Mavis Grind  where the the Hightide lines are almost as deeply littered as at Burick.

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Mavis Grind is a significant point in Shetlands Geo Park  being a narrow isthmus between the Atlantic and the North Sea where boats were hauled traditionally from one side to other to avoid the long row around.  On my journey north today I intend revisiting Mavis Grind to try and understand  more clearly the significance of the landforms (Taings : tonues of land ) that entrap what the Atalantic and passers by leave. Connectivity permitting I will share my findings.

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Alongside collecting the Plastiglomerates  usually within the high tide zone, I have been taking small samples of sand/seaweed from the splash zones that evidently contain micro-plastics.  This week I will ask Higher school pupils on Whalsey Island to examine and compare samples taken from their own shorelines with those I have taken from around the Shetland Mainland.   I look forward to their observations creative interpretations and  wonderfully visiting another one of Shetlands 100+ Islands.

2014 A Year in the littoral zone

Having completed a year’s research monitoring beach litter on the west coast of Scotland, I have selected twelve images that I feel summarise my findings along the west coast ‘littoral zone’ . The beaches I have surveyed are Grid- referenced and are located between Loch Broom (NH 133 939) in the south and Loch Inver (NC 094 973) in the north.

Ullapool E beach gun copy

Toy Gun Plastic   Ullapool
A poignant find that lay washed up along the upper shore of the north east beach of Ullapool. I have found toys on every beach I have surveyed.

Rhue polystyrene copy

Polystyrene   Rhue point
A common sight on each of the beaches I have monitored. Often large blocks, boxes or takeaway cups break into individual particles that float and litter the rock pools when broken against rocks. They are subsequently ingested by birds mistaking them for food.

IM plastic bottles copy

Bottles Plastic   Isle Martin
Found on every beach. Along the Back Beach (Camas a Bhuailidh) on Isle Martin the nearest of the Summer Isles in the mouth of Loch Broom, I recovered over 100 bottles which had contained drinks, cleaning fluids, oils etc. All the bottles towed from Isle Martin on World Environment Day were recycled.

IMartin melted plastic copy

Melted Plastic   Isle Martin
Hard to see rock-like forms which blend into the cobbles of the Ross-shire beaches. These predominantly grey plastic forms are the result of plastic rubbish that has been burnt on ships/trawlers or on the beach.

Dun Canna strandline mix copy

Strandline mix Plastic   Dun Canna
The strandline of this west-facing beach on Loch Kinnaird is one of the worst I have witnessed . Broken fragments of every type of litter is mixed into the seaweed.

Badentarebt prawn box copy
Prawn boxes   Badentarbet
Unsurprisingly, in a significant prawn fishing area, broken corrugated plastic prawn boxes are common place on every beach survey .

Badentarbet rope copy

Rope, cord, line and nets   Badentarbet
The highest percentage of litter that I have recorded has been made up of commercial fishing related materials such as ropes and cord: none of these at present can be recycled in the Highlands.

Altandu measuring cylinder
Fibres Plastic   Altandu
Close between the cobbles, sand grains or within the seaweed are millions of plastic fibres from deteriorating rope, bags, boxes which could be ingested by birds, fish and sand hoppers. I collected 1/2 litre of fibres  from 1m of  seaweed along   (Camas an Fheidh)

Altandu toy soldier copy

Soldier Plastic   Altandu
I found this soldier amongst one of the most severely littered beaches in the area. I intend to enlist him in my Littoral Art Campaign in the coming year

Rief loch gun catridge copy

Gun cartridges   Loch of Reiff
It was explained to me by two local beach watchers & cleaners in the Reiff area that the opaque splayed tubes that are numerous along beaches in this area are the inner sleeves of gun cartridges. In the water they are often perceived as squid by turtles and porpoise and eaten.

reiff loch cabling copy

Plastic tubing   Loch of Rieff
Evidence of large scale commercial dumping like this mass of plastic tubing is evident on the beaches close to commercial fishing areas. The scale of it takes your breath away

lochinver takeaway spoon copy

Food containers & implements   Loch Inver
On a much smaller scale but equally insidious is the common takeaway litter stuffed/trapped between the strandline rocks of harbour walls

I intend during 2015 – 16 to make artworks to hopefully encourage all of us to keep our seas and littoral zones clean. Please keep reading and supporting this project in any way that you can. Happy New Year