NEO Terra: findings

On the 12th of November the final beach samples, taken from 60 beaches around Shetland, were carefully examined revealing a vast mix of  small plastic particles which were counted, recorded and projected across the exhibitions interactive space.

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51 of 60 beach samples taken from strandlines around Shetland contained plastic particles – Mangaster and Mavis Grind samples each contained over 100 plastic particles many  contained  Nurdles (plastic pellets being tracked across the world)

Many people returned to the exhibition for a final look and to share their own experiences of encountering beach litter, with stories of particular incidents of pollution from ship wrecks. In the early 1990’s two fish factory ships were wrecked close to Lerwick and residents from Gulberwick (a village a little way south) recounted  how they are still picking up debris from the wrecks particularly compressed foam (a form of plastic) from along their local  beach.  The plastic would have insulated the ships freezers. Perhaps next time the show is mounted there will be an island named WRECK, but for now the islands that made up New Lands /NEO Terra floor installation have been collapsed.

The majority of the plastiglomerates that I collected  from the beaches (25 boxes) and used to make the islands have now been placed in the Lerwick’s landfill facility.  Unfortunately this is the safest way to dispose of plastiglomerates which my have absorbed toxins from the sea. I bagged the few hundred  small plastiglomerates which had made up CORD isle to travel with me to new locations. The first of which was Southampton University   where I mixed together  plastglomerates from Shetland & Wester Ross to create  a geometric ‘Polymer Mix’ as part of my presentation for the ‘Being Human Festival’ focusing on the question ‘Is Plastic fantastic?’

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The delegates all agreed that plastic is a fantastic material as long as it stays within the economy – being reused and recycled. The vast leakage of plastic into the environment is damaging so many environments as witnessed here on beaches in Scotland, the UK and in oceans across the world. The leakages need to  be stopped whether it’s from factories, tourists on beaches , commercial fishing industries, agriculture or from toilets in our homes! One thing is sure we are all responsible.

NEO Terra will next be mounted in Ullapool at An Talla Solais’s  Caledonian Gallery next May – I will  begin my next collecting expedition to Wester Ross in the New Year. Please get in touch using the comment box below if you have any suggestions of where  the show might  travel too/be shown or have any comment/questions.

Shetland Notes 6: Birds

Tonight I take my leave of the Shetland Isles with Black Guillemot’s  diving in Garthspool harbour. Stepping onto the deck of the ferry I am able begin to unravel what I have learnt from my extraordinary Shetland expedition.Almost 8 weeks criss-crossing the Isles, examining beaches, collecting Plastiglomerate, filming  animation footage and leading workshops with pupils with 14 schools. On this journey my constant yet ever changing companions have been the wonderful bird life that fills the skies and extensive coastline.

             Drawings above of a Common Gull, Raven and Skua (Bronxie) by Urafirth School Pupils

As the ferry swiftly leaves the dock and makes its passage through the Bressay Sound Arctic Terns dart across the prow of the boat and Fulmars fly down skimming  the seas surface dipping to pick up food.

IMG_1882Steaming down the east coast of the isles I focus hard on the shoreline through the mist trying to recognise some of the beaches I have collected Plastiglomerates from and lead litter investigations on with pupils from 14 schools over the last 7  weeks. The first beaches I spot are effectively the small town beaches (less thean 50m long)  there are many of them tucked in between buildings with a  small tidal range.

We soon pass by the Voxter beaches of stone and shingle then Hoswick  beach were we examined the beaches with local Sandwick School pupils, collected micro-plastics from the beach and considered the disturbing images (below) taken by a scientist Jan Andries van Franeker who carried out an autopsy on a Fulmar found locally on Shetlands south mainland.

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The dead Fulmar had over 9oo polystyrene beads plus small pieces of plastic and nurdles. Fulmars  feed on the surface of the sea and understandably mistake the polystyrene and plastic pellets/pieces for fish eggs. The result of eating so many piece of plastic is starvation as the bird thinks its full. Fulmars also feed the plastic to the chicks. The extreme dangers of micro plastics to bird life was central to our Close Examination workshops and was carefully explained by my workshop colleague Jane Outram the environmental officer of the Shetland Amentity & Guide at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse (bird observatory). Jane has been a great bird knowledge and has been an invaluable project colleague  who has helped me to facilitate the workshops and help me  differentiate  the numerous type of  waders, gulls and .

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We have both been delighted and impressed by the children’s knowledge of birds while delivering the educational workshops. The Urafirth Primary Schools beautiful  illustrations used here are taken from the schools notice board which names the birds seen around their school and points out the dangers that face specific birds  like the Shag below,  from beach and marine plastic litter.

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Shetlanders are rightly proud of the vast aray and number  of bird and  wildlife that lives and visits the islands throughout the year. I have delighted in being able to witness this at close hand  as I criss-crossed the islands visiting beaches and schools. I have caught sight of otters cruising along the Grathspool harbour wall (Lerwick) at sunset and Red-throated Divers diving in the afternoon sunlight on Voes out west.

As MV Hrossey ploughs through the North Sea I try in vain to photograph a lone Gannet gliding  fast across the wake of the ship which is broken up by the fresh north easterly.

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As we pass by  Sumbrugh Head cloaked in cloud after  weeks of continual sunlight. I reflect on the fascinating natural beauty of Shetland and the dangers that wildlife and Birds are facing here and around the world given the increasing volume of plastics in the oceans and on the beaches.

Birdlife: (top) melted plastic rope,  (LHS) Guillemot egg on Yell,  (RHS) waders eggs increasingly exposed as nests change from muted brown to brightly  coloured

With such images in mind  I leave with an even greater determination to make work that envisages this environmental problem  in new and dramatic ways and  to stimulate  discussion and the need to act /change behaviours. I look forward to returning in September to install my work at Da Gadderie  Shetland Museum and Archives

Thanks to Creative Scotland for funding towards my animation and exhibition development work and thanks to Awards for All  and Zero Waste Scotland for funding for the educational workshops and to North Link Ferries  for help towards my travel.

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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.

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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.