A coastal paradise marred by harmful plastic debris

EIA Director Jennifer Lonsdale with the plastic debris she retrieved from Blakeney Marshes © J Lonsdale

EIA Director Jennifer Lonsdale with the plastic debris she retrieved in a single visit to Blakeney Marshes © J Lonsdale

Blakeney Marshes, North Norfolk, is a paradise. It is a haven for seals, migrating and breeding birds, shell fish, marsh grasses, shrubs and other vegetation – and has loads of lovely mud and sand!

It is simply a huge, gorgeous and vital ecosystem that also provides enormous economic benefit for the local community.

Discarded plastic rope at Blakeney Marshes © J Lonsdale

Discarded plastic rope at Blakeney Marshes © J Lonsdale

A beautiful frosty winter morning walk on the marshes was the perfect way to celebrate the wonders of winter, to get some exercise and fresh air. However, my walk also revealed an insidious invasion of these marshes. Plastic.

I regretted not bringing a bag with me so I could pick it up as there was too much for my pockets. Within minutes, however, I found a small sail bag and my clear-up began. A polystyrene fish box was a bit bulky but worth taking home for safer disposal – the alternative would be for it to break down over time into smaller and smaller pieces where it would have the potential to be consumed by unwitting animals, filling their stomachs with plastic rather than nourishing food.

Some of it would continue to break down into micro-pieces, taking up residence in the ocean’s micro-layer, displacing the organic micro-layer and interfering with its essential role in the circle of life.

Here and there clumps of plastic string and rope marred the bushes with the potential to entangle animals such as seals and dolphins. Plastic bags and bottles could have ended up in the stomachs of whales.

Polystyrene box on Blakeney Marshes © J Lonsdale

Polystyrene box on Blakeney Marshes © J Lonsdale

Several people commented on my haul of rubbish and I explained why I was doing my bit for the marshes and the oceans. “What difference will that make?” one man asked. “Small but important,” I replied. “I will be pleased not to see the junk and I know I am making a tiny but important contribution to protecting this ecosystem”.

He got my point.

As  part of this month’s challenge to Give It Up 4 EIA I have given up taking any plastic bags from shops and buying drinks in plastic bottles. Actually I started in December to make the most of Christmas shopping.

I calculate I could have taken more than 50 plastic bags already. Keeping my tiny but voluminous-when-opened-up shopping bag with me at all times means I never have to take a plastic bag. And plastic bottles – I take a drink of water with me.

My other commitment is to take a bag with me every time I go for a coastal walk so I can pick up rubbish!