Friday, December 2, 2016

Ocean Hero (nearly!)

 Last month I was contacted by the CleanCoasts organisation to ask if I would give a short talk about my beach combing/cleaning at their yearly symposium in Dublin -- it was a bit of a shock, and I'm not a big 'public speaker' kind of person but I said yes!

Shortly after that I had an email from them to let me know that I was short-listed for one of their 'Ocean Hero' awards - I was up for ''Individual of the Year''!!

So Peter and I travelled up country on Wednesday, staying the night with my sister and her family (thanks Claire xxx) and then headed off to central Dublin early yesterday morning. Oh gosh, the rush hour traffic is unreal - it took us practically two hours to get there..I really feel for the people who have to make this journey every single day and am so grateful that we don't.

Anyway, the day went really really well - I didn't win the award I was up for but am thrilled to have been nominated in the first place and then being short-listed was the icing on the cake.

 We got these great 'goodie bags'
 ...and I received a framed certificate of nomination and we all got to bring home these 'two minute beach clean' mugs (I have wanted one of these for AGES!)

I've copied out the text of my little talk below if you want to read it (or to keep it here for myself so I remember what I said!) ....

I grew up with a strong love of natural history and, as a teenager, realised how we all have a part to play in caring for the environment. I began my beach cleaning in the 1980s, along with my younger sister, and all these years later things have come full circle and I'm happily back where I started out, along the beaches around Waterville in County Kerry.

Like many people living in a tourist hotspot I now work seasonally so I decided to fill up my winter months in a constructive way, and thus came back to beach cleaning again several years ago. The problem of marine litter hasn't lessened in those years, sadly it has got dramatically worse,  so I was delighted to find the Clean Coasts group and am so grateful for their help and support - keeping me well stocked up in the rolls of blue bags and gloves, and keeping me warm through the winter with the big beach clean hoodie I won in their Retro Rubbish competition!

Things have changed greatly in the years since I first did my beach cleans - like everyone else, I find so many more single use plastic items now, and of course there are so many more plastic bottles .... I wish that we could return to glass bottles, and the deposit/return scheme which I remember from my childhood. I often wonder how future generations will look back at how we have wasted and abused our precious natural resources.

Happily I find a lot less evidence of local dumping on the beaches nowadays - it used to be quite common to find bags of rubbish, soiled nappies or even large household appliances dumped over the cliffs of my local beach - with the attitude of ''out of sight, out of mind''. I think people are generally much more aware of the impacts of this behaviour now and am glad it's mostly a thing of the past.

 I care for the beaches in an approximate 10 mile radius of where I live - some only need a cleaning blitz once a year and then a top-up through the summer months, others just fill up with rubbish constantly after every single storm. I try to concentrate on one or two of these 'bad' beaches a year and then work away on some of the other 'easier' beaches at the same time. I generally work on my own - as, to be honest, I've found it quite hard to get local people interested in helping on a regular basis, people are busy and are often happier to take part in the larger occasional clean-ups that local groups run in the lead up to the tourist season...but I'm happy enough to work away on my own at my own pace. I'm a firm believer in 'every little bit helps' and 'do what you can when you can' - and still believe that we all have a big part to play in environmental issues both locally and globally.

Our local council have been a big help in taking all the rubbish away and I am indebted to the local Fás workers who have on occasion helped bring the filled bags etc up to the roadside for collection. 

As many of you know beach cleaning can be back-breaking, monotonous work so I try to make it more interesting for myself - keeping an eye out for the unusual and taking photos of my more uncommon finds. I  have found a network of like-minded people who help each other to trace things back. Through Facebook groups like 'Lost at Sea', 'Orkney Beachcombing' or my own 'Beachcombing in Kerry' page,  I've been able to put names and faces to some of the items I have found here, and twice I've had the honour of returning lost fishing gear to widows in America; one in Maine and the other in Florida.

My beach cleaning has put me in the news on both sides of the Atlantic a few times now - I think people like a feel good story about making connections across the ocean but hopefully at the same time they are learning about the sheer volume of marine litter that is out there too. 

Through tracing items back - such as buoys, floats, lobster trap tags etc I've made some good friends along the American and Canadian coasts -- which has helped me (and them)  realise what a small world we live in and how connected we all are. A friend in Nova Scotia now cleans her local beaches, having seen how much of the rubbish I find here has come across from there!

The social network of us beach combers has also played a part in tracking cargo losses - such as the 'famous' Lego one - I found a black Lego octopus a few years ago and didn't realise what it was until I posted a photo of it on one of the beach combing pages. It turned out to have been the first recording of these items to have been found in Ireland as they have mostly been washing up on the Cornish coast. Most recently we've been tracking where HP printer cartridges have been washing up; HP haven't said how many cartridges were lost as cargo off the Azores but over a thousand of them have been found by beach combers in over 500 locations from the Azores, and  the Portuguese, French and Spanish coastlines as well as Ireland, Denmark and Holland.

In addition to the rubbish that I collect, I always keep an eye out for natural items. Over the years I've found several coconuts and sea beans which had drifted from central or south America to land on our shores - last winter was a bumper year! I send any photos of the jellyfish I find to Tom Doyle and 'the big jellyfish hunt' on Facebook and am a volunteer with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group - traveling to any strandings locally to photograph and document them. I also collect any dead seabirds that I find and pass them on to Heidi in GMIT where she analyses their stomach content for micro plastics. I like to think that my efforts in keeping our beaches clean of marine rubbish can help the scientific community as well as the environment.

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