From: Reuters
Published April 9, 2008 07:21 PM

Record beach litter threatens marine wildlife

By Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) - Plastic litter on Britain's beaches has reached record levels, endangering whales, dolphins and seabirds, an environmental charity survey said on Thursday.

The Marine Conservation Society, which campaigns for cleaner beaches and seas, said plastic litter has increased by 126 percent since its first survey in 1994.

Scores of marine wildlife species, including seals and turtles, have died after eating plastic or drowning after getting tangled in debris or old fishing nets, it said.

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"The results are truly shocking," said Emma Snowden, the society's litter projects coordinator. "Plastics are of particular concern as they could persist in the marine environment for centuries with fatal consequences for marine wildlife."

In the last decade, the amount of plastic drinks bottles has risen by 67 percent, plastic bags by 54 percent and cigarette butts by 44 percent, the society said.

Nearly 4,000 volunteers took part in the survey of 354 beaches in September last year.

They removed nearly 350,000 pieces of litter. The average density of litter was 2,054 items of litter per kilometer, compared to 1,999 last year.

Cotton buds, crisp wrappers and anglers' fishing line were among the most common items found.

The charity urged the government, industry and retailers to reduce packaging and cut the use of plastic bags.

It said people should reuse bags, take home litter and dispose of cigarette ends responsibly.

Conservative Shadow Environment Secretary said the amount of litter was unacceptable.

"It is becoming impossible to walk along a stretch of beach without seeing the eyesore of plastic waste," he said. "It not only causes environmental damage but endangers our wildlife.

"Some of the waste may not have been generated in Britain but it's our responsibility to tidy it up."

The full MCS Beachwatch 2007 results can be downloaded at www.adoptabeach.org.uk

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