14 March 2013


On Saturday 30 March, 2013 down at Praia Pequena, Colares, Sintra, there will be a beach clean up.  Susanna Cole of www.quintabeiramar.com has decided to get involved and is asking for volunteers to come along and help.  Glenn and I will be going along and ask others to join us if possible.  We will be meeting at 11.30am.

Pretty Praia Pequena

Now before people start muttering about the state of beaches in this part of the world, I would like to point out that during the winter, an awful lot of debris gets dumped on the beaches from the storms that the Atlantic likes to batter us with.  Earlier in the week in fact, I saw a JCB digger scraping driftwood off the beach at Praia das Macas which had been brought in on the high tides we have at this time of year.

Susanna's initiative got me thinking about litter in general.

When I was at primary school, we were all taught to respect the rules of the countryside – always close gates, keep dogs on leads, do not trespass etc – and also to not throw our rubbish anywhere except in the bin.  There again, in those days there was far less unnecessary wrapping to be disposed of compared to today’s overkill.

There were frequent campaigns on KEEP BRITAIN TIDY – some more memorable or disastrous than others.  Litter bins were everywhere and used.  However, as years went on, packaging increased; threats of bomb attacks meant litter bins were few and far between; fast food/takeaway joints opened and slowly the clean streets became a distant memory, along with the ever present street cleaner.

Courtesy of the W.I. (Women's Institute)

When you went on holiday and went to the beach, you would have taken a picnic carefully put together by your mother, which would be carried in the proper picnic basket, complete with cutlery, china, tablecloth and glassware and any rubbish would be repacked and disposed at an appropriate bin.  Drinks tended to be in thermos flasks too - no plastic bottles or cans. 

An example of a proper picnic basket

I had a google about the problems with debris on beaches and decided it needs to be shared and hopefully the message will start to get through to those members of society who need reminding about leaving the planet for others (difficult concept for some I know but we can but hope).

Beach litter is now at the highest level since records began;  nearly 2,000 items of rubbish per kilometre!  A rise of 135% since 1994. It kills wildlife, looks disgusting, is a hazard to health and costs millions to clear up.

Turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and if they eat a bag, it can block their stomachs leading them to starve to death - how horrible is that?  Seabirds think plastic litter is food which they then eat and die.  Plastic never biodegrades (rots). It just breaks down into small pieces and lurks on beaches, in the stomachs of marine life, etc.

Where does all this come from?  Guess?  Yes, you're right.  It comes from us, the public and also from shipping, fishing activities, sewage pipes and it can all be prevented.

Plastics make up the majority of debris found on beaches, and has been found to make up half of all the debris on remote desert islands.  Easy to see how when our throw-away lifestyle is examined.  No bins?  Chuck it on the ground, in someone's garden, anywhere but where it should go. A recent study by UNEP or the United Nations Environment Programme, reckoned that there were 46,000 pieces of plastic litter per square mile!

Because plastics are extremely cheap, durable (hard wearing), lightweight, and versatile - they have replaced many traditional materials (metal, glass and wood). This also means that they are the most pervasive, persistent and hazardous form of litter in the marine environment.

Remember the devastating tsunami in Japan? Floating debris can also be transported substantial distances by wind and currents like the empty fishing boat that turned up in the US all the way from Japan. Litter can travel thousands of miles around the world’s oceans. In 1992 twenty containers full of plastic ducks and other toys were lost overboard from a ship travelling from China to Seattle. By 1994 some of the toys had been tracked to Alaska, others reached Iceland in 2000. The toys have now been sighted in the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Some of the Tsunami refuse that arrived in the US

Portuguese beaches have a great system of recycling bins as well as portable ashtrays, but of course there are people who do feel that they need to use them - irresponsible people only and more than likely non-local.  I would like to think this is down to plain ignorance but I have actually seen tourists stub out cigarettes in the sand rather than get off their bottoms and retrieve a red plastic container from the stand, to put them in.  A bit like the way they can't be bothered to read the signs on the beaches (in English as well as Portuguese) about warning flags for swimming.

Fishermen can also be careless or just unlucky, with their gear being swept out to sea and coming back to be debris on the beach, although leaving their beer bottles and other rubbish is not careless but thoughtless. 

How can we help stop this debris reaching our shores.  Well we can stop buying things that are covered in plastic or if you cannot avoid it, make sure it is recycled properly and if you are on a beach, take it home with you or put in the correct bin on the beach. 

Stop using plastic supermarket bags or plastic bags from anywhere.  There are plenty of cheap, material alternatives that you can tuck in your handbag.  Better still, buy a nice handmade basket and keep the basket making industry alive and thriving.  We do not need plastic bags.

On the beach, if you bring food to eat, make sure you dispose of the packaging or leftovers responsibly.  You would not want to step in someone's leftovers would you?  Nor would you want anyone to end up with a disease from stepping on a broken bottle you have carelessly (or drunkenly) left on the sand.

So anyone who has some spare time on Saturday 30 March, who cares about our beautiful coastline, come along to Praia Pequena (inbetween Praia Grande and Praia das Macas) near Colares, Sintra and lend a hand.  Or, check out www.initiativesoceanes.org or www.surfrider.eu who are also on Facebook as Ocean Initiatives Surfrider Foundation Europe, to see whether you could organise one of your own wherever you live.  Thank you.

Praia Pequena


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