Ocean Rescue: Fears of plastic pollution 'washing in on every tide'

Frazer Maude, Sky Reporter

The Jurassic coastline around the East Coast resort of Scarborough is undeniably beautiful.

In many places, the cliffs of mudstone, limestone and sandstones make the shoreline inaccessible to humans. But sadly not to their rubbish.

It's perhaps not surprising that there is litter here. Not when it's estimated that between 4.8 million and 12.7 million tons of plastic end up in the world's oceans every year.

Plastic makes up 95% of the rubbish in our seas, mainly in the form of bags, food and drink containers, and fishing equipment; from past studies it is thought that as many as 90% of the world's seabirds have plastic in their stomachs.

There are several seal colonies along the coast, and it was during the return of a rescued animal that RSPCA officers noticed the levels of litter.

So they have now launched 'Operation Sweeping Tides' to try to tackle the issue.

They're working in partnership with Scarborough Council, the local Sea Life Centre, and dozens of volunteers to clean up the coastline.

It's a task that would be virtually impossible without the charity's rescue boats, used to collect the rubbish gathered by the volunteers from secluded coves and beaches.

"This really is a growing problem," says the RSPCA's Geoff Edmond.

"There is lots of rubbish and debris out there, we need to get it removed. And it's washing in, potentially on every tide."

The grey and common seal colonies at places like Ravenscar, Cayton and Boggle Hole have been recovering well since being decimated by viruses in the early 2000s.

To see that progress set back by littering, would be a bitter blow.

Todd German, who works with rescued seals at Scarborough's Sea Life Centre, says: "The plastic really needs to be taken away, not just for the aesthetics, but because it can so often end up in the food chain.

"And not just for the animals. Many of the micro plastics that get ingested by marine animals and sea birds can easily end up on our plates too."

The volunteers picking up the litter were from all social groups and all ages. Some were families teaching their children about their environmental responsibilities. Others, like Pete Shepherd, have taken a more committed approach.

"We first noticed a problem when we saw a paraffin wax leak a few months ago," Mr Shepherd says.

"So we started cleaning up whenever we could, and we've become a group called the 'Clean Coast Warriors'. We're now hoping to run regular beach cleaning days organised through our Facebook page."

Globally, the skip full of bottles, cans, fishing gear and the rest which the volunteers have collected is a minuscule amount.

But for the seabirds and seals along this beautiful stretch of the East Coast, it could mean the difference between life, and a prolonged and painful death.

Sky News launched its Sky Ocean Rescue campaign earlier this year aimed at reducing the amount of plastic waste that ends up in the world's seas.

:: You can find out more about the Sky Ocean Rescue campaign and how to get involved at www.skyoceanrescue.com