By Angela Clark
Photos courtesy of Friends of Dumbarton Foreshore
Plastic tampon applicators, bottles, cups and cotton buds litter local shorelines. Each piece a danger to sea life and ultimately to human life.
Scientists have already identified plastic molecules in our drinking water, the air we breathe and in the fish we eat.
Local marine biologist Zoe Were is leading the fight against the plastic tide right here in her backyard with the help of an ever-growing team of volunteers.
Zoe explained: “There is no such thing as away, if you flush something down your loo it could wash back up on your local beach.
“Animals such as tiny shrimps and krills get trapped in plastic lids or cups and suffocate. Little shrimps are not very lovable creature. But when you start to think about the creatures which need the shrimp to survive – our harbor porpoises or grey seals – they’re a bit more lovable.
“The things eating those tiny shrimp are fish and they’re the food source for rare and threatened sea creatures.”
“Scotland has internationally important numbers of these species – if we lose our seals it makes them massively more threatened worldwide.”
Zoe has been clearing plastic from shorelines for over 10 years. She set up Friends of Dumbarton Foreshore to help protect wildlife and keep the coastline healthy for generations to come.
When the group first started it was just Zoe and husband Iain picking litter and taking it away in their car.
They were struggling to get people involved until Plastic Free WD shared their Facebook page and since then the group has flourished.
They now have over 30 volunteers who come on regular litter picks alternating between foreshore at Havoc Road, Castlegreen Street and Levengrove.
Zoe said: “We’d like to see the shore back to the good old days when people would spend their summer holidays down there with their whole family.
“People have fond memories of these shores from their youth.”
The group receives massive support from the public when they are clearing rubbish. People who use it want to see it thriving.
Zoe said: “The biggest thing we can do to save our shores and see them flourish once again, is to change our habits.
“We are asking people to find replacements for single use plastics such as coffee cups, shopping bags, choose vegetables that aren’t wrapped in plastic, replace shampoo bottles for bars of shampoo soap.
“Much of the rubbish on the shore is washed up by the tide and to prevent it we need a ban on single use plastics – things you use once then throw away.
“Recycling is not solving our plastics problem. Tons of the toxic materials are sent abroad and end up right back on our beaches.
“Oceans and rivers don’t recognise boundaries. Plastics we throw away here can end up thousands of miles away and impact on people we’ve never met or animals we have never seen.”
The European Parliament has already taken action and will ban a range of single use plastic products by 2021 but habits need to change.
Another area the group has started to care for is Havoc Meadow, just next to the shore.
Zoe is working alongside Havoc Park ranger Gillian Neil to organise conservation days to increase awareness of its high biodiversity.
Her new Facebook page ‘Friends of Havoc Meadows’ provides information on what biodiversity is and why it’s so important.
Zoe added: “A question I always get asked is why not bring in the tractors and scrape the beach? The simple answer is it would wreck the ecosystem.
“There are 377 species of plants on the beach so scraping it would rip those out, ruin it and kill the animals living in the sand.
“There are birds nesting there, lots of insects using those plants – it’s a complex ecosystem. Scraping it would be like letting a bomb off in the meadow, it would kill everything.”
Zoe’s love of the shore saw her and Iain tie the knot in Levengrove Park next to Havoc Meadow.
The day before the wedding, she went down to the shore with her bridesmaid to clear the litter.
After the ceremony guests surprised the couple by secretly taking litter picker sticks to make an archway as the newly weds ran along the shore.
Zoe said: “It was a lovely surprise. I was absolutely made up by it. I feel proud we are keeping the space clean.
“It’s about taking pride and claiming ownership of your own area and feeling ‘this is my bit so I will look after it’. I look at this beautiful clean beach and think – we did that. I’m awesome and so are my pals, it’s a high.”
Top Tips on Reducing Your Plastic Use (courtesy of WWF)
- Carry a Cup – Approx 2.5bn coffee cups are thrown away every year in the UK alone – that’s seven million a day! Less than 1% can be recycled, meaning most spend up to 50 years in landfill. Lots of coffee outlets offer a discount when you use your own cup.
- Bring A Bottle – plastic bottles are the most common throwaway item with lids usually ending up in seabirds’ stomachs.
- Cut the Cutlery – buy a spork and avoid using plastic cutlery.
- Say No to Straws – they’re heading for landfill for 50+ years and could end up choking birds, fish or sea creatures as well as polluting our water supply.
- Switch the Clingfilm – use foil which is recyclable or beeswax wraps which are 100% natural and environmentally friendly.
- Time for Tea – teabags are sealed with plastic! Every time you get rid of a teabag microplastics end up in our waterways. Try tea leaves and a strainer or plastic free tea products.
- Give up Gum – chewing gum is made from plastic! Try plastic free alternatives.
- Glitter isn’t Glam – made from tiny plastic particles glitter is lethal for our oceans, it’s eaten by seashells and fish and ends up in our foodchain. There are now plenty of biodegradable glitters.
- Join Zoe and the Friends of Dumbarton Foreshore for a litter pick – find them on Facebook – @shorethingG82
- Join a Meadow Conservation Day on August 21 and September 18 – visit @Friends of Havoc Meadow or text 07909595283 to book a space. Free events but booking is essential.
- Start your plastic free retail experience at Made Zero – 92 Glasgow Road, Dumbarton
- Learn more about how to reduce your use of single use plastics @PlasticFreeWD on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
- Friends of Dumbarton Foreshore are looking for a wheelbarrow to move glass to recycle bins – please get in touch if you can help.