The volume of plastics in our oceans has long been one of Scotland’s biggest news stories – until an even bigger news story came along.
A global pandemic and national lockdown meant that headlines diverted our attention to more urgent matters, and concerns for the likes of seabirds with bellies full of plastic fell to the wayside.
Now 15 months on, a north-east litter picking project, The East Grampian Coastal Partnership (EGCP), decided to pick up where the world left off and has been on a mission to clean up north-east beaches.
The partnership’s Turning the Plastic Tide (TTPT) project team expected the region’s coastlines to be “absolutely horrific” when they inspected them for plastics and other rubbish earlier this year after more than 12 months of Covid.
But to their surprise, 75% of the 24 beaches inspected had either no litter at all, or only a small handful of debris – all thanks to the dedicated few who continued to clean our beaches and save our seas throughout lockdown.
Now the EGCP has teamed up with the Press and Journal and Evening Express to celebrate the north-east’s very best beach clean champions for their “absolutely fantastic” efforts.
Over the next six weeks, we’re highlighting six individuals, groups or campaigns for their work to keep our beaches clean.
Ian Hay, project manager with the EGCP said he wants to shine the spotlight on the dedicated beach cleaners and “get them some recognition” for their often thankless task of collecting rubbish through rotting seaweed and gale-force winds.
He said: “Back in 2018, we started the Turning the Plastic Tide project, which started out really well.
“In the first year, we had 53 beach cleans, nearly 2,500 people out on clean-ups, and then 2020 happened.
“We couldn’t get out and do our beach cleans, we couldn’t go and make a difference to our beaches so over this year, earlier this year we decided to take stock.
“I was dispatched to go and do surveys, which were 100 metres (328ft) of beach, count and categorise all the rubbish, and give them a grade.
“I’ll be honest, I was expecting it to be absolutely horrific.
“I discovered that about a quarter of our beaches were pretty bad, but 75% were either a grade A, which means no rubbish at all, or a grade B, which just means a few pieces.
“And this was a bit confusing, as it really wasn’t what we expected, and then I started running into people carrying litter-pickers and bags.
“A quarter of the beaches I visited had people actively cleaning while I was there, and on half the beaches there was strong evidence of people doing beach cleans, which is absolutely fantastic.
“Some of the beaches such as St Cyrus have people cleaning the beach every day, and one person at least has been doing it every single day, and it’s absolutely spotless.”
“We have a stunning coastline”
He continued: “Quite frankly, we’ve been blown away with this, and these people are absolute heroes.
“So we decided to get them some recognition.
“We teamed up with the Press and Journal to try and run a campaign to show what these people are doing, and highlight some of the issues.
“We have a stunning coastline, so let’s try and keep it as good as we can do, and get out and enjoy it.”
Every week, we will highlight a new beach clean champion and explore some of the most important issues in marine pollution, and give you advice on easy decisions you can take to limit your impact on our seas.
And in the seventh week of our campaign, we will give you, our readers, the opportunity to vote on the best beach clean champions, who will win a very special award.
To hear from our selected champions, click on the stories below for articles, videos and more.