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The 2020 Marine Litter Report found an average of 375 items of litter per 100 meters of beach surveyed, the environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful can reveal. This equates to a total of 18,767 items of litter recorded on the 12 beaches surveyed.

As was the case in 2019, plastics were the most commonly recorded items of litter, making up 67% of all litter counted. On average, 37 plastic drinks containers and 48 lids were found per 100 meters surveyed. Additionally, short pieces of string, cord and rope were found across the beaches, with an average of 70 lengths of string counted per survey.

Despite the significant challenges presented by COVID-19 there is room for optimism as this report shows that there has been a reduction in the amount of litter and in particular the amount of plastic recorded on Northern Ireland’s beaches from previous years. Speaking about the findings in the report, Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, Dr Ian Humphreys said;

‘This report once again demonstrates the continuing pollution of Northern Ireland’s seas and shores. Whilst it is welcome that we have seen an improvement, we cannot take any progress for granted and must ensure that we keep this downward trend going. There is no hiding place anymore for ignorance about the impact that litter is having on our beaches, seas and waterways. We need to see greater emphasis on behaviour change campaigns and also a stronger requirement on producers of our waste to take more proactive steps in helping pay for the cost of cleaning up our waste.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is grateful to all those who dedicate their valuable time to survey, record and remove litter from beaches in Northern Ireland. It is their dedication and work that makes all the difference in the battle against litter. But they cannot do this alone, we all need to play our part in tackling this problem’.

The surveys in Northern Ireland are funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the data collected is fed into the International OSPAR Commission database to help in developing a global scientific understanding of this significant problem and to inform actions to address the issue.

Throughout 2020, while carrying out marine litter surveys, more people than ever before approached the surveying team and enquired about what they were doing, with many sharing their stories about how they have been inspired to do something about the litter on their local beaches. Although this report has found the lowest record of litter since the beginning of the surveys in 2012, perhaps due to the highly unusual circumstances of 2020, this trend would need to continue before we could be confident there has been a true positive change in marine litter pollution on our local beaches.

To support the reduction in marine litter within Northern Ireland, a new grants scheme has been set-up, making £175,000 available in 2021/22 for organisations and groups to avail of. The aim of the scheme is to help prevent marine litter entering our environment as well as removing this litter from coastal and riverine areas. This will help protect our waterways and marine areas, as well as improving marine biodiversity and the health and wellbeing of our communities. It is hoped the scheme will run for a further 3 years with up to £675,000 available by 2025. The scheme is funded by DAERA and will be administered by Live Here Love Here.

The Tackling Marine Litter Grants Scheme closes at 11am on Monday 27th September 2021. For further information, please visit the Live Here Love Here website.

In addition to this grants scheme, the Department has recently launched a Call for Evidence on a Plan to Eliminate Plastic Pollution in Northern Ireland. The Call for Evidence will seek responses from a wide range of stakeholders on the challenges and opportunities that exist in eliminating plastic pollution, as well as seeking examples of best practice and sources of expertise or evidence. The public Call for Evidence opened on 28th June 2021 and will run for a 14 week period until 5pm on 1st October 2021

You can read the full report at www.keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org.