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In 2019, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful marine litter surveyors recorded an average of 508 pieces of litter per 100 meters of beach. This equates to an estimated 3.3 million items of litter on our coastline at any one time.

Plastic, not surprisingly makes up over 78% of the waste on Northern Ireland’s beaches, including many ‘single use’ items such as drinks bottles, food wrappers and broken pieces of plastic. In fact, such is the extent of the ‘plastic problem’ that 6 of the top 10 most common littered items on NI beaches were found to be derived from single-use plastics.

There were also many short pieces of string and rope, which may have originated from fishing activity.

One of the key indicators of the abundance, composition and trends of litter in the marine environment is the amount on beaches. The surveys of beach litter are carried out 4 times a year by trained volunteers across 11 ‘reference’ beaches around Northern Ireland’s coast. The surveys are funded by the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and all the data collected feeds into the OSPAR Commission database, helping with decision-making around marine litter in the North East Atlantic from Iceland to Portugal. OSPAR monitors litter on 100m stretches at over 70 beaches in the North-East Atlantic following common monitoring guidelines. The data is accessible to anyone and it is collected in the same way at every reference beach each year.

Commenting on the 2019 Report, Environment Minister Edwin Poots MLA - said;

“I welcome publication of the Marine Litter Report 2019 and acknowledge the excellent work that Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful do in partnership with my Department.

“This year’s report highlights the steady progress being made in tackling marine litter in Northern Ireland, leading to a cleaner, greener place to live. The figures reveal the stark reality of litter on our beaches, with over 22,000 pieces of litter collected across 11 beaches, with 78% of this made from single use plastic. It is a reminder of our continued fight against plastic pollution and its devastating consequences.

“We all want to see changes where we live and see a continuing reduction in the number of pieces of litter appearing in our waters and along our coastline. With summer upon us and an ease on coronavirus restrictions many of us may choose to holiday at home. However, I would remind people of the need to ‘leave no trace’, to take all their litter home with them and recycle it where they can. By adjusting our behaviours and acting responsibly we can all play our part in further driving down marine litter and making a day at the beach enjoyable for everyone, whilst also protecting our marine wildlife.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the volunteers who give up their time to carry out these surveys throughout the year, their invaluable work contributes to the ongoing success of the Marine Litter Report and the importance of looking after our own local beaches.”

Every reference beach is cleaned within two weeks of the survey by a range of volunteers from; families and local groups to schools and businesses. In 2019 nearly 600 volunteers got involved to help clean up the beaches, collecting over 540 bags of litter from the 11 reference beaches alone.

Jamie Miller, Local Environmental Quality Manager for Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful stated, “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. As the results of their invaluable work shows, the vast majority of litter on our beaches comes from single use plastics. Removing these items from beaches is a small step towards tackling a very large problem in our seas, which we are only just beginning to understand. We all have a role to play in tackling this hugely concerning environmental issue and can start by making small positive changes to our behaviours, such as avoiding single use plastic where possible, and always putting our rubbish in a bin.”

Since the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic people are taking extra steps to protect themselves. It is important that the public recognises that using Personal Protective Equipment comes with the responsibility of not just using it properly but also disposing of it in a way that doesn’t harm the environment and other members of the public. These items once used, need to be put in the appropriate bin.

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