71% of the Earth’s total surface area consists of oceans. As time continues, the marine environment faces many more significant threats, the most distinguished danger being plastic pollution.
With Dorset’s area of sea roughly equivalent to the same area of land as the county, plastic pollution is a vast challenge along with other factors. But what exactly do we mean by plastic pollution in Dorset? Plastic pollution can be defined as the accumulation of any type of plastic item negatively affecting the environment. Currently being tackled is the washing up of Nurdles throughout the British Coastline. Yet, they often go unnoticed due to their miniscule pellet-like appearance.
When melted down, these “Nurdles” are what typically make up the manufacturing of coffee cups, plastic bags, and other common items such as food packaging. In 2008, the Dorset Wildlife Trust initiated a project to measure the amount of plastic being washed up along Kimmeridge beach, leading to the development of the “Nurdle-o-Meter”. Shockingly, in less than a few years, the plastic pieces totalled 350,000. Furthermore, the Great Nurdle Hunt concluded in 2017 that 73% of all inspected beaches had Nurdles somewhere on them, with a singular beach situated in Cornwall having over 127,000 pellets gathered.
Nurdles are definitely distressing, disastrous and damaging for not only the marine environment, as any bird or pet coming across these could potentially ingest and retain the pellets, compromising gut health and digestive functions.
Mass discoveries of micro plastics and other, not yet broken-down plastic items, are found floating in water or washed up on shores every day.
A hefty concern may be the increase in “Mermaid Tears”. Nearly, over 100 million fish are now killed annually by micro plastics nicknamed “Mermaid Tears” due to their inability to digest the sharp debris. This was previously thought to be a less severe issue, with the majority of these mermaid tears made of glass; forming what many people today recognise as the smooth, pretty clumps of sea glass along the shore. Now the rise of plastic bottles has flipped this upside down. According to a 2017 study by Greenpeace, 250 million microplastics were sourced across UK beaches within a weekend, indubitably some of these being Mermaid Tears.
Boat Management and Human Disturbance
A key issue being tackled currently is Dorset boat management and eco-friendly mooring points. Surprisingly, anchors can inflict great damage by dragging and scouring across the seabed. This is a huge problem as according to local Dorset Diver, JoJo, from the Dorset Diving Services Company, “they damage the delicate habitats - sea grass beds. These beds are home to endangered species of seahorses, pipefish and are nursing grounds for young fish and rays”. Therefore, eco-friendly mooring fittings are in the planning, where boats can tie up to floating buoys rather than lowering their anchors. According to Southampton University, 10 are being fitted this year in Studland.
Diving expert JoJo, states how “Trawling is a big Issue, especially in Lyme Bay. It wipes out so much marine life in one go and its after-effects are devastating.” JoJo explained how during drift diving, it's always noticeable when an area has been trawled whether it be recent or not, as it’s always left barren. “I’ve seen more and more litter and fishing lines tangled up under both Swanage and Boscombe Pier- this is why we do our Dive Against Debris dives at these sites.”
Furthermore, human disturbance affects marine life massively, a noteworthy example of this being Danny the Dolphin, a common dolphin which had taken up residence around the Portland area. “It was a very friendly and curious dolphin and people got up too close to him. He became habitualised to human activity, which in turn, some believe indirectly killed him as he was struck by a boat.” This could mean that, because the dolphin was expecting friendly interaction, he got in too close a proximity to the boat. Devastatingly, this is not an unusual occurrence among dolphins, seals and other marine animals when they become too used to human activity.
Fortunately, surveys are being carried out by divers, showing how much damage anchors are causing in terms of dragging and tearing up seagrass - helping contribute to an application being applied for, in order to stop boats lowering their anchors as of 31st May 2019, creating a Marine Conservation Zone stretching from Shell Bay to Old Harry Rocks.
What We Can Do
While it may seem there are few solutions to help protect both marine life and the marine environment, there are plenty of easy ways to help out. Firstly, joining local beach clean ups can be a great way to prevent litter being washed out or creating on-land hazards. Next, starting with the five R’s of zero waste are great for beginners to work towards (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot).
Avoid using non-recycled plastic products and refrain from releasing those birthday balloons! We can also support projects such as seasearch, which surveys various diving sites throughout the UK, keeping track of invasive species; logging crucial information from temperatures, time, depth and time of year in order to compare similarities with other sea-life sightings. One such sighting was the anemone shrimps, previously thought to be located in Cornwall, appearing under Swanage Pier.
Supporting and donating to local environmental organisations can also be a massive help, as proceeds will go towards professional action taking place, helping marine conservation. For example, the PADI Project aware charity, or the Dorset Wildlife Trust. Encouraging any marine conservation project is also greatly appreciated, especially since amazing zones such as Poole Rocks, outside the Poole Harbour Entrance, can be designated and created. Marine Conservation Zones are legally protected areas, halting any damaging activities, which helps wildlife to thrive, sustaining an “abundant and colourful” environment. It’s reported that local divers have enjoyed diving there, and that it has improved, getting better over the last 3- 4 years since the Marine Conservation zone was established.
In summation, Dorset’s marine life, along with global aquatic life, is clearly facing some serious challenges, which are only being exacerbated by dangerous human activities. We must act now and change the way in which we treat our oceans, rivers, lakes and all marine environments. We have a responsibility to protect the oceans not only for ourselves right now, but for future generations.
To be further involved visit the following links:-
Microplastics in the ocean - University of Plymouth
Historic whale and dolphin stranding data made public for the first time | Natural History Museum