THE ongoing war against plastic is certainly going to be a long one – but the tide has definitely turned.
That is the message from campaigners following the success of the first Great Solent Beach Clean at the weekend, which saw hundreds of people go to seafront locations across the Solent region to do their bit for the environment.
The event, organised by The News and The Final Straw Solent, was held in association with the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean and saw four locations targeted by avid beach cleaners – Southsea, Eastney, Stokes Bay and Hayling Island.
Hundreds of people went along to each event on Saturday, from keen beach cleaners who frequent the seafront to families and even school staff.
In Southsea, about 200 people joined Sandy Luk, chief executive of the Marine Conservation Society and representatives from Southsea Beach Watch, which helped to set-up the event.
Sandy Luk said: ‘It’s amazing people are so engaged and enthusiastic about the sea and beaches, they really care about the issues of plastic pollution. It’s fantastic to have seen all the volunteers out.’
Sergio Di Dino, event organiser from Southsea Beach Watch, said wet wipes are becoming a real problem, as they should not go down the toilet.
He said: ‘We will be taking data and measurements from the items we collect from the beach, to feed back to the charity.
‘It allows us to implement and lobby for new laws, for example around the use of cotton buds.
‘The surveys we’ve done show wet wipes are becoming a real issue.
‘We had about 150 people at the start of the clean which rose to 200, possibly 220, so I think that’s a good turnout.
‘Beach cleans bring the community together and little-by-little, we get the job done.’
Bob Miles, leader of the 73rd Portsmouth Scout Group, took 20 scouts to the event.
He said: ‘We’ve done a full survey across a 100-metre stretch of the beach for the Marine Conservation Society, by recording every single piece of rubbish we have picked up.
‘This goes towards the boys’ Global Challenge Badge. I can see this has had a very positive impact on them and they’ve enjoyed it.’
Bianca Carr, co-founder of Final Straw Solent, says that the event in Eastney has helped to make a huge difference to the area.
She said: ‘It was really nice to have so many families helping out – there are clearly a lot of people that understand the importance of what we’re doing.
‘By doing events like this we are able to make Eastney beach a usable place once again – it is starting to look like the beautiful place that people remember it as, rather than the dumping ground it was a couple of months ago.’
Phil Carpenter, from marine wildlife conservation charity Sea Shepherd UK, added: ‘There’s a lot of rubbish here because it’s a forgotten area which is a shame because it’s a beauty spot.
‘There are a lot of caravans here at the moment which Portsmouth City Council is trying to remove, so litter comes from those, and people fly tip here too.’
In Gosport, the Friends of Stokes Bay group was joined by a number of families, as well as staff from the nearby Gomer Junior School.
Esme Starr, age seven, said: ‘We have to pick up the rubbish otherwise it will break down and end up going into the water and into the fish – then it ends up in us.
‘I found bottle lids, lots of cigarettes and plastic straws.’
Her mother, Stevie, 33, said: ‘This is the first time we’ve joined an event like this but we’ve really enjoyed it and they understand exactly why we’re doing it.’
Linda Pickwell from Alverstoke said: ‘You do find a lot of plastic rubbish that collects on the beach, like bottle lids and so on.
‘If my daughter Louisa sees rubbish on the beach she tends to pick it up anyway – she hates the idea of it hurting the animals.
‘I think the youngsters have a really good grasp of how important it is to protect our environment.’
Meanwhile on Hayling Island, the battle appeared to be against microplastics that had washed up on the shore.
Event organiser Lizzie Pollard explained: ‘It's mostly microplastics that have been causing trouble for Hayling Island – nurdles being a particular problem for us.
‘But like in other places there were so many families and it seems to be the young people educating their parents about it.
‘That awareness among children is so important and it’s great that they can show their parents what’s what.
‘But all in all the event was a resounding success and we can’t wait to do it all again next year.’
The News would like to thank everybody who took part in the Great Solent Beach Clean at the weekend, as well as The Final Straw Solent and Marine Conservation Society for their support of the initiative.