Gathering along the strip of beach near the Coffee Cup cafe, more than 200 residents came to create a stink over ongoing concerns about sewage in the Solent, with fed-up beach-users carrying poo emoji banners and placards demanding authorities and utility companies ‘cut the crap’.
It follows last weekend’s warning from the Environment Agency that the waters around Portsmouth and Hayling Island faced ‘an abnormal situation’ and people should avoid going into the sea.
The agency later said its concern was a ‘false alarm’ with rotting algae to blame for reports of foul odours in the area – but water-sports enthusiasts report seeing sewage and sanitary pads, as well as suffering bouts of illness after entering the water.
Sarah Shreeve, an active sea swimmer who founded Stop The Sewage Southsea less than week ago, said: ‘The week before last the water was smelling awful. We had seasoned swimmers not able to get in because it smelt so bad. It was like a soup.
‘(Last weekend) we were seeing things washed up on the shore like sanitary items and wet wipes. Some of the friends that I swam with last Saturday are feeling ill after their swim in the sea.
‘I personally don’t think false alarms contain sanitary products.’
The new group joins a widespread movement across the area – ranging from Chichester to Gosport – that has spent years campaigning for better water quality in the Solent, with dozens of sailing clubs demanding action in an angry letter sent to Southern Water last year.
The utility company insists there were 'no incidents' of pollution over the previous weekend – but its Beachbuoy wastewater monitoring app shows that the company’s Budds Farm site in Havant discharged water for more than 38 hours from Sunday October 3 to Tuesday October 5.
The company was fined a record was fined a record £90m for pumping untreated sewage into the Solent and other waters over the last decade – and now Sarah thinks the company should invest in treating waste.
The teacher trainer said: ‘Southern Water needs to build bigger storm tanks.
‘We need them at every discharge point along the Solent.
Sarah said she was ‘overwhelmed’ by the turn-out along Eastney beach – and now the group is considering taking a protest direct to Southern Water.
The 34-year-old added: ‘We’re potentially going to protest Southern Water’s headquarters.
‘We only set up the group last weekend – it just goes to show how many people in Portsmouth love are water and are committed to keeping it clean for all to enjoy.’
In a statement regarding the protest, Southern Water said welcomed those involved in the protest to meet with representatives from the company.
The statement added: ‘We are pioneering a new approach – building more storm tank capacity where it will have an impact – but prioritising partnership working to prevent rain from reaching our systems through sustainable drainage, water gardens and major natural capital solutions such as enhanced and expanded wetlands.
‘We engage closely with local and national users groups, including Surfers Against Sewage which regularly attend meetings to discuss our Beachbuoy app and our current and future investment plans and delivery.
‘We welcome those involved with the protest to meet with us. To hear about our work, our investment and our commitment to improve service to our customers and discuss ways to work together to achieve a goal we share, to protect the environment.’