Beaches in Northern Ireland are strewn with more litter than anywhere else in the UK, according to conservationists.
The abandoned fishing nets, plastic bottles and carrier bags washing ashore here pose a significant threat to wildlife and to the tourist economy, which relies heavily on the quality of our beaches.
The Marine Conservation Society says that while the introduction of the carrier bag tax in 2013 has already reduced the number of plastic bags turning up on our beaches, the overall volume of litter has actually increased by nearly a tenth (just over 9%).
In fact, Northern Ireland beaches were found to have the highest density of litter in the UK in an annual survey carried out by the charity – for the second year in a row.
According to the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean report, there were on average 895 litter items for every 100 metres surveyed this year, compared to 820 in 2015.
Dan Lavery, a former surfing champion who now runs Long Line Surf School on the north coast, has been campaigning for an organisation known as Surfers Against Sewage for some time.
Surfers Against Sewage regularly organise beach clean ups across the UK. In one single day, Mr Lavery said he and a team of volunteers from a local primary school collected a full metric tonne of rubbish from a beach in Co Londonderry.
“That was at Magilligan Point in May,” he said. “We collected a tonne in one day. On that day, we were able to collect a tonne because we had the people to help us which unfortunately isn’t the case as often as it should be. We could collect that amount on a regular basis if we had the volunteers.
“The amount of rubbish that washes up here is a big problem for wildlife but also for tourism. A lot of it is what is known as ‘ghost nets’. Bits of abandoned fishing nets and that kind of thing.
“Marine debris is a huge problem globally and I think we need to do more as a community about it.
“When I lived in Cornwall there were a lot more people who would turn up to take part in the beach cleans. We don’t get many volunteers to help out here.
“Aside from the impact on wildlife, tourism is important in Northern Ireland.
“I have a business that is reliant on us having clean beaches. Are people going to want to learn to surf in water that could be full of toxic chemicals? Are tourists going to keep coming to the north coast if our beaches are filthy with rubbish?”