A call has been made for householders to join in the battle to keep Northern Ireland’s beaches clean, as a phalanx of volunteers yesterday embarked on a sweep of the Province’s coastline.
Around 100 helpers gathered at the shore of Belfast Lough in Jordanstown during the morning, in what was the first part of a four-day clean-up of a handful of Northern Irish beaches with the Marine Conservation Society (MCA).
As well as trawling the stretch of coast for litter, they were also studying the detritus to find out where it came from so that the problem can be tackled more effectively.
Yesterday saw 390kg (860lb) of rubbish collected – 3,265 items in total.
This week’s events are known as the Marks and Spencer Big Beach Clean-Up, and a large proportion of those taking part are the firm’s workers and their families.
It comes roughly a month after the MCA released an annual survey showing that Northern Ireland’s beaches were more litter-strewn than those of any other UK region.
The 2013 exercise looked at seven beaches in the Province, and found they had an average of more than 7,000 pieces of litter per kilometre (about 0.6 of a mile) – far above the English, Welsh and Scottish figures.
One of those leading the clean-up operation, Emma Cunningham, was reluctant to single out Northern Ireland for special criticism because she said the issue affects the entire UK.
Speaking from the beach yesterday, Mrs Cunningham, the MCA’s pollution campaign officer, said: “The key sources of the litter are from us – the British public: lolly wrappers, cigarette butts. I’ve just picked up a cotton wool bud stick, and that’s come from someone using the toilet.”
They also get pallets, hooks and fishing lines from shipping, and she added: “We’re been surveying (UK beaches) for 20 years, but unfortunately the problem isn’t going away.”
Over the years, with the increase in packaging and throw-away culture, she said matters have become worse.
Asked what people should do, she said: “People can come and get involved in a hands-on event like today.
“Taking cloth bags to the supermarket, not using the toilet as a wet dustbin, not throwing cigarettes on the beach or out the window of your car.
“There are absolutely plenty of things people can do.”
The other clean-ups and surveys are happening at Portstewart Strand today at 10am; Ballyholme and Bangor tomorrow at 11am and Warrenpoint on Sunday at noon.
To get involved in these, register by visiting www.mcsuk.org/foreverfish .
Money-off vouchers for Marks and Spencer are available to those who register.