If Guernsey’s wealth was measured in beaches it would indeed be a rich island. They serve a myriad of functions: as recreational areas for locals and tourists, as sources of seafood, and as important wildlife habitats. They constitute a huge feeding resource for migrating birds, a home for over-wintering seabirds, significant breeding grounds, and a habitat for marine life.
There is, however, constant pressure on them, from the large number of diverse human activities to which both beaches and the sea are put. As a result, birds and marine animals suffer. One of the main and continuous problems is litter in its various forms. Litter is not just unsightly, it is downright dangerous, especially to wildlife. Birds and marine mammals get entangled in the remains of fishing nets, or ingest plastics. The result is often death. The Marine Conservation Society estimates that, globally, one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals die every year from entanglement in, or ingestion of plastics.
Some of the litter is left behind by beach users, but, here in the English Channel, with its busy shipping lanes and fishing areas, much of the detritus originates from ships or from fishing boats, having been lost or cast overboard. We have experienced directly the damage this causes to wildlife.
The Marine Conservation Society organises Adopt-a-Beach, beach surveys and cleaning programmes, in order to control the effects of beach litter and to measure its type and quantity. In Guernsey, we generally do very well in these regular surveys. Compared with many places in the UK our beaches are relatively clean. Nevertheless, during the annual September Beachwatch survey in 2003 over 6000 items were picked up by volunteers from 18 local beaches. In 2004 several Société members met on Saturday, the 15th September to survey and clean the Richmond end of Vazon. Spending just two hours, they were able to clean all of the area south of the outfall, some 140,000 square metres. Of the 760 pieces of litter which they picked up, no less than 77% was plastic, including many small bits of plastic cups and a large quantity of plastic rope.
A number of beaches have been "adopted" by concerned islanders: Grandes Rocques, Havelet, Jaonneuse, Les Ammarreurs, Port Soif, La Miellette, L’Islet, and Vazon. More volunteers are needed, both to adopt other beaches and to assist with regular surveys. You can do your part by contacting local coordinator Martin Gavet (telephone 727967) or the Marine Conservation Society, 9 Gloucester Road, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire HR9 5BU, telephone 01989 762064, web site: www.mcsuk.org.
Copyright © La Société Guernesiaise 2008. All rights
Candie Gardens, St Peter Port, Guernsey GY1 1UG, Channel Islands.