Plastic tides

Rope trapped in newly formed tufa, Spanish Point, Co. Clare
Susan Powell 2020
Fulmar from Fanore Beach, Co. Clare, showing plastic found in stomach. 2018.
Dr Heidi Acampora - Republic of Ireland Beached Bird Survey RIBBS
Long-finned pilot whale found on Seafield beach Co. Clare in 2018.
Jutta Kruse
Examples of plastic found on Spanish Point beach exhibited at the ‘Local solutions to Plastic Pollution’ event
Courtesy of Sabine Springer
Make Kilkee Plastic Free Logo
Courtesy of Make Kilkee Plastic Free Group
Take 3 for the Sea signage at Whitestrand Co. Clare
Susan Powell 2020

Plastic Pollution in the Miltown Malbay Area

By Susan Powell

Plastic pollution in the Atlantic Ocean in the Miltown Malbay area is a huge problem affecting wildlife, people and the landscape.

The coast at Miltown Malbay is included in the Mid-Clare Special Protection Area, as designated by the National Parks and Wildlife Services as a protected area for birdlife. Yet walking along any beach at low tide reveals a mixture of sizes and types of plastic debris daily. The negative effects on all wildlife including birds, geology and human well-being are explored below.

Why is there so much plastic in the ocean?

  • Industrial and agricultural mismanagement, such as improper disposal of silage wrap.
  • Littering of bottles, food packaging, cigarette butts and illegal dumping.
  • Abandoned fishing waste such as netting and containers.
  • Micro beads in cosmetic and cleaning products ending up in the ocean through our disposal system.
  • Loss of industrial raw materials, such as plastic pellets or powders, during transport at sea or into surface waterways.

Local and Global Problems of Plastic Pollution

At Spanish Point, lime rich waters flow from the land down the cliff face. As the flow slows, calcium carbonate is precipitated out of the water and forms a deposit on the cliff face.  These deposits are known as tufa. In time they will harden to form solid rock. However, this newly forming rock has built up around abandoned plastic rope in several places. This legacy is the rock of the future, courtesy of our plastic generation!

Tufa is an important habitat for Bryophytes such as mosses, liverworts and hornworts.

Globally half of plastic usage is single use, with more than 8 million metric tons of plastic ending up in our oceans annually. This has a damaging effect on wildlife in various ways.

Ingestion of plastics by wildlife lodges in the stomach and leaves no space for digestion which can then lead to starvation. Based in Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, Dr Heidi Acampora researches seabird ecology and marine pollution, such as plastics and persistent organic pollutants.  Examples of this have been found locally at Fanore beach and examined by Dr Heidi Acampora.

There are lots of examples, both globally and in County Clare, of wildlife getting entangled in fishing debris. The accompanying photograph shows a long-finned pilot whale entangled with plastic rope, found on Seafield beach Co. Clare in May 2018.

The majority of plastic that has been produced still remains on the earth or in the sea, constantly breaking down into smaller pieces.

Species within an ecosystem rely on each other to survive. If one species is eradicated, then this affects the whole ecosystem.

County Clare is world famous for its scenery, wildlife, ocean, land sports and music, attracting huge numbers of tourists and students annually. Future generations will be heavily impacted if the issues raised here are not addressed urgently.

Be Part of the Solution

 Ultimately it has to be down to infrastructure investment, public education and behavioural changes by everyone to bring about a cleaner and safer environment. 

On  October 23, 2018 in the Armada Hotel in Spanish Point an information and consultation evening was held called ‘Local Solutions to Plastic Pollution’.

Over 250 people attended the event.  Underwater cameraman and presenter Ken O’Sullivan, who was involved in the documentary  ‘Ireland’s Deep Atlantic’, spoke about his experience of plastics in the sea.  Cillian Murphy representing ‘Make Kilkee Plastic Free’ explained the success of the project.  Theresa O’Donohoe of Voice Ireland gave a demonstration on recycling. There were also displays of artwork using plastics and other materials found on local beaches.

The local communities along the Mid-Clare coast have become part of this global movement, operating the ‘Take 3 for the sea’ initiative.  This encourages people to pick up at least 3 pieces of plastic each time they visit the coast, if we all do this simple thing we make a difference globally and locally.

Signs have been installed at local beaches in the Miltown Malbay area, including Spanish Point and White Strand

If reusable bottles become the norm with water refilling centres commonly available, the issue of single use plastic bottles would be drastically reduced.

We produce the equivalent of nearly 2,000 water bottles, or 5,550 disposal coffee cups, per person annually in Ireland. (Irish Times Apr 21, 2018)

Sources of Further Information

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