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Industry pledge to help clear beach bruck

A mussel float lying on the coast at Brae. Photo Wills Sandilands

SHETLAND’S aquaculture industry has promised to do all it can to cut down the amount of waste it produces and help clean up the local environment.

The pledge comes as local campaigners started highlighting the amount of plastic being washed up on the islands’ coastline, despite the annual Voar Redd Up that sees thousands of local people collect tonnes of rubbish every spring.

It also comes after a three day international conference was held in Lerwick to work out practical ways the crisis of marine litter in the north east Atlantic can be tackled right across west and northern Europe.

Beach bruck has long been a concern of islanders as witnessed by the success of Shetland Amenity Trust’s award-winning Voar Redd Up, which celebrates its 30th anniversary next year.

However more and more people are recognising the annual clean up has failed to cut down the amount of litter that washes up on local beaches, and some believe an even greater effort is needed.

Brae electrician Wills Sandilands, who’s been raising the issue of beach bruck online for the past week, said he had been awakened by recent comments on the Let’s Make Change – Let’s Start Locally Facebook page.

“I started noticing what was on the beaches in Brae when I was walking the dogs,” he said.

“I suppose I have been going past it every day and not thinking about it much, but my eyes have been opened and I’m learning how much damage this stuff can cause to marine life.

A dead seabird whose stomach was filled with plastic. Photo Chris Jordan

“I’ve been reading about a whale they found with loads of plastic in its stomach, and about how plastic breaks down and small marine life eat it and it ends up in the food chain and in people’s food supply – so this is becoming a health issue for people as well.”

Sandilands particularly noticed the level of industrial waste from the aquaculture industry, especially mussel farms, and pondered whether they should be more proactive in cleaning up the mess they make.

Shetland Shellfish Growers’ Association chairman Kenny Pottinger acknowledged that the mussel industry had left its mark on Shetland’s coastlines over the years.

However he said great strides had been made in recent years, with the phasing out of polypropylene mussel pegs in favour of continuous rope, and the introduction of more resilient mussel floats.

“We are using better technology now, which should have reduced the amount of waste we produce for the past three or four years,” he said.

“But if there are floats lying around we should be clearing them up and we usually do. If it’s been a gale we wait for a fine day to go ashore whether they’re ours or someone else’s and take them ashore and to the dump.”

He said most mussel companies were actively involved in the Voar Redd Up, providing vehicles and trailers and even boats to access remote sites.

He added that the industry would be keen to do all it can to help alleviate the problem and would welcome any approach from anyone with suggestions.

The OSPAR Commission's intercessional group on marine litter met in Shetland for three days last week. Photo Austin Taylor

A similar stance is coming from Shetland’s salmon industry, who say they have already taken major steps towards minimising waste and regularly help out with the Voar Redd Up.

Industry spokesman David Sandison said there had been many initiatives to reduce waste, such as recycling heavy duty plastic pipes and cage material.

The only waste he saw being produced now was blue string and small pieces of pipe that escaped into the sea, and believed a far greater problem existed with crew chucking stuff overboard from all kinds of boats.

He also pointed out that salmon farmers were often victims of marine pollution themselves, for example when a pot full of paint gets washed into a salmon cage.

“I have been approached in the past by certain individuals who have asked if the industry is willing to help with a clean up and our answer has always been yes,” he said, adding that they could do more if they were approached.

“If a group of people wanted to go and clean an area up I am sure a company would be really happy to engage with that.”

Shetland has always been at the forefront of tackling marine litter, a fact that was recognised by the intergovernmental OSPAR Commission when it met in Lerwick last week.

OSPAR’s three day conference focussed exclusively on how to implement its action plan to tackle marine litter in the north east Atlantic, which was drawn up last year.

The organisation, which made it a legal obligation for oil companies to decommission redundant offshore installations, has now made marine litter one of its main campaign targets.

The 15 countries involved stretching from Russia and Greenland in the north, to Spain and the Azores in the south, has come up with a series of obligations for each country to implement.

It is also implementing major surveys to establish how much marine litter is lying on the ocean floor and to figure out how effective their action plans are proving to be, both of which will report in 2017.

Dutch minister Lex Oosterbaan, the joint chair of OSPAR’s intercessional group on marine litter, said in Lerwick on Friday that Shetland could take credit for pushing the issue up the organisation’s agenda.

“I can easily say that without Shetland, marine litter would not have been as strong as it is in OSPAR or Europe – Shetland was the cradle for OSPAR working on marine litter,” he said.

Meanwhile Wills Sandilands said it was probably going to be up to local people in Shetland to make more of an issue of plastic pollution along the coast if the situation is to improve.

“The Voar Redd Up is excellent, it gets so many people involved, but I think more needs to be done,” he said.

David Sandison agreed. “We always get people (in the salmon industry) to participate in the Redd Up.

“But one of the problems is it’s become part of the culture to clean up once in the year, which means people are less likely to clean up at any other time.”

Shetland's Voar Redd Up has won global recognition for cleaning up Shetland's coastline, but is it enough to tackle the onslaught of marine litter? Photo Shetland Amenity Trust