News / Isles marine litter ‘worst in the world’

Sean Whyte said he photographed a deceased gannet having become entwined in fishing nets used for nesting material.

A NATURE campaigner has described the extent of marine litter found along Shetland’s coastline as the worst he has seen “anywhere in the world” and has called for more to be done to solve the problem.

Sean Whyte, who is known for campaigning for the protection of orang-utans, made the claim after visiting Shetland last week.

He said that while he was in “awe every day of the spectacular scenery and wildlife”, the amount of rubbish he saw washed up on Shetland’s beaches was “horrific”.

Whyte’s claims were met with anger in Shetland, and he later admitted that he had not heard of the annual Voar Redd Up. Read the local reaction here.

He was visiting the isles as part of group of eight who were keen on birds, but also nature in general.

“However, on closer inspection what saddened and disappointed me was the sight on nearly every beach or cove we visited of rubbish, heaps of it – marine pollution,” Whyte said.


“The worst I have ever seen anywhere in the world. It was so bad on Westing Beach our group carried out a ‘flash’ beach clean.”

Their visit came just weeks after the well-attended annual Voar Redd Up across Shetland and its coastline, as well as the Muckle Gadderie roadside clean-up.

Whyte estimated that around 80 per cent of the rubbish on the beaches the group saw could be attributed to the fishing industry, with netting a main offender.

He said the group saw evidence of gannets getting their legs caught in netting which was used by the birds for nest material.

“Literally on every beach we saw hundreds of pieces of green plastic twine/string,” Whyte added.

“Often it was cut in lengths of 15 to 30 centimetres. Whichever specific industry uses this material and discards offcuts into the sea needs naming, shaming, educating and prosecuting, doesn’t it?

Become a supporter of Shetland News


“I can only hope someone in the Shetland’s will get a grip of this marine pollution before it is too late and you lose not only your wildlife, but visitors as well.

“Who wants to see otherwise beautiful beaches covered in litter? As I say, it was really great to see such wonderful scenery, great roads, and clearly a society benefitting from the oil industry.

“So why do Shetlanders permit your beaches and the seas around you to be so badly polluted? You can and should blame, shame and name others for dumping it in the first place, but there is no excuse for not clearing it up, is there?”

The issue of marine litter is nothing new for Shetland, with birds often seen entangled in rope, for example.

An exhibition of wildlife photography currently being held in Hillswick, meanwhile, was inspired by a haunting photo of a dead minke whale on a Nesting beach surrounded by plastic.

Locals have also started taking part in the two minute beach clean initiative, which encourages people to quickly give beaches a tidy up and share what they have collected on social media to spread the word.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.