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 group of eight who visited Shetland.

“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.

The group also saw a seal playing with polystyrene. Photos: Sean Whyte

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?

“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.