Bon Voyage! The Beluga II Sets Sail!
Ocean plastic crisis
Plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats that our oceans face. Up to 12 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year. That is the equivalent of a rubbish truck’s worth a minute.
Once the plastic is in the ocean it becomes a danger to wildlife. They can become entangled in the plastic or choke on it. Larger pieces of plastic will eventually break down into smaller pieces called microplastics which animals then ingest.
Studies show that 90% of seabirds and 1 in 3 sea turtles have ingested plastic. Those are shocking statistics. We need to take action now to stop the flow of plastic pollution into our oceans.
That is why on Friday we launched a scientific expedition around the shores of Scotland to study the impacts of plastic pollution on iconic wildlife like gannets, puffins and basking sharks.
We will be sailing on our ship the Beluga II on a two month expedition. On board will be a team of scientists, campaigners and crew who will be taking sea surface samples – in particular where key marine species feed – to analyse for the presence of microplastics.
We will be visiting bird nesting sites on the Bass Rock and the Shiant Isles to document any plastic pollution we see. We will also be conducting surveys on remote beaches to catalogue the presence of plastic pollution. We’ll do this to shine a light on the impact that plastic pollution is having on our seas and wildlife.
Friday’s event featured a host of speakers introduced by our Executive Director John Sauven. They included Richard Lochhead, former Scottish cabinet secretary for the environment and MSP for Moray, Tom Brock, Chief Executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre and Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer from the Marine Conservation Society.
The Scottish Seabird Centre do amazing conservation work and educate the public about Scotland’s wildlife, including organising trips to the Bass Rock to visit the world’s biggest northern gannet colony.
The Marine Conservation Society have been running a successful nationwide beach clean project called ‘Beachwatch’ for many years. The project is integral for not only cleaning our beaches but also measuring how much rubbish is ending up on them, as well as cataloguing the most commonly found items.
We are delighted to be working with both organisations during our ocean plastic expedition, together with many others.
Our keynote speaker was Richard Lochhead and he spoke passionately about the wonder of Scotland’s wildlife and the need to protect its rich waters, as well as Scotland’s leadership tackling the problem of marine plastic.
He spoke of the need to enact a deposit return scheme (DRS) in Scotland, recognising it as one of the many ways that we can tackle marine plastic pollution. It works by placing a small extra charge on the price of a bottled drink, which you get back when it’s returned.
The schemes have been operating successfully in several countries around the world including Germany where it is credited with a 98% collection rate for bottles in the scheme. Similar legislation is being considered in Scotland – where 80% of Scots back such a scheme – and possibly the rest of the UK.
The Bass Rock’s gannets
On Tuesday, the Beluga II travelled to the Bass Rock which is home to over 150,000 northern gannets, for the first major moment in the expedition. These seabirds are the largest in the North Atlantic and about two thirds of the world’s population reside in the United Kingdom, making it the largest colony globally, and part of the reason Scotland’s wildlife and scenery is the envy of the world.
Northern gannets are so synonymous with the Bass Rock that their scientific name is Morus bassanus. It was a lovely sunny day and we were guided to the Rock by the Scottish Seabird Centre’s expert guide Maggie Sheddon.
Around the Bass Rock, where the birds feed, our scientists took seawater samples to analyze for the presence of microplastics. Our campaign team also landed ashore where they inspected some bird nests for plastic.
There we discovered plastic bags, packaging, bits of old fishing gear and even crisp packets strewn across the island and even sitting next to eggs in nests. Marine pollution is clearly a threat to our iconic wildlife – and one that’s becoming more acute.
About Tisha Brown
I am a campaigner on the oceans team.