UK wildlife under threat from ocean plastic pollution, Greenpeace expedition finds

Publication date: 27th June 2017

A Greenpeace scientific voyage researching ocean plastic around Scottish coastlines has found plastic in the feeding grounds of basking sharks, in the habitats of iconic wildlife like puffins, seals and whales, and even in the nests and beaks of seabirds.

On Tuesday 27 June, Greenpeace’s ship the Beluga II arrives in Edinburgh to present the initial findings from its two-month research mission investigating the impact of ocean plastic pollution on some of the UK’s most beautiful landscapes and iconic wildlife.

See dramatic pictures of the impact of ocean plastic pollution on wildlife here

Key findings include:

  • Beaches strewn with plastic: plastic bottles, bags, packaging and plastic fragments found on every beach surveyed – more than 30 beaches in remote areas. The surveys will contribute to international databases and were conducted alongside volunteers, pupils from local schools and with support from the Marine Conservation Society. [See image]
  • Microplastics in feeding waters: microplastics found in the foraging grounds of basking sharks and seabirds, with over 40 scientific trawls conducted in remote and biodiverse areas home to seals, puffins, whales and other iconic wildlife. Early analysis shows presence of plastic in multiple samples; full sample-set will now be sent for further analysis, with results published later in the year. [See image]
  • Plastic pollution in wildlife habitats: plastic bottles, bags and packaging documented in internationally significant seabird colonies, including in nests and even in the beaks of seabirds, in areas such as the Bass Rock, Isle of May and the Shiant Isles. [See image]
  • Animals entangled in plastic: the crew rescued a gannet at sea which was tangled in rope, fishing gear and bits of plastic. [See image]

Petition hand-in photocall: 12:00-13:00, Tuesday 27 June, entrance to Scottish Parliament

Campaigners will deliver a petition to Scotland’s Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham calling for the introduction of a deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers in Scotland. DRS have been shown to increase collection rates of plastic bottles as high as 95% in other countries and reduce the number ending up in the environment.

The hand-in will include a print of an artwork by award-winning artist Mandy Barker made out of plastic gathered during the expedition, as well as small commemorative bottles filled with ocean plastic from the tour.

Expedition finale event: 18:00-20:00, Tuesday 27 June, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh, EH1 1SR

Join politicians, scientists and campaigners to discuss the expedition’s findings and the broader issue of ocean plastic. Speakers include: Maurice Golden MSP, Dr Paul Johnston (Greenpeace Science Unit) and Alison Lomax (Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust). Interviews available.

A bespoke artwork made by artist Mandy Barker for Greenpeace’s End Ocean Plastics campaign will be on display at the finale event, alongside a science display showing microplastic samples found during the expedition. There will also be a short film screening from the voyage.

Tisha Brown, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said:

“It cannot be right that our beaches, seas and the stunning wildlife they are home to should become the final dumping ground for throwaway plastic bottles and other plastic trash. With a truckload of plastic entering the ocean every minute, we need urgent action from governments and from major soft drinks companies which produce billions of single-use plastic bottles every year, like Coca-Cola, to stop the flow of plastic into the sea.”


Notes to editors:


For a gallery of images from the expedition, see:

For drone footage of basking sharks in Gunna Sound, see:

For footage of the Bass Rock, see:

Notes on locations and wildlife, where plastic was documented:

  • The Bass Rock is home to the world’s largest colony of northern gannets (over 150,000).
  • The Isle of May is the largest grey seal breeding colony in the UK.
  • Gunna Sound, near Tiree, is a key basking shark feeding ground, where the expedition found microplastics in the water. Basking sharks are filter feeders, making them particularly susceptible to ingesting microplastics. Basking sharks can filter up to 1,800 tons of water an hour – similar to the manta trawl deployed by scientists aboard the Beluga II.
  • The Shiant Isles, in the Outer Hebrides, are home to a cornucopia of seabirds, including puffins, razorbills and guillemots, which are monitored by an RSPB research station.

Sample analysis:

All of the samples from the 40+ scientific trawls conducted will now be sent to the Greenpeace Research Laboratories, based at Exeter University, to analyse for the presence of microplastics and chemicals that could be attached to them. The full results will be published later this year.

About the expedition:

Throughout May and June, Greenpeace’s ship the Beluga II set out on a two-month scientific voyage around Scotland’s coastlines, investigating the impact of ocean plastic pollution on some of the UK’s most beautiful landscapes and iconic wildlife.

The crew and scientists from Greenpeace’s Research Laboratories, based at Exeter University, were aboard the Beluga II to carry out sea surface sampling for microplastics, survey remote beaches for pollution and investigate seabird nests for plastic during hatching season.

The expedition took in sites of stunning beauty and biodiversity, including the Bass Rock, Gunna Sound, Mull, Rùm, Eigg, Skye, and the Shiant Isles in the Outer Hebrides. Plastic was documented in all locations.

During the tour, Greenpeace collaborated with many organisations including the Scottish Seabird Centre, the Marine Conservation Society, the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust and RSPB Scotland, as well as running community engagement work to raise awareness about ocean plastic pollution, including talks, beach cleans with schools and other events

For more information on the expedition, interviews and comments, contact:

Luke Massey, Press & Communications Officer at Greenpeace UK,, 07973 873 155