Whitby can help halt the killer plastics

A puffin was rescued after it became wrapped in balloons. Pictures by Whitby Whale Watching.
A puffin was rescued after it became wrapped in balloons. Pictures by Whitby Whale Watching.
Share this article

Could Whitby lead the way in cutting down on plastic waste that is killing marine life?

This week the Whitby Gazette and its sister newspapers on the Yorkshire coast are backing calls to reduce damaging plastics and marine litter.

A seal with a frisbee caught around its neck on Ravenscar beach.

A seal with a frisbee caught around its neck on Ravenscar beach.

Discarded food containers and wrappers as well as plastic bottles are getting into the sea amid startling reports of serious damage to seals and seabirds. The final episode of Blue Planet, which has become the most-watched TV programme of 2017, shows how the oceans are threatened by over fishing and plastic pollution.

Organisations such as North Sea Wildlife Trusts and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust have been working along the Yorkshire coast hosting beach cleans.

Bex Lynam, North Sea Marine advocacy officer, said: “We carry out regular beach cleans which does make a positive difference. The type of litter that we are finding varies although we are always collecting plastics.

“These are especially dangerous to the welfare of wildlife. We are seeing seals caught with fishing lines around their necks and birds with balloons tied to them.

A puffin was rescued after it became wrapped in balloons. Pictures by Whitby Whale Watching.

A puffin was rescued after it became wrapped in balloons. Pictures by Whitby Whale Watching.

“But we are also seeing animals that have died, not necessarily from plastic ingestion, but they have marine plastics in their systems when we find them.”

Ms Lynam said: “I know it’s an overwhelming problem, people think ‘what can I do to make a difference?’

“It’s easier to start with the small things – picking up your rubbish from the beach, making sure you recycle, cut down on buying products with a lot of packaging like buying loose fruit and vegetables and even supporting policy changes which will make a difference.

“It’s not hopeless on an individual perspective – little changes make a big difference.”

Throughout 2017, this newspaper has covered rescues that organisations such as the RSPCA and the Sealife centre have carried out to support marine wildlife in some of the most obvious effects of plastic pollution.

One motor company changed their policy after Whitby Whale Watching spotted a puffin wrapped up in the string from balloons.

Ms Lynam said: “The puffin would have almost certainly died if they had not disentangled it.

“First and foremost the entanglement would be restricting the puffins movement, which then of course restricts its critical behaviours such as feeding and flying, but it would also mean it is even more vulnerable to predation than normal; indeed I believe a group of fulmars were circling in on it when it was found.

“The plastic would also continue to negatively impact other marine life as the balloon/string keeps circulating in the sea long after the puffin had died.”

Suzuki motor company agreed to stop using balloons and made a goodwill donation to Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary.

“We do often see balloons and plastic, although thankfully we have noticed a dramatic drop in carrier bags since the charge was introduced,” added Ms Lynam.

“Unfortunately when we see birds entangled they are usually already dead. We have released fulmars from line and hook too and gulls from fishing line.

“The gulls tend to get tangled in the “crab fishing kits” which are sold and used by children around the harbour and discarded when they leave instead of disposing of them carefully. We do pull out balloons whenever we can, including recently a large bunch of christening balloons.”

A motion has been put forward to Scarborough Borough Council to look at reducing single-use plastic in the area.

Eight million metric tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the world’s oceans each year endangering marine life.

The motion, by the Green Party, says: “300 million tones of plastic are produced around the globe each year. Of this, 50% is for disposable applications such as packaging. It is time for Scarborough Council to take a lead on this issue, in line with our Sustainability Project.” It urges the cabinet to show some form of engaging leadership and develop a “robust strategy” with key people and groups to make the council a “single-use-plastic-free authority” by the end of 2018.