Beaches in protected zones suffer from the same levels of litter as those not included in special Marine Protected Areas, according to new research.
A study involving the Marine Conservation Society, the University of Exeter and Natural England found “no difference” between the zones - and plastic from 'public littering' was the biggest problem at all sites. The study included 91 Marine Conservation Zones established from 2009 onwards, 256 Special Areas of Conservation and 89 Special Protection Areas for birds. The research highlights how 'marine plastic pollution respects no boundaries'. The findings, which used data from 25 years of beach clean information collected by volunteers found protected areas in Kent, Cornwall and Devon had the highest levels of shore-based litter. The study sugests regional differences in the items found – such as fishing materials in the South West and debris from sewage around large rivers – demonstrate the need for “locally appropriate management."
Lauren Eyles, Marine Conservation Society Beachwatch Manager, said: “The types of litter that
were found are typical of those regularly picked up and recorded by our dedicated volunteers. “What this study highlights is how long-term data from Beachwatch can provide vital evidence in helping to understand the problem, and that MPAs don’t necessarily protect important habitats and species; an even more powerful message to stop litter at source.” Dr Sarah Nelms, of the University of Exeter, said the work has shown that MPAs, which often contain sensitive marine habitats and species, are exposed to litter much in the same way as non-protected sites: "MPAs have no physical boundaries so, to protect them from any potential impacts of litter, we need to take a whole-system approach and reduce the overall amount of litter being released into the environment. “We also need a coordinated approach that considers local nuances, tackling sources of litter that cause specific problems in certain areas.”
Dr Hazel Selley, Marine Specialist from Natural England who commissioned the work, said: “A clean, healthy and biologically diverse marine environment is immensely valuable, for the economy in coastal communities, for our charismatic wildlife and – once we can travel again – for the mental well-being benefits of spending time by the sea. “As we continue to research the impact of plastics on our marine life and move to eliminate avoidable plastic waste, it’s also clear is that we all have a role to play keeping our beaches and ocean clean.” The study was funded by Natural England and ExeMPLaR, a multidisciplinary plastics research hub led by the University of Exeter. The paper is published in the Journal Environmental Pollution