Selsey beach clean up

Annual litterpick and treasure hunt event is fun for all

Author: Pat
22nd September 2013

The distinctive lifeboat station at Selsey, West Sussex juts out on stanchions some 30 feet above the sea.

This RNLI outpost is well situated, offering ready launch access to the busy reaches of the English Channel. Along this exposed part of the coast, strong tides run east to west and back again, exacerbated by currents rushing out of the Solent.

each buddy pair was allocated a search area

These flows pick up litter and rubbish, either blown offshore from land or deliberately dumped there. Junk in the water is a massive and growing problem everywhere, but one that water users and environment lovers are keen to do something about.

Mulberry Divers of Selsey have just organised their seventh annual underwater clean up, to coincide with the 20th annual Marine Conservation Society Beach Watch Weekend. It’s an above and below water event, focused on East Beach in Selsey. The Manhood Wildlife and Heritage Group have partnered with the dive centre to tackle rubbish on the beach, leaving Mulberry to deal with tat lying just off it.

We willing volunteers gathered at the dive shop for a briefing from Anya Frampton of Mulberry. She talked us through safety procedures (eg SMB at all times because of boat risk) and allocated a search area – each pair was designated a stretch of water between groynes. Picking up rubbish from the seabed might sound easy, but as the briefing explained, it can take a bit of thought. If a marine animal has made a piece of litter its home, is it right to suddenly yank that out of the water?

The short answer is: it depends. General consensus is that plastic is never good and should be recovered, while wood or metal objects should be left alone if they’re encrusted or otherwise assimilated into the marine environment.

We were also told to look out for ‘treasure’ in the form of tokens. These could be exchanged for prizes provided by the good people at Fourth Element. Time to gear up and go diving…

I clambered down the steeply sloping beach and into the sea in the shadow of the lifeboat station with my buddy, Anthony. We both carried knives and line cutters, having been forewarned that lost fishing line was likely to fill up our string bags. This was sagely advice, as within a minute or two we were bagging bundles of monofilament and lead weights, some still with tiny hooks attached. I’ve never used my knife in anger before but was reassuring to have it with me today.

Searching for rubbish on the sea floor takes considerable concentration, surprisingly: a plastic bottle covered in grime can look remarkably rock-like. The advantage of scouring the seabed so widely and at considerable velocity (we both had treasure fever) is that you also take in a lot of marine life. Consider that within just a few minutes and ten metres of the beach I saw two baby cuttlefish, a tame pipefish, loads of large Velvet Swimmer and edible crabs… even a decent sized lobster at the end of a groyne. It’s a pretty interesting dive site in its own right.

But that wasn’t today’s objective. Working as a team, I carried the reel and Anthony was bagman. On a couple of occasions we found large two-litre plastic bottles filled with stones (why?) so I took the bag as Anthony pulled out his knife, hacked the bottle in two and dumped the stones. Into the bag the bottles then went.

We also recovered a four-foot piece of plastic drainpipe, discards of rope, lost clothing and a few pieces of metal. Other dive pairs found similar items, in particular lots of lost fishing lines. The remains of a mobile phone were probably the most unusual find of the day.

After the dive, the local Rotary Club organised a BBQ at East Beach car park, providing a chance to chat about our team efforts. General consensus was that the haul could’ve been much worse (litter removed from the beach included), which is a good sign. Nonetheless, the piles of rubbish recovered proved that this was a worthy cause and East Beach today is that bit better for it.

The event was also a great day out and I’m sporting a new Fourth Element hat, just in time for winter. Treasure can still be found if you look hard enough.

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