The Beluga II Expediton comes to a close

By: Fiona Nicholls, Greenpeace campaigner

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.

Greenpeace Tour

“What a difference just two months can make. At the start of May I knew the facts and figures of the scourge of ocean plastics pollution, that up to 90% of seabirds have now eaten plastic, and that 1 in 3 turtles have too, and these numbers broke my heart. But setting sail with the campaigners, crew and scientists of Beluga II, who were on a mission to document the impact that plastic in the marine environment has opened my eyes even further.

To see a gannet tuck strips of polythene under herself whilst nesting, to see puffins with beaks full of plastic rope (hoping to impress their partner?)… I’ve now seen first hand just how our throwaway, single-use culture permeates and leaves a mark on the environment, and our oceanic wildlife.

Together with the Marine Consevation Society, Greenpeace surveyed nearly 40 remote beaches off the coast of Scotland… I want to say they were pristine, but they weren’t. Every beach visited and surveyed has evidence of plastic pollution, from the coral beach of Loch Dunvegan to the causeway between islands in the Shiants.

Distressing though it is, this situation isn’t helpless. Government and industry both have a role to play here.

A Greenpeace petition supporting the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme in Scotland has garnered just shy of 25,000 of our Scottish suppprted signatures. Today, we handed this petition to Scottish Enviroment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham. There is already political support for a deposit return scheme in Scotland, sometimes it just takes the empowerment of 25,000 people’s support to kick things up a gear and get the wheels turning. Deposit Return Schemes have seen recovery rates sore in Germany, 95% of the plastic put out there is recovered and reused. When you think that just daily, the UK fail to recycle 16million bottles… you know action is needed from the top down.

I mentioned industry and the role they have to play. While it’s fantastic when individuals take action to reduce the amount of plastic in their lives (I love my keep cup and reusable water bottle, they are must-have essentials now) - companies churn out billions of bottles and take little responsibility for where they end up.

Onboard the Beluga II, i’ve just witnessed what plastic can do to the most beautiful of places, and its goes to show that when we throw something away… away simply doesn’t exist. It’s our beaches, oceans and our wildlife that bear the brunt of plastic pollution and this needs to change.”

Fiona Nicholls, Greenpeace campaigner.