MCS co hosts #CleanBeachesScotland Parliamentary Event in Holyrood

By: Calum Duncan, Catherine Gemmell
Date posted: 15 December 2017

Scotland Conservation Officer Catherine Gemmell and Head of Conservation Scotland Calum Duncan co-hosted nine MSPs and 50 guests at an event where over twenty organisations celebrated what Scotland has achieved so far in tackling marine litter and took a looking forward to the next steps we can all take, from individuals and communities to industry and government to #STOPthePlasticTide.

The opening speech was by sponsoring MSP Joan McAlpine followed by an inspiring introduction to her work by artist Julia Barton - her’s is thought provoking artwork which documents in great detail the impacts of plastics from microfibres up to cotton buds and melted ‘plastiglomerates’ Artist Julia Barton.

Calum Duncan gave a speech too…and here it is!

“Ocean plastic is everywhere! From remote Pacific Islands to Antarctica to the deepest place on the planet, the bottom of the Marianas Trench. UN oceans chief Lisa Svensson summed it up in Nairobi last week: “This is a planetary crisis. In a few short decades since we discovered the convenience of plastics, we are ruining the ecosystem of the ocean.” This is bad.

However, ocean plastic has also been everywhere in the media in 2017, from the Sky Ocean Rescue campaign to BBC Blue Planet 2 and press campaigns. This is good and provides hope for the future!

Julia Barton’s inspiring coast-to-coast grassroots Sci-Art work and MCS, the work of my colleague Catherine in particular, has been at the heart of this sea change in awareness, as have a range of partner organisations such as our friends at the Have You Got The Bottle campaign led by Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, Fidra, Greenpeace, the Scottish Wildlife Trust Living Seas project in Wester Ross, COAST, KIMO, Shetland Amenity Trust, Zero Waste Scotland, SAMS – and their work with CoCoast and microplastics – Keep Scotland Beautiful and many more.

The UN announcement was made in a part of the world hit hardest by ocean plastic, and is a powerful watershed moment in the history of our relationship with the oceans. Plastics are a wonder material that have helped shape the modern world with benefits touching on every aspect of our lives, including health, travel, play and at home, but at a time when we aspire to a zero carbon future, fossil fuels should not be squandered on single-use throwaway items.

It is not just plastics, but a range of materials that are a concern in our seas and on our beaches.

Through people power, engaging volunteers in our Beachwatch and Great British Beach Clean projects, powerful data is collected that is essential for supporting our campaigns and seeking to make change.

The information you collected helped support the case for the carrier bag charge and I cannot help reflecting that in a Committee room similar to this previous Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead whilst giving evidence during the passage of the Marine (Scotland) Bill through Parliament committed to a Marine Litter Strategy for Scotland, involving many people and organisations in this room, and since re-energised following the recent Programme for Government 2017-18 and the welcome actions therein (could link here back to my earlier blog on this?). Many people have helped support this project, including Scottish Seabird Centre, St Abbs VMNR, fellow Scottish LINK members NTS, SWT, WDC and RSPB, KSB to the Local Coastal Partnerships and many grassroots community groups like East Haven together, the list goes on.

2018 is the Year of Young People. This is a global problem requiring global and local solutions and we welcome the progressive direction of travel shown by the Scottish Government, but we all need to put our shoulder to the wheel and show that, in Scotland, we can #STOPtheplastictide and provide global inspiration and leadership to help leave the planet and our oceans cleaner for younger generations - and those yet to come - than when we found it.

There is an ocean of plastic out there and we all need to work together, communities, charities, government and industry. You can help us! Please sign and share our #STOPtheplastictide petition on your phone or once you leave this event, and spread the word.

At MCS we want to see environmental levies on all single-use plastic cups, lids, straws, stirrers and cutlery – what we are calling ‘on the go items’ - introduced in Scotland and the other nations of the UK. 2018 is also the 25th anniversary of the MCS Beachwatch project, ahead of Year of the Coast in 2018.

It would be great if we could break two records: 1. For the most beaches taking part and 2. the least amount of rubbish found, although this may be ambitious given the scale of the problem!

Together we can help turn this tide.