Plastic in the environment poses such a huge threat to wildlife because it doesn’t just disappear; it simply breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Aside from the dangers of becoming trapped or injured, animals often ingest plastic fragments, with the potential to build up in the bodies of animals right up the food chain - from microscopic animals right up to large predators, including us!
It is estimated that 12.2 million tonnes of plastic enter our seas every single year. Globally, around 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are thought to die from eating or getting entangled in marine litter every year. In fact, studies have shown that 90% of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs, with scientists estimating that this could be as much as 99% by 2050 if things continue in the same direction
Coastal pollution comes from several sources, including directly from the public, shipping, fishing and waste treatment – the majority of this is plastic. In Essex, common finds include cotton bud sticks and other sanitary pollution; plastic bags and plastic fishing line and balloons .
Water Quality – Chemical Pollution
Good water quality is key to the health of our wildlife and our own. However, we are putting our rivers, coastal and marine waters under increasing pressure. This includes inputting a huge range of nutrients and chemicals into water bodies from wastewater, pesticides and fertilizers (from farms, gardens and allotments) and road runoff.
Excessive nutrients and chemicals can have a severely detrimental effect on our coastal and marine environment, including saltmarshes and protected Native oyster populations. Nutrients used in pesticides and fertilisers can cause eutrophication (an excessive richness of nutrients) and frequently reach a water body via land run-off. Eutrophication can cause excessive growth of algae, which affects the water quality and can be detrimental to plants and animals. Ammonia is a common sign of sanitary pollution and can be especially toxic to invertebrates and fish. If these populations collapse, it can have severe knock-on effects to the whole marine ecosystem.
With an increasing population in Essex and thousands of new houses planned to be built, the pressure on our aquatic environments is set to continue. It is becoming increasing important to gauge the level and impacts of landward pollution.
What we are doing
Essex Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas program has been proactively addressing the issue of coastal pollution with the help of dedicated volunteers via our Coastal Wardens scheme (supported by the Environment Agency). These trained volunteers identify signs of pollution and collect baseline water quality data along our coastline to monitor nutrient levels and trends. Potential landward pollutants are identified by taking water samples from borrow dykes, areas that were dug out to construct the seawalls.
The data we are collecting is helping us to identify pollution incidents and problem areas. It will also help facilitate discussions between different local stakeholders and help bring a co-ordinated approach to pollution issues along the coast.
How you can help our marine wildlife
Plastic waste and chemical pollution are adversely affecting our marine wildlife.
Here are a few ideas of what you can do – spread the word.
If everyone takes small steps in their daily lives, we can have a big collective impact.