Wading through seaweed tangled with Tesco's carrier bags and building sandcastles laced with cigarette butts is not your usual idea of a fun trip to the seaside. Indeed, the need to keep our beaches clean is a message that's been circulated for some time. But with reports suggesting an estimated 6.4 million tonnes of litter is entering our oceans each year, there's still a considerable amount of work to be done.
This month, the Make Holidays Greener campaign (jointly delivered by The Travel Foundation and Travelife for Hotels & Accommodations) is urging holidaymakers to keep beaches plastic-free. Travelife, the international sustainability label for hotels, is encouraging its 1,300 members to help protect the environment and support local people.
Last year, the campaign resulted in 600 bags of rubbish being collected from 97 beaches worldwide, and holidaymakers can participate in similar Big Holiday Beach Clean events in Europe throughout July. The campaign is also helping to raise awareness about the dire implications plastics can have on the environment. Plastic never biodegrades, and so there are currently 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans, including cigarette butts, shopping bags, crisp packets and bottles. Some areas of ocean contain six times more microscopic plastic particles than plankton.
Not only is the litter unsightly, it's also a grave threat to marine wildlife and is even entering our own food chain. At least 267 different species are known to have suffered from entanglement in or ingestion of marine debris. Turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them. The bags then block their stomachs, leading to starvation, and 50-80% of dead sea turtles are found with ingested marine debris. Seabirds also mistake plastics for food, and 90% of fulmars found dead around the North Sea have plastic in their stomachs.
Along with taking part in the Beach Clean events, holidaymakers are being encouraged to alter their beach behaviour and avoid the build up of plastics in the first place. Many European countries lack the sophisticated recycling set-up we have at home, so it's advisable to remove any bulky packaging before visiting the beach and to carry food and drink in reusable picnic containers. Cigarette butts should be collected and taken away, and it's also a good idea to avoid using bathroom products containing microplastic particles such as some toothpastes and body wash.
Fortunately, the majority of Europe's beaches already comply with strict environmental regulations so there's still plenty of opportunity to swim in clean, clear water this summer.
According to the 2014 European Bathing Water Quality report, compiled by the European Environment Agency, 95% of the bathing water sites studied complied with minimum water quality standards (in both coastal and inland areas). Six countries were considered excellent, including Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, Germany, Luxembourg and Malta. The three countries with the highest number of poor bathing waters were Italy, Spain and France.
:: To find out more about the Make Holidays Greener Beach Clean events, visit www.makeholidaysgreener.org.uk