As storm Eleanor looms over us, the winds were already fairly strong this morning. But despite this, a group of us made our way down to Gunwalloe to brave the oncoming storm to clean the beach. We are all aware of the pollution our marine environment is struggling with, not just plastics, but all sorts of alien items we have been duping at sea over the years, which we are only just now starting to understand the ill effects of.
We got to the beach at 11am to start the public beach and I was really excited to see a large group of people of all ages, ready and waiting to join in. The beach clean would actually compromise of 2 beaches; Dollar Cove and Church Cove, both in the National Trust owned area of Gunwalloe. The beaches, despite being right next next to each other, are very different. Roughly similar in size, Dollar Cove is made up of stones and rocks and clay lumps which have fallen from the small coastal cliffs surrounding it. Rocks lay along the water line, creating amazing rock pools, and whilst the tides do reveal some sandy areas, they are few and far between. Church Cove is separated by a small section of cliff and St Winwalloe’s Church, a small yet beautiful space which gives a moment of tranquillity when the waves are raging. This beach is largely covered in sand, and is connected to the stream which runs alongside the golf course. The river that runs down to the ocean changes depending on the wind and tide and some days it isn’t there at all.
We began the clean on Dollar Cove, clambering over rocks to collect up all the items we could. Bottle tops, bits of netting and plastic wrapping were the main items we picked up here and a lot of plastic nurdles. We located some large items here, including large plastic bottles and an enormous piece of netting, which we managed to retrieve and get in the back of the car. “Have you found any exciting items yet?” I asked a couple as I passed them on the beach. “”Not really, ” the gentleman replied, “We have never done anything like this before, I can’t believe how much there is here”.
After we had spent a decent amount of time searching the beach, we made the walk past the church and onto the second beach. The difference here was immediately obvious and if we thought there had been a large amount of pollution on the first beach, we were not prepared for the second. “I see netting!” someone called out as the beach came into view and started running off to retrieve it, excited by what we were doing. As we got closer to the beach, we realised it was littered; chunks of net, huge strands of rope, pieces of plastic in all sorts of different colours, the beach was scattered with different alien objects which should not have been there. Everyone set to work, collecting what we could. Packets, bags, a tiny plastic rake, plastic straws, some Lego flippers – the list of foreign objects was endless and they were everywhere. The team spread out, all bent over, repeatedly throwing brightly coloured bits into bags, a workforce set against the crashing waves as Storm Eleanor became angrier. Others who were not officially a part of the small team joined in, helping to pick up the mess which littered the sand. But as well as foreign objects, there were lots of natural ones too. This beach is well known for the amount of cuttlefish bones which are beached here, and recently, large amounts of by-the-wind sailors (velella) have been stranded here, and died, their tentacles long gone, only the hard sails left behind, some ringed with the deep blue colour they possess in life. Sand pipits skipped along the same at the top of the shore, chasing each other and calling out as they flew.
After several hours, the group were tired and with aching backs, we called it a day before the rains came in. I brought the car over and we loaded up; the boot and back seat filled with the rogue-treasures of the day. We decided to head over to another beach over the headland, Poldhu. This area has its own beach cleaning group, so we decided to use the time to drink hot chocolate from the little cafe instead, huddle around benches, trying to shelter each other from the wind, as we warmed our fingers around ridged cardboard cups of creamy cocoa.
I took the items back to the sanctuary, where I will sort them; those items to be recycled and those to be used in a future project. The large amount of items was shocking, and even though I feel positive about the amount of people who turned up, it is yet another example of the shocking devastation we are causing our planet; the thing that feeds us, that house us, that enables us to breathe. From the mess along our coastlines, to the creatures getting washed in from the ever-increasing storms, our environment in screaming out and we still aren’t listening.
We need to change our behaviour immediately, before it is too late.