An Taisce’s Clean Coasts programme operates with the objective of maintaining cleaner beaches and shorelines through the empowerment of small and large coastal groups speckled around the country.
More than one thousand groups of varying degree, size and characteristics take care of the Irish coastline, with support being provided by the Clean Coasts programme in the vein of gloves, litter pickers, bags, contact with local authorities as well as providing a platform to connect and to disseminate essential educational resources that allow each and every group to prosper.
Coastal Programme Officer, Ray O’Foghlu, liaises and supports groups in Clare, Galway and Mayo. Speaking to The Clare Echo, Ray sheds light on the most pressing forms of litter found on the Clare coast, the driving force of volunteers as well as a renewed vigour that has manifested itself within groups in the face of Covid-19.
There are two types of litter along the Clare coast, Ray tells. The first, litter that comes off the land and is blown into the sea or litter that stems from towns and villages and is swept out to sea through rivers. This usually comes in the form of bottles, bags and wrappers. In towns like Kilkee and Lahinch, this is the main form of litter, making the west coast of Clare quite a challenge, in Ray’s opinion.
On the other hand, litter emanating from the fishing industry has drastic consequences on marine life. Industrial waste like cut up bits of rope, discarded lobster pots or other equipment from these boats accidentally or on purpose, end up in the sea and eventually washes up on the beaches, Ray admits.
Ray cites a very common from of environmental waste that is produced as a result of the fishing industry, in short strands of monofilament nets. Green in colour and only two inches long, these nets are dispersed through the ocean after being shredded from the propellers of boats. Unfortunately, these microfilament pieces do not break down.
On the role of volunteers in the Clean Coasts programme, Ray comments, “We would be absolutely nothing without our volunteers. They are by far and away the most important piece of the puzzle in trying to keep our coast clean and to be fair, Clare has got some excellent Clean Coast groups. The volunteers are everything and that is why we try to support them as much as we can, be it through information but also through resources and equipment. We also try to highlight the work that they do and give them a platform to communicate. We have quite a big platform on social media, so if they have any issues that they want to put out there, we are more than happy to help.”
“In the last couple of years, there has been much more awareness floating about concerning the situation we are in, ecologically and from a climate point of view in terms of litter and marine litter. Clean Coasts really offers an entry point into feeling like you are doing something worthwhile. You don’t need to know anything, you don’t need to have a qualification, you can sign up as a group, turn up and meet new people. As well as facilitating beach cleans, we do a lot of educational work around the ecology of their local piece of coastline. You will meet new people; you will learn new things and you will feel like you are part of the solution.”
Ray remarks that Covid-19 had greatly affected Clean Coast groups around the country, with the implementation of a stringent lockdown meaning that all activities had to be ceased for a three-month period. Safety of our group members is paramount, Ray divulges. In spite of this, Ray feels that a tasteful and innovative adaptation took place in this period, which resulted in a flurry of seminars and webinars that paved the way for new forms of communication. We kept our education going, Ray proudly professes. Clean Coast groups are now in full swing once again and Ray notes that there are groups, large and small, that are getting back out there, and with a vengeance. Any individual interested in joining a group can do so at www.cleancoasts.org, with the website also providing a place to register new groups and as a portal where you can go to learn more about the ocean.
On a final note, Ray imparts some words of wisdom as to the future of Clean Coasts, “What is going on now in the world with climate change can feel quite oppressive. I think we can sit back, and we can worry about it or we can get up and take some physical action to make a difference even if they are small. Clean Coasts offers the opportunity to do just that.”