Colours in a Crab Basket

Torbay Weekly

Sea pollution and the battle against plastic in particular is rarely out of the headlines these days. Here in a colourful piece, Denise Curtis talks of how she ended up doing her bit on a walk in Brixham. Perhaps it will open some eyes and help in that never-ending fight.

Friday, mid-afternoon, and I’m on my way back along Brixham Breakwater when I notice what looks like bonfire rubbish heaped below, on the section next to the slipway where there are several seats for people to enjoy the view.

Because I only wear my specs when driving or watching TV often encounter odd sights in strange places—once, I saw a dwarf with long yellow braids just ahead of me in the twilight of a London street; there it was, in the middle of the pavement: a very large version of a garden gnome, which—once I was close enough to see properly—became the much less interesting yellow backpack on a tall man bending almost double to tie a shoelace.

But back to Friday. The “bonfire” turned out to be a large heap of bladderwrack infiltrated with masses of rubbish and topped with bottles and the inevitable plastic milk container. Too much to remove easily, so I walked home, returning with bin liners, gloves, my litter grabber, and a crab bucket rescued from the harbour a few weeks ago. I expected to spend 20 minutes clearing the litter, thinking the seaweed would degrade even if it wasn’t removed, but the weed was tangled and reluctant to release its “treasures”—which included tangles of multi-coloured fishing line, a large paintbrush still smelling of solvent, a baby’s dummy, and a nearly full tube of mastic without a top and with contents oozing down its sides.

So, two full bin bags and ninety minutes later, I made my way past the three jolly ladies sharing sandwiches and chips who’d earlier thanked me for my efforts believing me to be a “council contractor” and who now advised me to go home, put my feet up and have “a cup of tea or something stronger”.

But getting home involved crossing the slipway, which was also littered. The tide was low, and I was afraid to step on the green parts which are invariably slippery, so I collected what I could and then moved to the high tideline, and within a space of about four feet had filled the crab bucket, wondering what possible reason there could be for so many pieces of rope, in various colours and thickness, to be cut in such short lengths. And, if there is a reason, why they should then be discarded.

The bucket also held more fishing line—some of it tangled, some in short straight lengths—a faded Mini Cheddars packet, a small pot of sauce, two wads of tinfoil, various bits of plastic and lots of other junk, as well as far too many pieces of polystyrene in various stages of decomposition, although some of it was clearly almost new and probably part of the crate I’d noticed making its slow way along rocks on the breakwater two weeks ago.

We surely all now know the danger polystyrene poses: we know the harm it causes to marine life, and we’ve heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—that vast floating island of rubbish.

Perhaps we’ve also heard the good news: that polystyrene isn’t indestructible and eventually degrades in sunlight—but only over the course of 100 years, which is longer than most of us will live.

Think of the amount of polystyrene waste each of us will probably generate in our lives, because even if we never buy a take-out cup of coffee, we still buy electrical goods or make online purchases that are mostly packaged in it.

Think of the mountains of such waste that we will collectively create and how only the surface of those mountains will actually be exposed to the sunlight that may help it to degrade after a century. It’s not a positive outlook.

Later that day, when I went back to the large heap of bladderwrack I’d left behind and attempted to put it into a neater pile, I noticed it was full of tiny polystyrene balls that gleamed like flowers and clearly meant the weed should not be left to degrade and potentially release them.

And as I walked home along the tideline I noticed, for the first time, too many individual polystyrene beads sitting among the tiny stones, quietly waiting for the wind or the tide to put them back into the sea to add to the damage that has already been caused.

I once read that if we each picked up ten pieces of litter a day, our world would be clean. I think we should try. And when the sea sweeps rubbish we can’t usually reach onto our slipways where it could easily be collected and contained, then perhaps our council and marina owners should be thinking of daily quick clean-ups to ensure that what the sea vomits out is never sucked or blown back in.