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Platform: How you can help to clean up our coastlines – without going to the beach

Olivia Jones, the Clean Coasts Development Officer with An Taisce, is keeping environmental issues in the spotlight throughout lockdown

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Olivia Jones

Olivia Jones

"The smaller the items, the easier they are for wildlife to ingest"

"The smaller the items, the easier they are for wildlife to ingest"

Kian Egan of Weslife helps volunteers during a Clean Coasts beach clean at Enniscrone, Co. Sligo, in 2018. Photograph by INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Kian Egan of Weslife helps volunteers during a Clean Coasts beach clean at Enniscrone, Co. Sligo, in 2018. Photograph by INPHO/Morgan Treacy

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Olivia Jones

After Blue Planet II was on the television, in 2017, we were inundated with people wanting to get involved with Clean Coasts. The day after each episode, the phone was hopping.

Clean Coasts is part of An Taisce’s environmental education side. We cover stuff like the Green Schools campaign, Green Campus, the National Spring Clean, the Big Beach Clean and the Blue Flag programme for beaches. Clean Coasts is part of that bigger picture.

I worked in architecture for years and then the crash happened and I reassessed and went into environmental management. About 13 years ago, with An Taisce, I worked on rolling out a pilot Clean Coasts scheme in East Cork involving local groups and communities in maintaining and improving the coast.

We had started with under 100 groups in east Cork and now we have just under 1,500 groups, nationwide. I’m now based in Sligo and oversee Clean Coasts in Mayo, Sligo and Donegal.

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Olivia Jones

Olivia Jones

Olivia Jones

The main goal of Clean Coasts is giving a sense of ownership to coastal communities to encourage them to protect their stretch of coastline. We run campaigns like ‘Think Before You Flush’, which focuses on items like wet wipes, cotton buds and sanitary products. In a country as small as Ireland, what you flush down the toilet in Athlone very quickly ends up in the sea. People don’t realise that.

Other campaigns we have are things like a micro bead initiative, making people aware of the micro beads in beauty products and toiletries that end up in the sea, and a Love Your Coast competition for amateur photographers.

Obviously we’re not encouraging groups to gather right now because of Covid, but the 2 Minute Beach Clean campaign is still running. People can do it on their own or in their bubbles, and we are still sending out packs of gloves, a tote bag and bags for the litter.

Our annual Ocean Heroes awards outstanding individuals and groups of the year. We usually have a lovely ceremony and dinner, and a government minister comes along.

In the last year, with lockdowns and people holidaying in Ireland, there has been more interest in local beaches. Obviously pollution is a threat to the coastline, but our main focus is marine litter. Plastic bags remain an issue, but not so much since the levy began.

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Cigarette butts are a huge problem, as they are synthetic and don’t break down, but people don’t necessarily think of that. Plastic bottles and bottle lids are a problem, because the smaller the items, the easier they are for wildlife to ingest. Then it’s wet wipes, sweet wrappers, ropes and nets from fishing, baling and wrapping materials from farms. Eighty per cent of marine and coastline litter comes from inland.

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Kian Egan of Weslife helps volunteers during a Clean Coasts beach clean at Enniscrone, Co. Sligo, in 2018. Photograph by INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Kian Egan of Weslife helps volunteers during a Clean Coasts beach clean at Enniscrone, Co. Sligo, in 2018. Photograph by INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Kian Egan of Weslife helps volunteers during a Clean Coasts beach clean at Enniscrone, Co. Sligo, in 2018. Photograph by INPHO/Morgan Treacy

When it comes to the Blue Flag campaign, we get a lot of calls about dog-fouling. I don’t understand why so many of the bags of dog foul end up on the beaches instead of in the bin.

Through this past year we’ve stayed busy with a lot of corporate volunteering, and companies will book us for the day and donate funds to us as we are a charity NGO. The funds go into our groups around the country or to grant schemes for work on a beach or towards the clean-up resources. Those corporate days might be a talk on coastal wildlife with a beach clean, or sometimes a bit of marram grass planting, for stabilising the dunes.

These days are a great way to get the message out to people who ordinarily have no experience of the coastline.

Most of the time we are preaching to the converted, but it’s always good to reach new people, so we’re always thinking of new ways to come at it.

In conversation with Sarah Caden


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