Coastwatch cleans up

August 8, 1997

Chris Condron finds balancing sun and sex and avoiding sewage makes summer holidays a risky business

OLD TYRES, medical waste, "sewage-related" debris and household furnishings are just some of the things you could stumble across next time you take a walk along a British beach.

Researchers at the Robens Centre for Public and Environmental Health, based at theUniversity of Surrey, are about to embark upon the Coas****ch UK 1997 project, which will survey up to 2,000 kilometres of British coastline betweenSeptember and October.

The programme is part of a wider collaborative project, Coas****ch Europe, initiated by the Dublin Bay Environment Group in 1987 and now involv-ing 20 countries across the continent.

"We hope the project can continue to provide baseline data in a form which is directly comparable between countries, and provide an insight into major problems and threats to European coastlines," said Kathy Pond, co-author of the 1996 Coas****ch UK report and a member of the Robens team.

Although there has been little change in the amount of litter and pollution found since the group became involved in 1989, Dr Pond believes the distribution may be affected by factors such as season, visitor numbers and shipping activity.

The area around the Irish Sea remains a pollution hot-spot, consistently achieving the highest rates of plastic, packaging and sanitary items.

"The northwest of England and the Isle of Man present a particular problem, because much of the area is industrial, while the Irish Sea is the most enclosed of all our coastal waters.

"Unfortunately that is where many of the busy tourist resorts are found," Dr Pond says.

Collecting data from 2,000 kilometres of coastline requires a huge and dedicated team ofvolunteers.

The coordinating office sends coastal project workers from participating countries identical questionnaires to complete on a five-kilometre block of coastline.

Dr Pond estimates that up to 6,000 people will take part in this year's Coas****ch UK project, helping to raise public awareness of coastal issues and aid interdisciplinary environmental education.

The Robens group will analyse the data and submit an annual report to the European parliament, central government and the local authorities responsible for coastal management.

Data collected since 1989suggest that while overall quantities of litter have remained almost constant, it may be moving from region to region.

Dr Pond believes moving from simply monitoring pollution to a fully integrated anti-pollution policy would help to combat theproblem.

The group's last report concluded that sanitary items and medical waste in particular could be substantially reduced by improved sewage treatment processes.

The level of cooperation and support presently does not stretch as far as an integrated funding system.

The Danish government recognises the potential of the exercise and funds it through the department of education, while money comes from commercial sponsorship in Spain.

The UK team receives European Community funding for the international collaboration, but consistently seeks national funding to ensure the future of the project.

*see research papers

Research papers relating to the stories on this page (where indicated) can be found through THESIS, The THES Internet Service at http://thesis.newsint.co.uk

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