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World Oceans Day: Meet Marine Pollution Officer Ana Cowie

News – 7 Jun 2021

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During one of our recent beach clean events that Team Hawksbill attended, as part of #ProjectCleanUp, we met Ana. Ana was running the Waste for Waves event and was so knowledgeable and passionate about the cause that we wanted to introduce all of you to her…

Meet Ana Cowie: Marine Pollution Officer at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust!

As Marine Pollution Officer, I manage all of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s marine pollution-related projects, from engaging with communities regarding water quality, working with fishermen to reduce the amount of old & discarded gear entering our seas, empowering local volunteers to deliver regular beach cleans and educating the next generation about how vital our seas are and how we can protect them.

People do not always realise the amazing marine wildlife we have off the Yorkshire coast. From our soaring coastal clifftops where colourful puffins care for their young, to the waves where dolphins leap, to underwater kelp forests and carbon-storing seagrass meadows. We also all rely upon our seas for a myriad of reasons. Rainforests are only responsible for 28% of the oxygen on earth while oceans are responsible for 70%. It does not matter how far you live from the sea - from every 10 breaths you take, 7 come from the ocean.

However, our marine wildlife and seas are under threat! Every day we are seeing the devastating impact of human activity. Tiny micro-plastics and tangles of deadly rubbish are polluting our environment and choking our wildlife. Agricultural runoff, pesticides and untreated sewage fill our seas with toxic chemicals. Our marine and coastal animals, from tiny crabs to large whales are suffering from stomachs blocked with long-lasting materials like plastics and chemical-filled waters.

Approximately 20,000 tonnes of litter is dumped into the North Sea every single year, and only 15% is washed ashore, the rest is still in the water causing harm. Pollution is harming plant and animal life and destroys feeding habitats for Sea Turtles too. Plastic is the enemy and research has suggested that 52% of sea turtles worldwide have eaten plastic waste and that for 22% of those that eat plastic, it’s a death sentence. It is predicted that by 2050, there will be more plastic in our seas than fish. A plastic bottle can take up to 500 years to break down in our seas and it will keep breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces, spreading far and wide in the environment and wreaking havoc on our wildlife. Scientists have now observed plankton, the very bottom of our marine food chain, digesting plastics. And unfortunately, it is not just marine animals. It is estimated that a human consumes roughly 5 grams of plastic every week, which is the same size as a credit card.

In Yorkshire, we have the largest mainland breeding seabird colony in the UK. Seabirds like puffins, razorbills, guillemots and fulmars travel back here every year to raise their young. Birds like kittiwakes and gannets build nests for their chicks using whatever material is available to them, and unfortunately more and more this is litter. Fishing line and rope surround their nests, wrapping around the chicks’ legs as they grow whilst their parents feed them stomachs full of plastics. During 2010-2016, studies revealed that 95% of fulmars in the North Sea region had significant amounts of plastic in their stomachs.

The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust delivers a variety of projects, working with different sea users to try and remove pollution that is already present, as well as trying to stop it at source. We also work closely with Yorkshire fishermen, providing them with free disposal points for any discarded gear or marine litter that they bring up whilst fishing. We have a 'Waves of Waste' programme too where volunteers are recruited and supported to deliver beach cleans along the Yorkshire coastline that are open to the public. We also have volunteers that carry out marine litter surveys, enabling us to better understand the problem and guide our work. We work closely with schools and communities to educate and inspire about our incredible seas and wildlife, from after-school clubs to our monthly Living Seas LIVE talk series.

So what can you do to reduce marine pollution? It can often feel like anything you do at home would be a drop in the ocean and have no impact, but this simply is not the case! If everyone makes small and manageable changes within their daily lives, the impact is huge.

Here are a few things you can do to help give our seas a chance:

  • Join one of our Waves of Waste beach cleans

  • Reduce (which is THE most important one), reuse, repurpose and recycle

  • Spread the word with friends and family – education is key

  • Sign a petition

  • Write to your MP – we need legislation to be put in place to make the significant changes needed to turn the tide!

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