On 23rd September 2021, East Grampian Coastal Partnership’s marine litter initiative, Turning the Plastic Tide (TTPT), initiated a large-scale operation aiming to remove several tonnes of plastic debris that has been building up on the shores surrounding Cairnbulg harbour, near Fraserburgh.
The area is infamous for being one of the most polluted coastal stretches in Aberdeenshire due to the way in which litter from the sea accumulates and becomes trapped on the rocky shoreline. Bordering on the Waters of Philorth Local Nature Reserve, and only a mile or so from the world-renowned surf at Fraserburgh beach, the array of items found here can threaten neighbouring wildlife and be hazardous to recreational beach users.
Due to restrictions brought about by coronavirus, this was the first time since April 2019 that TTPT has returned to Cairnbulg. The previous attempt resulted in the removal of over 4 tonnes, with the help of 40 staff from Premier Oil and mechanical assistance from Fraserburgh Harbour’s manitou. On this occasion, TTPT were again supported by the harbour, but had now formed a partnership with Oil and Gas UK through its Environment Forum, to gain voluntary interest through its wide membership.
On a day met with bright sunshine and a bitter northerly breeze, 48 volunteers spent the first hour of the morning session carefully sorting and separating recyclable material, before scouring the coast of the remaining waste for another three hours. Working in zones around tonne-sized bags along the beach, it was not long before load after load was being enthusiastically filled, as individuals became increasingly driven to remove as much plastic as possible. While some felt shocked by the sheer amount of waste, with some areas likened to walking over a landfill site, others expressed the therapeutic nature of focussing on a simple task in an otherwise stunningly scenic location.
As per the previous attempt at Cairnbulg in 2019, it was overwhelmingly evident that removing waste at this scale would simply be impossible without mechanical help. The manitou was thoroughly put through its paces all day, with the driver skilfully slinging up to four bags at a time before decanting them into the 40-yard skip.
Most commonly found amongst the waste were pieces of oil-stained fabric which were presumed to be old rags, tyres of varying sizes, large sections of fishing nets, and countless rope fragments and other plastics. Volunteers also took the time to separate 166 blue PVC gloves and 40 oil and fuel filters found in medium-sized vessels, which is a reduction since 2019 where 557 and 49 were found, respectively. While figures for the overall tonnage are yet to be calculated, it is estimated from the gargantuan pile of waste debris in the skip that between 3 and 4 tonnes of litter were removed.
This truly was a herculean effort, and TTPT would like to thank all the volunteers for supporting the project by giving up their time to clean such a high-priority area of coast. Sincere thanks also to OGUK for sponsoring the project and assisting with the organisation of the event, to Fraserburgh Harbour and Drew for expertly handling the manitou, to ASCO for providing the skips and waste disposal, and last but not least, to OWM for providing well-deserved lunchtime ice cream cones courtesy of Peter’s Ices of Cairnbulg.