Western Isles’ marine wildlife at risk from litter, say charities

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The Scottish Seabird Centre has been joined by the national environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful in calling for people around the coastline of the Western Isles to “think first” in order to save the lives of local seabirds and other marine wildlife.

The Marine Conservation Society has also added its backing.

The charities are coming together in a Scotland-wide zero-tolerance campaign on beach and marine litter, which can kill the country’s seabirds and other marine wildlife such as dolphins, seals and turtles.

Tom Brock, Chief Executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, and Derek Robertson, Chief Executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful, which runs the anti-litter Clean Up Scotland campaign, have made the joint appeal along with the Marine Conservation Society (hi-res photographs here – please credit Malcolm McCurrach).

Marine litter can be fatal to seabirds and other marine wildlife. Plastic and polystyrene can be broken down into small bits in the sea – these can then be ingested by birds resulting in death as a result of digestive problems. Plastic bags can cause animals to become entangled and can be mistaken for jellyfish and other food by dolphins and turtles.

It is estimated that, throughout the world, over one million seabirds and 100,000 other marine animals die after becoming entangled in or eating plastic materials.

Tom Brock, Chief Executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said: “The Western Isles are so fortunate to have a rich variety of seabirds and other marine wildlife all the way from Barra up to the Butt, not forgetting the famous puffins on St. Kilda.

“Scotland’s marine wildlife, including everything from puffins, gannets and cormorants to seals, whales and dolphins, is of major international importance and wildlife tourism is now a key part of Scotland’s tourism industry.

“We need to look after our wildlife but instead our everyday actions are causing distress and sometimes their death. Seemingly harmless actions can have tragic consequences.

“Plastic bags are a particular problem, with sealife such as dolphins and turtles mistaking them for food such as jellyfish. They can swallow them, with disastrous consequences.

“Using the Centre’s live interactive cameras unfortunately we regularly see gannets lining their nests with litter.

“Here at the Scottish Seabird Centre we see the tragic aftermath of thoughtless littering. We are appealing to everyone in the Western Isles to think first. Before you throw it away, think of the consequences. Please reduce, reuse and recycle.”

Derek Robertson, Chief Executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful, which runs the Clean Up Scotland campaign, said: “A beach user leaving the empty strawberry carton, or a ferry passenger throwing a bottle overboard, or someone discarding a plastic bag in a coastal village, can be responsible for the death and distress of seabirds and marine wildlife.

“The Clean Up Scotland campaign is aimed at making people understand the consequences of their actions.

“We want people to think first. This is a problem caused by people which can be stopped by people. Beach and marine litter is not just bad for wildlife; it is also damaging to our tourist industry and costs taxpayers millions of pounds every year to clean up.

“There are almost 1,700 items of litter on every kilometre of Scotland’s coastline, including all around the Western Isles. That is a statistic which we hope will shock everyone who drops litter to change their behaviour.”

Anne Saunders, Scottish Projects Officer at the Marine Conservation Society, which runs the annual Beachwatch Big Weekend beach clean event (20-23 September), said:

“Take part in a beach clean happening near your, or better still organise one yourself. It’s very easy to take part and we provide you with all the information and help you need. As well as cleaning up your beach you will be contributing to the valuable knowledge we have on how much marine litter is out there.”