Litter has become a global environmental issue polluting the natural world and harming wildlife. Not only is litter unsightly, it is also costly to remove, and can be a source of tension leading to conflict. Litter often contains hazardous chemicals that bleed toxins into the soil while creating a breeding ground for mosquitoes. When litter is left exposed to the weather, it can be deadly, causing forest fires and injury to animals. Plastic litter has become a particular problem, ending up in rivers and oceans and causing irreparable damage. The issue of litter and plastics is something that Lisa experiences regularly. In the pandemic of 2020/21 many people found themselves re-evaluating their life choices and Lisa, a security professional for NTT, decided to move to Cornwall with her husband – a beautiful coastal region of the southwest in the UK – where they began volunteering with The Beach Guardians.
How did you come to start volunteering with Beach Clean?
My husband and I moved to Cornwall in late 2021. We had lived in Worcester before and had always loved Cornwall. We used to go once a year, then it became every holiday and after the Covid lockdown we decided to move so we could enjoy Cornwall every day. When we arrived we became aware of a group called Beach Guardians. It’s a community interest group set up by Emily Stevenson who is a doing a PhD on microplastics and its impact on the sea. The group hold beach cleans every other Sunday, all through the year. We joined the group and started going in the November after we moved and have been going ever since. The clean ups cover seven bays and beaches owned by the local council.
What do you tend to find on your beach cleans?
A lot of crisp packets which are some of the worst things around because they don’t break down at all, they stay completely whole and even come out of the sand. They never biodegrade. One of the surprising finds we come across is something called a ‘Fisherman’s Kiss’. It’s essentially two pieces of netting that’s knotted. The fisherman use them to repair nets and then cut the end off and it goes overboard. They’re tiny, like a little 2-inch piece in the shape of a V. Fisherman use hemp nets now but before it was nylon so even though nylon hasn’t been used in 15 years we find hundreds of these ‘kisses’ every week. The damage can be done from just a one inch piece of net because the fibres break up to become like fishing wire which then gets caught up. It’s the same with polystyrene. It breaks up into tiny pellets in the sea which then gets consumed by fish and as a result enters our food chain. It’s actually been proven by one of the local Universities that fish we buy in our UK supermarket has traces of microplastics. Another find is Lego. Back in 1997 a tanker of containers was hit by a freak storm about 20 miles off Lands End in Cornwall. One of the containers held five million pieces of Lego and became dislodged and fell into the sea dispersing all the Lego pieces inside. Kids are always finding bits of Lego and my husband found a diver Lego piece but the one everyone looks for are the dragons. Some people have even made it their life’s work to collect these Lego pieces with the green dragons being the most sought after.
Do you just collect plastic?
We collect any element of litter and also something called ‘Mermaid purses’. They are dried, leathery looking pouches that are the used egg cases of sharks and skates which help to protect the young during development. We collect all of these and take them to a nearby research center where they’re used to help calculate breeding rates. They help to provide a form of population count and a check on the quality of marine life around Cornwall.
Why is it important to you to do something like this?
I feel it’s the whole aspect of giving back. For at least 50 years I’ve consumed everything that’s been provided for me. You see terrible pictures of gulls caught in plastic and so every piece of plastic or fishing line potentially saves some marine life. It’s just a small way of giving back. It’s also a really fun way to meet people. It’s helped us socially getting to know people and it serves a real purpose. The group was established about eight years ago and we see people of all ages attending. Teenagers come to help as part of their Duke of Edinburgh awards and we’ve done cleans with government departments and private corporations. This for me provides a sense of giving back and I feel better having done it.
Lisa is Director of Information Security Auditing for NTT Ltd. She is responsible for internal auditing and runs the global ISO 27001 certification and global SOC2 program. She is part of a global team having joined the company in 2016 as part of NTT Communications Security, which became NTT Security and now NTT Ltd. Lisa is based in the UK and now enjoys the Cornish coast every day.