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There is growing concern about the growth of both plastics and microplastics in the marine environment and their potential physical and ecotoxic effects. Research has shown that Marine Protected Areas have just as much of a litter problem as non designated sites.  There is limited information on what impacts litter has on designated sites, a report commissioned by Defra looks at: Assessing Current Evidence of Potential Impacts of Plastic on Marine Protected Species & Habitats in England & Wales.

A broad range of marine organisms (from plankton to whales) has been shown to become entangled in, or ingest, plastics. Physical encounters through entanglement and entrapment by marine debris (nets, ropes and crab pots; to car air filters and polythene bags) have been widely reported for marine mammals. There is also clear evidence that critical life processes, including metabolism, growth, reproduction and behaviour (and mortality) are affected by ingestion of plastic across marine species (source: Marine Plastic Pollution - Defra Evidence Review).

Marine litter is any manufactured or processed solid material from anthropogenic activities that are discarded, disposed of or abandoned once entering the marine and coastal environment including: plastics, metals, timber, rope, fishing gear etc. and their degraded components, e.g. microplastic particles. Ecological effects can be physical (smothering), biological (ingestion, including uptake of microplastics; entangling; physical damage; accumulation of chemicals) and/or chemical (leaching, contamination). It can also be a possible vector for the transfer of alien species.

The Marine Conservation Society's annual Beach Clean Campaign records the amount and types of litter found on UK beaches. Data shows that the majority of items are hard to source, but that public littering is second and fishing third; plastic and polystyrene items being the most commonly found items. A study by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the University of Exeter and Natural England found “no difference” in the amount of this anthropogenic litter present inside and outside MPAs.

Responsibility for managing litter is primarily a District Council duty except where the land is owned by another public authority or privately.


Microplastics are small plastic particles in the environment that are generally between 1 and 5 mm (0.039 and 0.197 in) although some are invisible to the human eye. Microplastics are mainly composed of six polymers: polyethylene, polypropylene and expanded polystyrene, which are more likely to float, and polyvinyl chloride, nylons and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which are more likely to sink. Microplastic sources include industrial products such as paints, abrasive cleaning agents and tyres, and personal care products such as toothpaste and skin cleaners, as well as fragmentation of larger plastics dumped into the oceans.

After entering the ocean, microplastics can be distributed globally with especially high concentrations in ocean gyres, but also close to population centres and shipping routes. Microplastics have been found on beaches, in surface waters, seabed sediments and in a wide variety of marine life. Plastics tend to absorb and concentrate contaminants from surrounding seawater and can also contain a high proportion of additive chemicals incorporated during manufacture. The UK government has announced has banned the sale and manufacture of microbeads.

Southampton Solent University have been undertaking research into the prevalence of microplastics in the Solent.

Nurdle Hunt

In 2017, MDL marina staff undertook a foreshore cleaning exercise to tackle widespread littering of plastic nurdles on the foreshore at MDL Shamrock Quay.Over a period of 2 hours, 40kg of litter,was collected of which 60% was estimated to be nurdles. Given the weight of an average plastic nurdle is 20mg, it is estimated that 1.2 million nurdles were collected and suitably disposed. MDL believe that less than 10% of the marine litter on the foreshore was collected over this period, which would suggest there is probably at least another 10 million nurdles scattered across the foreshore.

The Great Nurdle Hunt has lots of information and resources on this topic.

Wildlife Aware Beach Cleans

To help people learn about the impact on wildlife when they’re clearing litter from the beach, Bird Aware Solent joined forces with the Final Straw Foundation, the Marine Conservation Society and the 2 Minute Foundation to create some helpful guides. Litter-picking events are becoming more popular with local people and these guides help to minimise disturbance to wildlife.

Beauty of the Beach

Southern Water and the Environment Agency joined forces to establish a 'Beauty of the Beach' campaign. This seeks to educate the public about the work being doing to keep our beaches and clean and how they can contribute. They also have an 'unflushables campaign' that provides information on how to prevent sewer blockages from wet wipes and other items.


A Seabin is a “trash skimmer” designed to be installed in the water of Marinas, Yacht Clubs, Ports and any water body with a calm environment and suitable services available. The unit acts as a floating garbage bin skimming the surface of the water by pumping water into the device. It can intercept: floating debris, macro and micro plastics and even micro fibres with an additional filter. It is also able to clean the water from contaminated organic material (leaves, seaweed, etc). It can easily be equipped with oil absorbent pads able to absorb petroleum-based surface oils and detergents.