Huge threat from litter on our beaches

The revelation that every single step we take along our wonderful coastline is surrounded by an average of four items of litter is deeply alarming.

When it further emerges that more than 80 per cent of the discarded material is plastic, and presents a serious and growing threat to marine life, the need for action becomes overwhelming.

As our coverage set out yesterday, the latest Marine Litter Report from the Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful group sets out a particularly stark picture.

A detailed survey indicated that well over 400 pieces of rubbish were found along every 100m of beach surveyed last year.

Alarmingly, some 30 per cent of this waste material was officially described as `single use plastic’ as it had been used once and then thrown away before polluting our oceans.

The mountain of litter has grave consequences for some of our most important protected species, as demonstrated by the case of a dead leatherback turtle, which was washed ashore at Portaferry in Co Down with a plastic bag and a length of fishing line in its stomach.

In wider terms, it is estimated that 99% of all seabirds will have ingested plastic by 2050 if fundamental changes to waste consumption do not take place.

With tiny fragments of plastic having already been found in 83 per cent of tap water samples taken all around the world, and further traces discovered in our seafood, there can only be fears in the longer term about the eventual possibility of entry into the human body.

The commercial sector has a huge role to play, and it must be hoped that the tax imposed on plastic bags continues to significantly reduce their distribution in our shops and supermarkets.

Environmental activists are also making a telling contribution, as the 2017 report confirms that, in the course of 1,345 hours, 471 committed volunteers were able to lift an astonishing 850 bags of rubbish from the ten beaches covered by the survey across Northern Ireland.

It was also heartening that one Co Antrim primary school took the step of banning all plastic straws after one was pictured via social media lodged in the nose of a turtle.

Most people are already aware of the dangers caused by litter and try to behave as responsibly as possible by following the maxim Think Globally Act Locally in the course of their daily lives.

However, if every member of the public, regardless of their location, took the same approach, it would clearly make a crucial difference.