Meet Natalie Harris owner of Clean Our Seas, we recently met and knew right away that we wanted to collaborate on a new project. Read below to find out more!
Tell us about Clean Our Seas…
In 2017, whilst on holiday in Greece, I noticed a secluded beach was scattered in plastic bottles- after carrying out my first ever beach clean, I decided to assess the state of my local beaches back home. Realising these were also littered in plastic I started the Clean Our Seas initiative on Instagram. On the platform I share my beach cleaning experiences, raise awareness of local plastic pollution issues, inspire others to beach clean, highlight the dangers of plastic to our wildlife and share plastic free alternatives that can help stop the source of pollution. Knowing that the task of clearing ocean plastic needs the help of many people, I began running community beach cleans around the south coast, of which my latest had 70 attendees. Since starting Clean Our Seas I have removed over 900kg of litter, run organised beach cleans at Boardmasters Festival and completed a 20km beach clean challenge from Hurst Spit to Hengistbury Head in 3 consecutive days. For me Clean Our Seas is about a community of like minded people who are concerned for the health of our oceans and are actively moving towards cleaner, safer oceans to protect biodiversity.
What does ocean plastic mean for the environment?
Ocean plastic harbours many threats for our environment. From the large pieces of lost fishing rope (known as ghost gear) to the microplastics which can be invisible to the naked eye. Ghost gear poses a huge threat to marine wildlife as it has the potential to entangle for as long as it floats in the ocean. Once an animal is caught in the plastic fishing line, it is near impossible to escape. Escalating the problem, this then attracts bigger predators which can also become entangled. As plastic is not biodegradable, it is often said that plastic breaks up- not down. The combination of UV light, wave abrasion and salinity causes the plastic to break up into smaller pieces- these can then be ingested by fish, seabirds and sea mammals causing internal blockages. On the other end of the size scale, microplastics (less than 5mm long) are also ingested by marine wildlife- these can be especially dangerous to filter feeders. Once in the food chain microplastics will transfer through trophic levels and can bioaccumulate in top predators- it is now being scientifically proven that even we humans have microplastics in our bodies. Worryingly, microplastics have now been found in every ecosystem that has been investigated and they occur in different forms- the primary microplastics are manufactured to be that size such as nurdles (pellets that act as a raw material) , biobeads (used in the the wastewater industry) and cosmetic fragments (such as in cleansers). Secondary microplastics are fragments broken from larger pieces. All of these leak into our waterways and end up polluting our oceans and killing our wildlife.
You don’t have to live by the sea in order to help marine life. As 80% of ocean plastics originate from land sources, I like to think completing a litter pick anywhere is essentially doing a beach clean. Plastic will end up in our oceans from rivers, drains and by being blown so doing a litter pick around your local area will help all wildlife. Whilst you are on the beach be sure to pick up any litter you see (especially that nasty fishing line)- beach cleaning doesn't have to take hours- just spend a few minutes checking the sand or keep your eyes peeled whilst out on a beach walk. Cigarette butts are often overlooked, when it comes to plastic pollution but these will leach toxic chemicals into the water, be sure to properly dispose of cigarettes instead of leaving them in the sand. Whilst it is incredibly exciting to see marine wildlife on the beach, please remember that this is their home and they are susceptible to human disturbance. Be sure to give wildlife plenty of space as going too close can lead to animals abandoning their young, elevating stress levels and disrupting feeding patterns. Helping to protect marine wildlife will ensure a healthy ecosystem is maintained and that species are here for future generations to admire and enjoy.
What is the best advice you could give for someone who is looking to live more sustainably?
I commend everyone who is trying to live more sustainably as it can often seem daunting and difficult to know where to start but your efforts will add up. I suggest finding something you’re passionate about to focus on first. This could be; buying food with less plastic packaging, finding plastic free cosmetics or trying to avoid fast fashion brands. This way it won’t seem overwhelming at the beginning, then you can build on your sustainable actions.
Three tips which I believe are key to living more sustainably are; reducing your meat/fish consumption- try having at least 2 meat free days a week. Reducing your single use plastic usage- invest in reusable water bottles, food containers and utensils (on average a plastic bag is used for 15 minutes before being thrown away and plastic cups just 13 minutes). Thirdly, to avoid fast fashion- try using second hand apps, swapping clothes with friends, repairing or upcycle clothes you already have.
Finally, I believe it is very important to have conversations with friends and family about why you're making these changes. Having discussions about concerns for our planet’s future will help highlight the issues. We all have different ideas on ways we can live more sustainably and helping each other in this journey is so important. The more people we have taking action to save the natural world the more chance we have in succeeding. Never think your actions are too small to make a difference- we can’t all do everything but everyone can do something.
Join us for our first ever beach clean together!