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“Extreme litter pickers” keeping West Wales seas safe
Author: Rachael Misstear, Western Mail,, 10-08-2010
United Kingdom

View a slideshow below of the litter pickers in action

The environmentally-minded group of 25 volunteers have been commended by conservationists who have described their role as crucial to protect precious marine wildlife and vital fish stocks.

"Pembrokeshire has some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the UK which provides habitat for a diverse range of fauna and flora," said group leader Dave Kannard.

He said the habitat and the wildlife it supports have come under increasing pressure in recent times and the group is aiming to tackle the problem by mirroring a shore-based clean-up operation.

While the impact of litter washed up or left on our shoreline can easily be seen, the same cannot be said for marine litter beneath the waves.

"Groups like Coast Care aim to involve people in caring for their local, coastal environment where volunteers can adopt a beach or stretch of coastline and carry out activities such as litter picks, dune maintenance and environm

ental education events," he added.

"We mimic the beach litter picks carried out by Coast Care groups with the only difference being they are carried out underwater."

The organisation, which is preparing for a clean-up dive at Skomer in Pembrokeshire on August 21, is made up of divers with a passion for keeping the underwater environment in Pembrokeshire as pristine as it should be.

Divers descend in buddy pairs armed with scissors, bags, trays, lifting bags, and a great belief in what they are doing. Dives can last almost an hour during which litter is collected, bagged and sent to the surface for retrieval by a support boat.

Group secretary David Jones said the highest presence of litter is from recreational fishing with weights, rods, hooks and endless amounts of line retrieved from dives all around the county.

"The impact upon wildlife are only too apparent with fishing line often cut from spider crabs and lobsters, dog fish released from hooks and lost crab pots ghost fishing," added Mr Jones.

"The litter can also be a hazard to divers and other water users. Once retrieved the various items are cleaned, sorted, recorded and recycled where possible."

Already this summer they have carried out operations in Manobier, Skomer, Hobbs Point and Stackpole.

The group is supported through sponsorship from Milford Haven Port Authority, Environment Wales Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, Pembrokeshire council, Draig Business Services and Keep Wales Tidy.

And last December it was given a national award for the Most Admired Voluntary Organisation in Wales, having been recognised by the Welsh Council for Voluntary Action.

"Volunteers do a superb job of clearing the sea bed of litter including miles of angling line, bucket loads of lead weights and fishing pots," said Kate Lock of Skomer Marine Nature Reserve.

"The litter, if not cleared, kills and damages marine life. Monofilament line tangles fish and crabs and also cuts into the soft tissue of sponges and corals like the pink sea fan, a UK protected species.

"In the Skomer Marine Nature Reserve we are particularly grateful for their efforts where the quantities of lost tackle below popular angling sites is of concern."

Volunteer Dr Lou Luddington, who is a marine biologist, said a huge part of the group's work is to highlight the major problems created by lost fishing lines and to encourage anglers to reduce loss of tackle by using the appropriate lead weights.

"I find it very distressing seeing litter when I am diving or snorkelling, especially if there is potential for entanglement or damage to marine life.

"Volunteering gives me the chance to clear up some of this litter, while also raising public awareness of the problem. Discarded or lost anglers line and tackle are a particular problem at popular angling spots."

He said many problems could be resolved by using tackle without barbs for rocky coastal fishing areas or by switching to biodegradable fishing line and lures.

Mr Jones said publicity was vital and that the team was hoping to see other groups forming across the UK.

"Unfortunately the problems with marine pollution are not particular to Pembrokeshire or Wales and more needs to be done to campaign to tidy up our seabeds."