Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace
Garrettstown Strand, Kinsale, Cork

We have all been to beaches that are clean, meticulously looked after, and picturesque. Not a piece of rubbish to be found. You admire this beach and go there often, as well as thousands of other people every year due to its cleanliness and activity availability. Admittedly, that's how it should be. It takes effort to keep this up (including paid workers usually) Top of mind for me here is Garettstown Beach, near Kinsale in Cork, Ireland. Littered with surf enthusiasts, dog walkers, and sun worshippers there is no shortage of things to do at this fantastic location.

What about all of the other beaches which are perhaps lesser known? Ireland is no stranger to these hidden treasures, be it rocky coves, small sandy beaches, or a combination of both. I grew up around the sea and a few beaches within a 10km radius. I spent a lot of my childhood playing around the seaside of the harsh Atlantic Ocean. One thing I never really took much notice of is the amount of rubbish at these beaches.

My family and neighbors frequently organize local beach cleans, where a handful of people would gather at the beach armed with rubbish bags and gloves. This could be anywhere between four to 15 people at a time. The event was always tedious to me as a youngster, but nevertheless, a good outlet to mesh with locals, neighbors, and friends. It always felt like a massive chore doing this (as things do when you are younger).

One thing I never understood was how the rubbish got there. The main culprits on the beaches that I helped clean were always little strings, plastic wrappers, and some kinds of fabric. I would always get a laugh out of finding the odd shoe, or toothbrush. I always asked myself, who goes to the beach to brush their teeth, or loses their shoes here? After all these beaches were semi-private and did not have many visitors besides the odd local.

Turns out that these massive quantities of litter come in from the sea, with the tide. People out at sea in boats, or at rivers more inland would throw their rubbish into the water and think no more of it. After all, the ocean will get rid of it eventually, right? Absolutely not. It all ends up somewhere, on some piece of land or within an animal's stomach.

I recently got to partake in another beach clean two weeks ago, in memory of a dear friend who passed away 11 years ago. He was always a huge advocate for leaving no trace and keeping nature as clean as possible. If you were to attend any beach clean, you bet that he would be the first person there to get stuck in.

It had been a few years since anything of the sort had been organized in the locality. The turnout was much smaller than we had hoped for this clean. Despite the small numbers, we managed to collect 20 full rubbish bags, a couple of barrels, and fish boxes in just under two hours. It was only at this event that I really realized how much rubbish can accrue on beaches.  Some of it was obviously visible but a lot of it was interwoven into the heaps of seaweed, countless rocks, and sand dunes. (See the images below to see the most common findings and quantity)

The pile of rubbish collected in two hours
The main culprits

With all of this in mind, in writing this article I am hoping to raise some awareness around the subject of leaving no trace. Don't litter, wherever you go. I'm sure you have space in your pocket or there is an adequate disposal opportunity near. If you're at a beach that you enjoy going to, keep it clean so you can continue to enjoy going there. Dispose of rubbish you see in the correct way (that means, in a bin, not the ocean), and bit by bit it can become cleaner, and hopefully remain that way.

To not sound like too much of a preacher, my own anecdote of leaving no trace extends to putting cigarette butts back into the pack after I smoked a cigarette. Most people will probably be horrified by this. PS. I don't smoke anymore.

Stay clean,