Paddle and pick: raising awareness of plastic pollution in Devon

Writer and environmentalist Anna Turns navigates the Salcombe estuary in Devon by paddleboard to raise awareness about the need to cut down our consumption of single-use plastics

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It’s a bit more wobbly than usual on my 14ft paddleboard as my six-year-old daughter Ella is paddling with me. We’re navigating our way across Salcombe estuary on the south coast of Devon, trying to stay in a relatively straight line heading towards the sandy beach on the east side. We’re in training for a ‘paddle and pick challenge’ we have set ourselves in June – we plan to paddleboard the entire stretch of Salcombe-Kingsbridge estuary; that’s a total of 22 miles including all the creeks as part of our ongoing campaign to encourage Salcombe to become more ‘plastic clever’.

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Anna Turns and daughter Ella during a training paddle/Credit: Chris Turns

We’ll be paddling together over the course of two days, going with the tide as much as possible, litter picking as we go. It’s by no means a quick-fix solution to the rising problem of plastic pollution but we’ve got to start somewhere. Our mission is to raise awareness by GPS-logging all the litter we find in order to build up a snapshot of the entire estuary and discover where the hotspots might be. Microplastics, including nurdles (the lentil-sized pellets used as a raw material for manufacturing) often tend to get washed up the creeks, further out of sight and way from the main tourist-y beaches. But they are still just as harmful to marine wildlife. As Ella explains: “Microplastics are smaller than my fingernail and if animals or fish eat them, they can die and plastic even gets into the food that we eat.”

Our family has strong connections to this beautiful stretch of coastline and Salcombe estuary is our playground, sometimes that’s a day on the beach building sandcastles, or we’ll be tootling up to the pub for lunch at high tide or generally messing about in boats. Salcombe estuary is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Local Nature Reserve, plus it’s classed as an eco-port by the European Sea Ports Organisation.

Kids Against Plastic

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Ella with the rubbish collected from the estuary/Credit: Chris Turns

Last August, aghast at seeing water balloons being thrown directly into the estuary during Regatta events, Ella and I joined the child-led national initiative Kids Against Plastic and founded our own campaign ‘Plastic Clever Salcombe’. The founders of Kids Against Plastic, sisters Amy and Ella Meek (aged 14 and 12) promote a plastic clever mindset, aiming to inspire more of us to think responsibly about single-use plastics – we award local cafés, hotels, restaurants and pubs doing their bit to reduce things like plastic straws, drinks bottles, cutlery, takeaway coffee cups with lids and carrier bags. So far, we have signed up more than 20 businesses around the area, including The Venus Company beach cafes, South Sands Hotel, Salcombe Gin and Salcombe Coffee Company, plus we have worked with local schools and seen how empowered children become once they understand the simple solutions to the problem of ocean plastic.

As we paddle across to East Portlemouth, we spot a floating supermarket carrier bag and we manoeuvre close enough for Ella to pick it up. When we reach the beach, we do a mini beach clean and find hundreds of tiny balls of polystyrene amongst the seaweed along the tideline and we feel more motivated than ever to train hard on the water in the run-up to June and encourage as many businesses as possible in the area to be more plastic clever. And it just goes to show that little people can make a big difference.

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How to take part

Paddle and Pick Challenge with Plastic Clever Salcombe takes place 8th-9th June 2018. Join one of the organised beach cleans at Batson Creek (8th June 10am) or Scoble Point (9th June 10am meet at Whitestrand Carpark for a boat shuttle). Or you can log the marine litter you find on or near the estuary via the Plastic Patrol app. www.beplasticclever.co.uk/salcombe