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Russian lighters, syringes and nurdles on a Caithness beach


By David G Scott


The plastic pollution problem was highlighted by items discovered on Dunnet beach at the weekend but this week's "nurdle hunt" may help.

Nurdles are small plastic pellets used in the manufacturing industry to create large scale plastics but when accidentally released into the open environment create pollution in the oceans and on beaches.

Microplastic pieces and nurdles found on Dunnet beach at the weekend.Picture: DGS
Microplastic pieces and nurdles found on Dunnet beach at the weekend.Picture: DGS

Together with other tiny fragments called microplastics and some larger pieces such as a Russian lighter and a syringe, the high tide marks along Dunnet beach were littered with this particularly insidious type of pollution.

On beaches, microplastics are visible as tiny multicoloured plastic bits in sand but in the sea microplastic pollution is often consumed by marine animals.

A plastic syringe that found its way on to the beach. Picture: DGS
A plastic syringe that found its way on to the beach. Picture: DGS

A Global Nurdle Hunt is currently taking place (March 16 - 23) and Dunnet beach is the target for volunteers today (Tuesday, March 17 from noon to 1.30pm) in an event organised by Caithness and Sutherland Countryside Rangers.

From Russia with Love? A well-travelled Russian lighter found on Dunnet beach last week. Picture: DGS
From Russia with Love? A well-travelled Russian lighter found on Dunnet beach last week. Picture: DGS

Maranda Thomson from West Mey was at a nurdle hunt at Dunnet beach three years ago and picked up over 300 of the lentil-sized pieces of plastic.

"It was lashing rain, but managed to endure 45 minutes, during which time I picked up 334 nurdles," she said at the time.

Maranda Thomson from West Mey has created colourful artworks from plastic recovered of our beaches.
Maranda Thomson from West Mey has created colourful artworks from plastic recovered of our beaches.

"Nurdles are the tiny plastic pellets from which anything made of plastic is made. They are about the size of a lentil.

"There are various methods by which they end up on the beach - from factories via waterways or spillage in transportation. They pose a danger to wildlife as when they are eaten, the bird/animal feels fed however gains no food value. And, it stays in the stomach and accumulates over time."

Maranda Thomson sets her found items out in artistic arrangements.
Maranda Thomson sets her found items out in artistic arrangements.

Apart from the nurdles and microplastics, there are much larger items being removed from our beaches by numerous beach cleaning groups.

Dorcas Sinclair from Weydale, started the Facebook group Caithness Beach Cleans (CBC) in March last year and since that time the group has lifted an incredible 14.16 tons of plastic and other rubbish from the county's coastline.

A 1970s plastic toy recovered by Maranda Thomson's husband.
A 1970s plastic toy recovered by Maranda Thomson's husband.

A recent posting from the group showed that Eddie Meiklejohn cleaned up rubbish from around the mouth of Wick River last week and recovered 279 lbs.

One item taken from that same area a few days ago included a young Wick man's driving licence which he was delighted to get back – it had been lost "on a night out" he said.

Maranda Thomson created artworks from found plastic rope that were recently sold at a pop-up shop in Thurso.
Maranda Thomson created artworks from found plastic rope that were recently sold at a pop-up shop in Thurso.

Last week the CBC group sold items at a pop-up shop in Thurso which included artistic creations by Maranda Thomson made from plastic removed from our beaches.

"The shop did so well and it was very telling that the items that sold best were truly recycled from the sea items," said Dorcas.



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