Map produced by aerial survey of 10,000-mile coastline shows rubbish 'at industrial levels'
An aerial survey of Scotland's long and rocky coastline has revealed that large amounts of industrial rubbish have washed up on the shore.
The litter, made up of plastic barrels, fishing nets, timbers, crates and industrial equipment, has collected across large areas of shoreline and rocky coves, often washed into highly inaccessible areas.
The waste was pinpointed by flights over parts of Scotland's 10,000-mile coastline, organised by a coalition of environment and marine conservation charities working in the Scottish Coastal Rubbish Aerial Photography, or scrapbook project .
The project, a collaboration between the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Sky Watch Civil Air Patrol and the Moray Firth Partnership, has posted details of the pollution hotspots on an interactive map, which stretches from the Solway Firth in south-west Scotland to the Pentland Firth in the far north.
Archie Liggat, the chairman of the Sky Watch Civil Air Patrol, said that in many cases it was only possible to see the rubbish from the air because it lies in coves or dips that are out of sight from sea level and are not easily reached by land.
Liggat said the volumes of waste found far outweighed expectations. "Initially we thought it would just be scattered rubbish, but it was enormous. Particularly in the south-west of Scotland we have been dismayed by what we've seen." He said the UK "sits like a huge net on the edge of Europe, particularly the fjord-like coastline of Scotland", and caught much of the detritus jettisoned in the Atlantic. "We were not only dismayed by the concentrations of rubbish that we found, but the problem is much bigger than that because just under the seaweed there's an awful lot of stuff. It's getting broken up, washed back out, broken up and washed back in again. Eventually [the particles] will get so small it will just get out into the environment and disappear forever."
Environmentalists have been increasingly alarmed about the prevalance of plastic waste in the sea, detecting it in minute particles in sea life, blocking the intenstines of fish and mammals, and in the Pacific conglomerating on the sea's surface in vast floating mats.
"We know plastics are a growing problem for our environment that must be tackled," said Dr Sam Gardner, the acting director of WWF Scotland. "They are not only suffocating our oceans, but as they get washed ashore, can have a lasting impact on our coastal environment."
The SCRAPbook project said it was grading the waste piles in order of severity in a bid to prioritise the first sites to be cleaned up. They hope it will also allow volunteer groups to coordinate their own clean-up operations.