My new piece of kit as a ‘low-tide guide’ (a delightful title conferred on me recently by BBC Radio4’s Open Country) is a bathyscope; with a bathyscope one can peer beneath the ruffled surface of pools and find out what’s going on. I could, of course, have bought a smart red bathyscope, but it sounded rather heavy to carry down to the low-tide mark, so it was time to ‘think laterally’: to investigate the rubbish.
The Marine Conservation Society recently highlighted the accumulation of rubbish on our shores, much of it plastic. It’s always been assumed that most of the rubbish on the shores comes from sea-farers on fishing boats and ships, but a recent survey shows that forty per cent – yes, that is 40% – comes from us land-dwellers. (In contrast about 17% derives from fishing and shipping.) We lazily, uncaringly, accidentally or intentionally, throw or flush away cartons, plastic bottles, baby wipes, disposable nappies and the like, at home or as we walk or drive around the towns and countryside.
Our discards are blown by the wind or washed down in the rivers to the estuaries and the sea. The waves and wind knit the single objects together in tangled piles which accumulate on the shores open to the prevailing wind or longshore drift.
The Galloway shore in the above photo is exposed to the Irish Sea and presents tidelines decorated with intriguing, colourful masses of objects, each with its own history, but the impact of their present and future stories is enormous.
However, one piece of rubbish from that shore has found a new and potentially beneficial use: looking like a bottomless bucket, but probably the former entrance tunnel to a lobster-creel, its inside was scribbled with the lime-white tubes of serpulid worms.
Brought home and fitted, by my husband, with a circle of perspex and two handles, it has been transformed into a bathyscope.
Now, by pressing the bathyscope against the water’s surface and flattening the ripples, we’re able to see what lies beneath, in the undersea. Peering into this sub-surface world, we can see the living organisms that inhabit it, and learn their stories (in this photo, the worm Lanice,whose sandy tube stands vertically at ’12 o’clock’) — and in doing so I hope that everyone who peers through the ‘peepscope’ (another good title) will begin to see why we must take more care, and take our rubbish home.
Marine Conservation Society report 2014 on beach litter
World Ocean Review: 1 Living with the oceans. A report on the state of the world’s oceans