Trudi Lloyd Williams: New Year Beach Clean

Environmental artist Trudi Lloyd Williams calls in the new year with a beach clean at Hurst Spit, and reflects on the aesthetic aspect of plastic marine pollution.

Welcome to the new decade, 2020! The cold, wet mist and the low throbbing fog horns welcomed me to the first day of the year. Living at the top of the hill in Lymington I always get a ‘heads up’ if the visibility is poor. The fog horns from the Needles and in the Lymington River have a low-bellied, mournful call that creeps and rolls on the damp air.

The entrance to the Western Solent is marked on the mainland by the dominating structure of Hurst Castle at the very tip of the shingle promontory, Hurst Spit. On Valentine’s Day 2014 the spit was breached in the terrific storm and the romantic diners in the restaurant at the base of the shingle bar had a hair-raising adventure as the storm rose and fist-sized rocks were hurled through the windows. Diners were evacuated to the upper floors, while their cars were wrecked in the car park and the army were sent out to rescue the romantic couples cowering on the roof.

Today though it was dank and still as I clutched my litter picker, my collection bag and gloves. I started the beach clean focusing on the strand line where most of debris was. No large pieces, but some interesting and varied pieces of plastic and four mermaids’ purses; one spotted ray, one cuckoo ray, and two thornback rays. These are the abandoned egg cases after the ray has hatched. The Shark Trust collect the details of these so I will file them online later. I was fortunate enough to have their leaflet that helps identify the different egg cases of rays, skate and cat sharks.

The plastics I collected included confectionary wrappers, crisp packets, ghost fishing gear, a lighter, gun cartridge cases, part of a flip flop, bottle tops, lids, plastic sealing rings, insulation, padding, plastic composite, sunglass holders, a fishing weight, a drain cover, bottle stoppers, broken fittings, a chair foot, a candle holder, cable ties, a dinghy fitting, string beads, polystyrene, wadding, food wrappers and a selection of broken plastic pieces too small to identify. Quite a variety from a small haul.

Previous beach cleans where I have examined and sorted the finds have revealed very interesting facts about the source and type of plastic marine pollution. So much so that the ‘culprits’ can be identified and worked with in a targeted way to reduce the plastic entering the water courses in the first place. In Greece, where I worked in the Ionian islands, a beach clean around the wetlands (the Gyra) revealed that the takeaway food and drinks containers in the nearby town were the worst offenders.

There is a variety in the plastics that get washed up and obviously recent weather patterns can have a marked effect due to the currents and tide movements of larger water masses. In fact it was January 10th 1992 that saw a hurricane in the Caribbean, during which 12 containers broke free of their steel lashings and tumbled over the side of the Ever Laurel container ship.  One of these containers happened to be carrying 28,800 bath toys.

The waves snapped the container’s door latches, the sea water pulped the various cardboard packaging, and eventually the bath toys were freed onto the high seas and embarked on a myriad of different routes before eventually washing up on some distant shore. These ducks established how the globe’s gyres, or ocean currents, move around the world and a new science was born.

I find the fragments of plastic very alluring. The colours, textures, shapes of sea-washed plastic have an aesthetic appeal to me, like sea-washed glass. Only the plastic becomes a magnet for collecting toxins. I suppose it is the Yin/Yang nature of these plastic items that I find so alluring; so beautiful yet so toxic at the same time.

As it is the first of January I am sure I will be participating in many beach cleans this year. I wonder how far I will get round the globe and I wonder if one day I might come across one of the famous plastic bath ducks.

Spiny Seahorses and Ripping Yarns

Trudi is collaborating with us on an element of our marine project Secrets of the Solent. Together, we're working with local communities to collect plastic marine litter marine and transform it into an inspirational sculpture. 

Learn more about our collaboration