Marine experts have urged people to help protect sea creatures by avoiding littering as lockdown restrictions are eased in the coming months.
After the lifting of national restrictions last summer led to a “staggering increase” in rubbish swamping Britain’s beaches and waterways, the Sea Life Trust has launched the Don’t Make Easter Rubbish campaign to prevent the same happening again.
The Sea Life Trust, the official charity for Sea Life aquariums across the UK, said 15 aquariums will also be using their social media pages to provide tips and beach cleaning activities for people who want to help on March 29.
It is estimated eight million tons of plastic waste enter the world’s oceans each year and that by 2050 the oceans could have more plastic than fish, according to the trust.
Jonny Rudd, curator at the National Sea Life Centre, Birmingham, said it is “devastating” to see the impact of littering on sea creatures which become poisoned or entangled by discarded waste.
He said: “It’s really sad – a lot of people don’t realise they can have a direct impact on wildlife, with such a simple action as, just don’t litter, just take it home with you.
“During the actual lockdown when people were restricted to their homes and really local areas, we saw a real decrease in the amount of litter and pollution in general on beaches and waterways.
“After the restrictions were lifted the first time round, there was a staggering increase in the amount of litter – we’ve seen it all over the media.
“We’re really concerned, us and the Sealife Trust, about this happening again, which is why we’ve launched this campaign, just to try to get people to think more about it and to take their litter home.”
Andy Bool, head of the Sea Life Trust, added: “We are appealing to everyone to consider marine life before they leave every public space – please take your rubbish with you or put it in a bin.
“In doing so, you could be saving the lives of precious marine creatures and ecosystems, and preserving them for future generations to come.”
Sea Life teams regularly clean beaches and waterways, and said the most common items found are plastic bottles, straws, food wrappers, cigarette butts – and, increasingly, disposable face coverings.
The Marine Conservation Society said they found coronavirus masks on 30% of the beaches they cleaned last year.
Experts have warned the masks can take up to 450 years to decompose and plastic bottles can take up to 1,000 years.
Litter poses a huge risk to hundreds of wildlife species, including seals, seabirds, turtles and whales who mistake it for food – resulting in starvation, poisoning and fatal stomach blockages.
Microplastics – tiny fragments created when plastics breakdown – are small enough to enter not only waterways, but soils and tissues of plants and animals, which could affect humans too.
The Sea Life trust has said there are 5.25 trillion plastic particles in the ocean – nearly 700 pieces per person on the planet.
The charity will also be leading the Global Beach Clean campaign this summer, encouraging UK supporters to hold beach or river cleans near their homes.