This summer was a landmark for me; for the first time in eight years I got to spend a full summer at home in Arillas, Corfu while writing my PhD thesis. It was a special summer in many ways but mostly because I got the chance to catch up with childhood friends and to indulge in my greatest passion; the sea! Spearfishing Sundays, taking pedal boats to secret beaches, day-time and night-time swims and walking the dogs on the beach at sunset were my chosen ways to clear my head after hard writing stints.
However there was a sad twist to this beauty; the amount of plastic rubbish on the beach. From millimetre-size debris washed-up by the waves to cups of coffee, bottles, ice-cream wrappers etc. left behind by people. I don’t know if there was more than when I was a teenager or whether it was always there and it was my eyes that had been opened. Either way, on every walk along the beach I saw plastic everywhere and knowing how much marine life it kills, this left me quite frustrated. I resolved to take a plastic bag with me every time went to the beach was usually able to pick up 5-20 pieces of plastic without really looking for them.
At the same time I was very happy to find that my Marine Biology course mate Clare has been doing this for years and has created Today’s Catch blog about her beach cleans! She kindly gave me permission to write a guest entry in the hope that more people pick up this habit or at least stop leaving their rubbish on the beach. So here goes…
Epic Beach Clean – 1st of September 2014
One of the special features of Arillas is that part of the beach is quite isolated. This part is one of the oldest and most well-known nudist beaches in Greece. There is also a strong presence of tourists, who come to Arillas for “spiritual” holidays (meditation etc.) and one of the main attractions for them has always been the isolated and pristine nudist beach. While the main part of the beach is cleaned by the locals regularly, the nudist beach does not get as much attention because access is not easy and no-one is making money out of it as there are no sunbeds or businesses close by.
Towards the end of the summer I started noticing that people would just leave their umbrellas, beach mats and bags of other beach equipment on the beach to save carrying them up and down the steep walk to their apartment every day. Worse though I noticed people would leave broken umbrellas and beach mats on the beach rather than carry them away and dispose them properly. Over the whole summer this made for lots of umbrellas! Some even got creative, making little shading huts with all the rubbish they found lying around!
On the 1st of September the first storm of autumn was forecast to hit our shores. It is normal to get a wild storm sometime in late-August, early-September for a few days almost to signify the end of high-season. Thinking about how much plastic there was on our beach from a whole summer of tourist activity and how much of it was about to be broken up and carried into the sea by this storm (esp. the umbrellas) slightly terrified me so I decided to do my best with whoever could help. My good friend Feli and her mum Sabina were up for it, so the afternoon before the storm was about to hit we armed ourselves with ropes and bin bags and headed down to the beach.
I thought it would be easy but when we started cleaning we quickly realised the task was much bigger than we expected. There were hundreds of pieces of polystyrene mixed with driftwood on the upper shore as well as plastic bottles, cups and bags and 40-50 old umbrellas and about the same number of old beach mats spread along about 400-500 metres of beach. There was also an inflatable canoe full of beach stuff that was badly (if at all) secured. We all rushed around, slightly overwhelmed, with the wind picking up, the waves coming in and the sun going down, trying to do as much as we could.
I took the task of collecting and dragging all the old umbrellas and beach mats while Feli and Sabina filled bag after bag with rubbish. After about three hours of hard work all our bags were full, we had much more stuff than we could physically carry back to civilisation and the light was failing so we decided to call it off. We secured all new/usable items as far up the cliff as possible (as well as a huge pile of old umbrellas that was just too much to carry) and dragged the rest back to the car. I believe we picked up or secured about 60-80% of what was present on the beach – certainly all the big items – but I’m sure we could have gone on for another few hours and there would still be rubbish to collect.
It was nearly 10pm by the time we were finished and the waves were getting bigger and bigger so we decided to celebrate with a night-time swim in the rough sea. Quite intimidating considering how rough the sea was but lots of fun! We finished the day with a meal at Porto Timoni restaurant, with awesome food, overlooking the cliffs to the sea and with the storm breaking out on cue; just as we got into the restaurant!
The storm lasted a couple more days, making access to the beach difficult but we were happy to see the next day that all the items we secured were still there. I had to leave for the UK on the 5th of September but Feli, despite her bad back, ensured the last pile of umbrellas and beach mats was taken away and disposed of properly.
So I have to say a huge thank you to Feli and Sabina for the huge effort when really they were supposed to be on their holidays and thank you Clare for hosting our story! This is not about the beauty of the beach, it is not about the image of our resort. It is about the inhabitants of our ocean, the whales, the dolphins, the turtles, the seabirds. It is about our grandchildren so they can inherit an ocean that is still alive.