Litter Free Coast and Sea

What is marine and beach litter?



Marine and beach litter is an environmental, social and economic issue for the Dorset and East Devon coastline with implications on the marine environment, industry and on coastal communities.


The litter found on our beaches an in our marine environment comes from lots of difference sources including litter that has been:

  • Deliberately discarded into seas, rivers or on beaches (such as litter and beach BBQ's left by beach visitors)
  • Brought into the sea indirectly with rivers, sewage, storm water or wind
  • Accidentally lost, including material lost at sea in bad weather (such as fishing gear or ships cargo)

What impact does Marine and Beach Litter have?

Once in the marine environment litter takes a very long time to break down, as  The Green Blue How Degrading Poster [278kb] (opens in a new window) shows, and both beach and marine litter impact on the following sectors:

Coastal Communities

Many residents and visitors to coastal communities value the beach as a public amenity. Studies have shown that marine and beach litter can lead to a decline in tourist numbers and therefore revenue for coastal communities as people tend to avoid littered beaches. Take a look at the two pictures below, which beach would you prefer to visit?


Marine and beach litter can also impact on many recreational activities carried out in coastal communities;

  • Swimmers and divers can become entangled in marine litter, especially fishing gear.
  • People can contract toxic chemical poisoning from contaminated plastic litter whilst carrying out their recreational activity.


For many marine industries, including fishing, shipping and aquaculture, marine litter causes economic losses and a navigational hazard through fouling and entanglement of vessel propellers, fouling of anchors and blocked intake pipes. This means that time has to be taken out to carry out expensive repairs and replacements. Other costs to specific marine and coastal industries include:


  • Contamination of fishing catches with marine litter
  • Fishing nets can being damaged by marine litter - which takes time and money to repair or replace.
  • Fishing nets can become entangled with rubbish. Studies show that fishermen spend on average of 2 hours per week cleaning rubbish from their nets.
  • Catches can be lost because fishing gear that has been lost at sea previously can continue to "ghost fish" in the marine environment.


Removal of marine litter in Harbours and marinas to ensure that the facility is safe can be very expensive as is can involve manual removal floating debris and even dredging to remove items on the seabed. A United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) study found that harbours in the UK can spend up to £15,000 per year manually removing debris.

Power generation

Coastal power stations can suffer from blocked cooling water intake screens. Removal of debris from these screens costs time and money.


Marine and beach litter blown onto coastal farms can damage property and equipment, harm livestock.

Local authorities and public bodies

Research by the Dorset and East Devon Marine Litter Group has found that some local councils in this area are spending up to £800,000 per year to keep the beaches clean.

The emergency services are commonly called out if there is an entanglement or fouled propeller incident. Research mentioned in a KIMO study found that in 1998 230 rescues were carried out to vessels with fouled propellers in the UK costing £2,200 to £5,800 per incident.

The Marine and coastal environment

  • Entanglement and ingestion marine litter in birds and marine mammals, causing a great number of deaths internationally each year.
  • Microscopic pieces of plastic are eaten by micro-organisms and eventually, as they work their way up the food chain, plastics can be found at concentrations of 150 to 2400 particles per m3 in larger marine animals.
  • Maine and coastal animals can contract toxic chemical poisoning from contaminated plastic litter - this can lead to altered hormone levels and possible death.
  • Fishing gear that has been lost at sea previously can continue to "ghost fish" in the marine environment in a random, indiscriminate way affecting a wide range of species.

The Problem With Nurdles

Nurdles are the raw material for the plastic industry. They are tiny plastic pellets which are melted down and then used to manufacture goods. Nurdles are frequently consumed by filter feeders in the water and are often mistaken for fish eggs and consumed by other fish and seabirds. Seabirds mistakenly feed the plastic to their young this can then cause starvation and eventually death. Nurdles can accumulate toxins from the seawater such as Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and Tributyltin (TBT) which then enters the food chain.

The MSC Napoli which ran aground off Lyme Bay in January 2007 was carrying cargo including nurdles. Millions of these plastic pellets have washed up along the Dorset and East Devon coastline. The long term damage of these nurdles on the environment is yet to be fully understood.

Note: Much of the information on the economic impact of marine and beach litter contained within these pages has been sourced from the KIMO International report Economic Impacts of Marine Litter

What impact does Marine and Beach Litter have? |What can I do to help reduce marine and beach litter on the Dorset and East Devon Coast? |Take part in our Picnic Challenge |What are the European Union and Government doing to reduce marine and beach litter? |What types of beach litter are found in Dorset and East Devon? |The Dorset and East Devon Marine Litter Group

What can I do to help reduce marine and beach litter on the Dorset and East Devon Coast?

Combating marine and beach litter is a global task and you may be thinking what on earth can I do to help? But every individual can do their bit. Below we have highlighted some campaigns that are currently going that you can get involved in.

Local Campaigns

The Marine Litter Summit:

The Marine Litter Summit in 2009 brought together representatives from a wide range of sectors within the marine industry. The main aim of the summit was to raise the profile of marine litter and identify solutions to tackle the sources of the litter. Visit Dorset Coast Forum for more information.

Sea Clean Project:

This is a Dorset Wildlife Trust project directed towards anglers, encouraging them to collect unwanted fishing line and disposing it in special bins which have been installed at key locations across the county. More information about the SeaClean Project can be found at Dorset Wildlife Trust

Turn Lyme Green:

Turn Lyme Green is an initiative to promote sustainable living in Lyme Regis by Engaging in environmental issues related to energy, waste and resource-efficiency.

Regional Campaigns

Fishing for Litter: 

A campaign launched in 2009 which focuses on the recycling of marine litter at ports in Scotland and the South West. While fishermen are at sea, they are encouraged to recover litter from their nets and bring it ashore to be disposed of effectively. With fishermen bringing debris ashore this should reduce the volume of litter washing up along coastlines. It is also an excellent way of raising awareness within the fishing industry. More information can be found at  KIMO International

National Campaigns

Return to Offender:

This is a campaign supported by the Marine Conservation Society and run through Surfers Against Sewage (SAS). The campaign hopes to persuade industry to increase 'anti-littering' messages on products, to promote recycling and support community anti-littering projects.

No Butts on the Beach:

This campaign was officially launched in 2002. Cigarette ends are a major problem, a common misconception is that they are made from paper, but they are actually made from cellulose acetate which is often mistaken for food and fed to young birds leading to starvation and possibly death.

More information on these campaigns and other campaigns can be found on the Surfers Against Sewage website (opens in a new window).

The Green Blue:

The Green Blue (opens in a new window) is a joint program created by the British Marine Federation and Royal Yachting Association. This is a national project which helps boat users, businesses and sailing clubs to lessen their impact on both inland waters and the coast.

The Marine Conservation Society:

The Marine Conservation Society is lobbying government to make new legislation to tackle marine litter, especially its source. They are also linked to the following campaigns:

  • Go Plastic Bag Free (reducing plastic packaging)
  • Bag It, Bin It, Never Flush
  • Don't Let Go (campaign against balloons)
  • Plastics campaign

For more information about MCS, their campaigns, petitions and beach cleans please visit the Marine Conservation Society website (opens in a new window).

Beach Cleans

Beach cleans are a great way to help reduce beach litter on Dorset and East Devon Beaches and to learn at first hand the types of marine litter that can be found.

Great Dorset Beach Clean:

Once a year beach cleans a run at beaches all along the Dorset coast. This has been running for over 20 years and is coordinated by the Dorset Countryside's Coastal Ranger team. To find out more and when the next Great Dorset Beach Clean will be visit The Great Dorset Beach Clean webpage.

Dorset Wildlife Trust Beach Cleans:

The Dorset Wildlife Trust hold 2 annual beach clean events a year which includes young volunteers from Surf 'n' Turf and the K - Team. Find out more on the Dorset Wildlife Trust events webpage (opens in a new window).

Christchurch Beach Cleans:

Christchurch Borough Council have been carrying out litter surveys and beach cleans since April 2008. Find out more at the Christchurch Beach Cleans webpage.

Underwater cleans:

DiveZone, a dive Centre based in Wiltshire have adopted Chesil Beach and once a year a team of divers conduct an underwater litter clean. In 2008 they won the Coastal Challenge Award from the Marine Conservation Society. For more on The Dive Zone (opens in a new window) website.

Waste Reduction and Packaging Campaigns:

Tackling litter at the source plays a big part in reducing marine and beach litter. A lot of work is being carried out in the Waste sector to promote reduction, reuse and recycling and work is also ongoing to reduce the amount of packaging used on products.

Dorset County Council Waste Campaigns:

Dorset County Council waste team campaigns focuses heavily on recyling, reduction and resusing items

  • Tap water challenge - Challenging people to fill a bottle with tap water instead of buying bottled water thus reducing the amount of plastic bottles ending up in the environment.
  • Waste reduction booklet - this booklet offers practical advice on how to reduce your waste in an environmentally friendly way.

Pack it in Campaign:

Pack It In is a campaign to expose the very worst examples of over-packaged products in the UK. Find out more at the Waste Watch website (opens in a new window).


Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) (opens in a new window) was established 2005 to promote sustainable waste management and create efficient markets for recycled materials and products. The company work with a wide range of industries from agriculture to manufacturers to reprocesses' helping them to become more sustainable.

Waste Online:

Waste Online gives information on waste minimisation, waste reduction and recycling. Doing your bit on land directly helps to lower the amount of waste ending up in our oceans which in turn reduces the impacts on the environment. More information about waste can be found at the Waste Online website (opens in a new window).

Have a Litter Free Lunch

Any day out at the coast (whether you are walking, swimming, sailing, angling or kayaking) isn't complete without a snack, picnic or BBQ so next you are planning your snacks, follow the three B's to help stop more litter collecting on our beaches.

Bags: Use and reuse heavy cotton bags or bags for life to carry your snack. Take an old paper or plastic bag with you to collect up all your rubbish, then put the rubbish in a bin or take it home.

Bottles: Take home all your drinks bottles and recycle them

BBQs: If you use a disposable BBQ at the beach and it is too hot to move when you are ready to leave, use a bucket or reuse a drinks bottle to collect seawater. Pour lots of seawater over the BBQ to cool it down and then you can easily take the BBQ home.

What are the European Union and Government doing to reduce marine and beach litter?

A recent UNEP report stated that there needs to be more efficient and effective enforcement of laws and regulations with regards to marine litter. It also points out that marine litter comes from both terrestrial and marine sources so society as a whole should be engaged in tackling the problem. The government is being encouraged to formulate a coherent marine litter strategy and to appoint a leading body to implement this strategy. UNEP - Marine Litter: A Global Challenge 2009 (opens in a new window) and UNEP Marine Litter Webpage (opens in a new window)

Current Legislation

Ospar Commission:

This is the current legal instrument guiding International co-operation on the protection of the marine environment in the North-East Atlantic. It is made up of representatives from the Governments from 15 contracting parties that represent the European Union. Ospar Pilot Project on Monitoring Marine Beach litter has developed a global methodology for comparing data and analysing results. Ospar has also contributed towards UNEP's global guidance on marine litter and the International Maritime Organisation's review of Marpol Annex V (See below). It has also been a part of Kimo International Fishing for Litter campaign. For more information please visit the OSPAR Commission Website (opens in a new window) or the OSPAR Commission Marine Litter Webpage (opens in a new window)

Marine Pollution Convention/Protocol (1974/78):

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) covers prevention of pollution into the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes.

International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)

This is an international convention that covers the prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes.

Marpol Convention Annex V- Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships:

This annex includes regulations to prevent pollution by discharges of household waste and other solid waste. The Annex defines the different types of waste that are regarded as garbage and gives the distance from land where they are allowed to be discharged and in what way.

For more information please read the  RYA Environment Briefing on Prevention of pollution by garbage from ships (opens in a new window), The IMO webpage on International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) (opens in a new window) and Portwaste Website (opens in a new window)

EU Port Waste Facilities Directive (2000/59/EC):

This supports ship generated waste and cargo facilities. This directive focuses on ship operations in community ports with regards to waste. Also advocates that ports must ensure that waste collection facilities are adequately provided. This in practise will allow boat users to get rid of any waste on their vessels whilst in port knowing that it will be recycled and disposed off effectively. This should then limit the amount of waste being disposed of at sea thus substantially reducing the overall marine litter on the environment. More information can be found on the  Europa website (opens in a new window)

EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD):

The MSFDs main aim is for the sustainable use of marine goods and services. It also wants to achieve 'Good Environmental Status' within the marine environment by 2020. Marine litter is addressed in Article 9; however, for this to be successful there must be successful integration of EU legislation and policy. Find out more by reading the Full Directive text (opens in a new window) or visiting the   Europa Marine Pollution webpages (opens in a new window)

What types of beach litter are found in Dorset and East Devon?

The Dorset and East Devon Marine and Beach Litter Group have used Marine Conservation Society Beachwatch (opens in a new window) data to find out more about the types of beach litter found on our beaches.

Many thanks to the Marine Conservation Society for allowing the Dorset and East Devon Marine and litter Group to use this data.

More about the Litter Free Coast & Sea Campaign

A campaign to reduce marine and beach litter at source along the Dorset and East Devon coast

Litter not only looks horrible on our beaches, it also costs lots of money for local councils to clear it up, it is a safety issue for beach/coastal users and it can get washed into the sea, harming marine creatures and damaging fishing and recreational boating equipment.

Regular clean up events are held across Dorset and East Devon every year, with hundreds of volunteers helping to remove tonnes of rubbish from our coastline. However, with more people using our coastal areas every year, we need to aim to stop litter at its source in order to effectively maintain a beautiful and safe area for people to enjoy and to protect our internationally important sites for wildlife.

A group of organisations across Dorset and East Devon have joined forces to try and tackle this issue at source by launching The Litter Free Coast and Sea Campaign. This campaign will help coastal visitors and residents understand the economic, social and environment impacts of marine and beach litter and promote practical action to reduce the amount of publicly sourced litter along our coast.

The Campaign has been funded by The Crown Estate, Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Sustainable Development Fund and East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Sustainable Development Fund. It is being delivered by a wide range of local organisations which make up the Dorset and East Devon Marine and Beach Litter Group. Organisations include; Dorset Coast Forum, Jurassic Coast World Heritage Team, Dorset Countryside, Ranger Services, Natural England, Green Blue, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Dorset Waste Partnership, Exe Estuary Management Partnership, East Devon Streetscene Team, East Devon Coastal Ranger Team and The National Trust. The group is carrying out the campaign on behalf of the Jurassic Coast Trust.

You can support the Litter Free Coast and Sea Campaign by:

Enjoying a "Litter Free Lunch" 

Shouting about the campaign! - we would like to invite every accommodation provider and coastal recreation club to help us spread the word about the campaign by displaying campaign posters in common areas - contact Matilda Bark at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for posters

Carrying out a marine and beach litter inspired project - We have set up a project fund and applications are invited from schools, community and youth groups wishing to carry out marine and beach litter inspired projects in the area. To apply please complete the application form: litter_free_coast_and_sea_project_fund_criteria_and_application_form 984.50 Kb

The deadline for applications is 5 December 2011.

Taking part in or organising a beach clean! - Find out more at:

Schools are also invited to get involved by downloading the "Litter Free Coast and Sea Education Pack". Created as part of the "Big Jurassic Classroom", this pack has lots of lesson ideas to help children and young people learn about the impacts of marine and beach litter. Download the pack at: bjc (available from 7th November 2011)

The Dorset and East Devon Marine Litter Group

Marine litter is a global issue that cannot be solved over night. However, the Dorset and East Devon Marine and Beach Litter Group has recently been set up to try and reduce marine litter along the Dorset and East Devon Coast between Exmouth and Christchurch at source. The group is currently working towards this aim by:

  • Creating these information webpages on marine and beach litter
  • Setting up a project that will help to ensure that marine and beach litter is reduced at source before, during and for a long time after the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

If you would like to be involved in the work of the Dorset and East Devon Marine and Beach Litter Group or have any further suggestions the please contact Matilda Bark (contact details at the bottom of the page).

Who's on the Dorset and East Devon Marine and Beach Litter Group?

  • Sally King - Jurassic Coast Visitor Manager, Jurassic Coast World Heritage Team
  • Matilda Bark - Policy Assistant, Dorset Coast Forum
  • John Hayes - Ranger Services, Dorset County Council
  • Rachel Waldock - Dorset Maritime Advisor, Natural England
  • Dan Reading - Sustainable Facilities Officer, Green Blue
  • Julie Hatcher - Marine Conservation Officer, Dorset Wildlife Trust
  • Marten Gregory - Dorset County Council Waste Team
  • Stephanie Clark - Exe Estuary Management Partnership

Acknowledgements: The Dorset and East Devon Marine and Beach Litter Group would like to thank Helen Knight who has researched and written the content for this webpage.