The pink tide - One year on

Justin Whitehouse, Countryside Manager Justin Whitehouse Countryside Manager
Pink Bottles of washing detergent wash up on Poldhu

Winter storms are not uncommon, particularly on The Lizard. However what comes with them can often be surprising. One year on from an incident that will be remembered locally for years to come, Justin Whitehouse talks about the morning he discovered an unusual and brightly coloured cargo as it washed ashore.

The first day back at work after the Christmas break is rarely something I look forward to. This time last year, arriving back at my desk with all good intentions of starting afresh, I tentatively listened to the answer machine and turned my computer on to see what delights were waiting in my inbox.  It had been a particularly wild and windy period over Christmas and there would consequently be the inevitable reports of trees down, footpath damage or the perennial damage to Mullion Harbour.

The first I heard of something amiss on Poldhu beach was a throw-away remark on Twitter.  Friends of Poldhu, the volunteer beach wardens who regularly clear Poldhu beach of marine litter, reported a small cluster of bright pink bottles washed up on the strand-line.  Nothing new here, plastic bottles blight our beaches on a daily basis, particularly following high winds and seas.

As more pink bottles began to appear, we soon realised that this was much more than the usual flotsam and jetsam. Each wave deposited more and more bottles, and looking out to sea, there were whole rafts of pink waiting just off shore.  

Clearing detergent bottles washed up on Poldhu beach, Cornwall
Clearing Poldhu beach of 1000s of pink detergent bottles
Clearing detergent bottles washed up on Poldhu beach, Cornwall

Each new tide deposited hundreds more bottles and soon they were appearing on other local beaches from Polurrian to Porthleven and into Mounts Bay.  Volunteers from the local community and beyond rallied around to help with the clean-up and offers of help were coming in from far and wide.  The media were having a field day, with reporters flocking down to Poldhu to cover the incident.  The ‘Pink Tide’ was being reported as far away as New Zealand and Canada.

Rangers and volunteers clear the beaches of pink bottles
Thousands of pink bottles washed up on Poldhu beach
Rangers and volunteers clear the beaches of pink bottles

After a couple of weeks, the numbers of bottles arriving on the beaches dwindled.  The media moved on the next big story and 10,000 full and empty bottles of Vanish Stain Remover were soon to be taken away for recycling by the manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser.

The problem of plastics in the ocean and on our beaches hasn’t disappeared.  The Pink Bottle incident 12 months ago was a mere ‘drop in the ocean’ compared to the millions of items of plastic which end up in our seas every year.  The incident however did raise much needed awareness of the problems associated with plastic pollution, and also of the work of the teams of volunteers who tirelessly clean the beaches each and every day of the year.

So far, the start of 2017 has been quiet with no serious incidents reported.  However, whilst as a society we continue to use single-use plastic bottles and with international trade transporting plastics around the globe, we will continue to suffer from plastics entering our oceans, polluting our beaches and entering our food chain.  The National Trust is now working with other groups and organisations across Cornwall as part of the Cornish Plastic Pollution Coalition to try and raise awareness of the issue and lobby for better legislation and protection for our marine environment.