What does it mean to be innovative? To think ‘outside of the box’? How can SeaScapes, a four year marine heritage programme, embrace innovation? All questions at the forefront of our minds at the start of our Northumbrian Water #Innovationfestival21 sprint.
SOS: Save Our Seas challenged participants to dive deeper into the issue of plastic pollution in our ocean, and the impact on standards such as Bathing Water Quality. What better place to start than on Crimdon Beach by carrying out a Marine Conservation Society litter pick. This gave us something more valuable than gold – real time, real life data that would directly guide our discussions for the rest of the sprint.
Thirty minutes and 6kg of 883 mainly very small plastic items later, we had what we needed to better understand what the issue is; small, unidentifiable bits of plastic, along with sewage related wet wipes caught up in seaweed, held together by plastic fishing line. That’s what we were dealing with.
Our finds were backed up by experts from the Marine Conservation Society, Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Society, the Angling Trust, and Durham Heritage Coast. It’s impossible to come to any other conclusion than we – humans – are doing this, and it has to be addressed at every point possible in the system.
Take the wet-wipe. Is it the mis-marketing about ‘flushable’ wet-wipes to blame? Meaning people continue to flush them down the loo, so at certain times (heavy rainfall, storms) they end up in the sea through our sewage system, only to get caught in seaweed and washed up on shore inevitably causing harm to wildlife and humans? Rather than point the finger of blame we used our two days to think innovatively; that is, what can SeaScapes and its partners do differently to tackle the issue of plastic pollution on our beaches and in our ocean.
The result of our sprint was four concepts based on accountability, policy, messaging and data to take forward with the support of Northumbrian Water. Communication, education and reward were woven throughout all concepts, which is what SeaScapes does best. Hopefully, this time next year at #Innovationfestival22, we will be writing about how innovative ideas are turned into reality for the benefit of our ocean, its habitats, and our coastal communities.