Coastal Ranger

May has been a cold and windy month with northerly winds bringing large quantities of ocean plastic ashore. Luckily for us, our new Coastal Ranger, Conor started. In just two weeks, Conor has already removed 300 kg of ocean plastic from Balnakeil Bay, Kyle of Durness, and Secret Beach. Conor also found and removed a piece of megaplastic ghost gear, weighing 112 kg, wow!

The Coastal Ranger Position is funded by the Highland and Islands Environmental Foundation. The Coastal Ranger’s role is not only beach cleaning, research, and outreach are also key aspects of Conor’s job.


The Coastal Ranger is on the front line of ocean plastic pollution. They can provide valuable information about how plastic moves through the environment by, surveying, recording observations, and participating in national citizen science programs. Figure 1 is a survey of ocean plastic collected by Conor on his first day. Conor separated the plastic into bundles based on type (hard plastic, ropes and nets, and miscellaneous) and size (Mesoplastic 0.5-5 cm, Macoplastic 5 – 50cm, and Megaplastic >50cm). He then recorded the number of particles and weight of each bundle..

This exercise demonstrates the different surveying styles; particle number distribution, typically used by The Marine Conservation Society, versus weight distribution, used by Plastic@Bay (Figure 2) and Surfers Against Sewage. The data shows that surveying ocean plastic pollution using particle number surveys does not represent the volume of plastic in the ocean, as one ‘particle’ of megaplastic such as a large rope or net can weigh tens or even hundreds of kilos of plastic. However, particle number distribution surveys can be used to identify common litter items found on beaches, such as wet wipes, plastic bags and bottles, cotton buds, and face masks.

Figure 2. The cumulative weight of ocean plastic, 5.5 tonnes, removed from Balnakeil Beach between April 2017 to May 2021. On average 1.375 tonnes of plastic washes ashore on Balnakeil Beach every year. One of the main duties of our Coastal Ranger is to clean, weigh and survey plastic pollution weekly on Balnakeil bay, to maintain this valuable data set.

Our Coastal Ranger will also participate in national and international citizen science programmes such as The Great Nurdle Hunt, The Big Microplastic Survey, The Million Mile Clean, and The International Pellet Watch Programme.


Communicating with the local community about plastic pollution is vital in our fight to keep our coast clean. The Coastal Ranger is the interface between us, Plastic@Bay, and the public. We have a variety of awesome outreach projects for Conor to work on this Summer including our weekly Coastal and Clean-Up Walks around Balnakeil Bay (more details to follow), beach cleans with Scourie Primary School, and some fun STEM projects with portable digital microscopes on loan from Aberdeen Science Centre.

Scientific Field/Discipline Chemistry | Hakai Magazine
Figure 3. Microplastic and sand under the microscope.

More beach cleaning

The most important role of the Coastal Ranger is beach cleaning. Conor’s main duty is to clean the beaches around Durness weekly and to work closely with Julien on strategies to clean more deeply polluted sites in the area, like Scouriemore.

Come to Conor’s first community beach clean at 10 am on Saturday 22nd May 2021 at Old Grudie, Kyle of Durness.

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