Unfortunately, we have to stop our ranger service for the foreseeable future. We still believe this is the one of the most important tool available to combat plastic pollution in NW Scotland and beyond. For many, a Coastal Ranger is someone that has it easy walking around the beach in shorts collecting one or two bags of empty bottles and go home. We have noticed that most people dismissive of the duty have actually never engaged with our local pollution.
The reality is far away from this, our rangers have been dedicated individuals, working hard around the tide hours, the weekends, in all weathers, sometimes in very delicate operations dealing with vast amounts of pollution in hard-to-reach areas. We are very thankful for their hardworking and we should all be as they contributed to remove 10s of tons of plastic from our ocean, they educated 100s of children and adults and simply brought some good life and spirit in our community.
The reason we stop is of course the cost of it. For a long time the training and supervision of the rangers was done at our own personal expenses. We simply don’t have enough time available for training anymore and even less money. In addition, we never managed to find a core funding for the service and all fundings we collected only allowed us for a part-time living wage on short-term contracts. The accommodation pressure and the inflation of prices due in particular to mass-tourism makes such salary conditions unattractive to young people, especially in a remote area. We were hoping for donations to support this free service and during the span of the last 5 years, we never received more than what could pay for a single day of operations.
Why is the public not feeling concerned remains a mystery. People, even within environmental conservation, seem to think they know everything about plastic and things are in control. Needless to say that they are wrong. The data we collected thanks to our rangers show that over the course of 5 years, the annual rate of pollution on Balnakeil Bay has increased of 50%. Our numerical predictions show that by 2050, the same bay, a wonder of nature, will contain 200t of plastic. We are only speaking about bits we can see. Because we have a unique chance to collect it. Once it is fragmented, all these millions of tons of plastic become soup and are truly everywhere in very high concentrations virtually forever. We conducted chemical analysis of some of the plastics and they contain high concentrations in PCB, a very carcinogenic chemical. Because of the lack of funding we could not test for flame retardants, another group of carcinogenic chemicals. However due to the heavy military operations since 1937 in the area, there is no doubt that, alike other similar places, and because we collect c.500 kg of MOD debris each year, the area is deeply affected by this problem too. Our health and the one of the environment that has the unfortunate opportunity to be around us is simply doomed to be destroyed. You may not want to believe it but that’s what we know will happen and we are not to take it lightly.
What next then?
We are working on generating income so that we can pay ourselves and a sustainable ranger service. We also work at national scale to find a solution for everyone. But we are not here to find solutions all by ourselves for everybody, we don’t have such pretentious claims. However, are we to evolve towards a chance of survival or not? People, community groups and local authorities have to question why it is not possible to have a service that benefits everyone? This we don’t have answers but observations:
- Pervasive pollution is not solved by box-ticking exercises. A lot of people try to self-promote doing a little clean in front of the camera or just feeling involved for 10 minutes a year. This is happening 24/7 now, there is no instant solutions. You have to be here nearly after each tide. In Balnakeil it is after every 4 tides or the plastic accumulates, you cannot pick it up, we loose. We know plastic stranding has been witnessed in this area since the 60s.
- Pseudo media coverage, generally over simplistic, self-censored bad news, and blatant greenwash gives an impression of knowledge to people. Going and gathering the information directly to people engaged into a problem has never been so easy. We receive questions from all over the world but nearly none in our own turf and country. You want to know, stop listening to someone with no direct experience, ask us, we are here for that.
- Life and health for us and our children seem to be of no concern to most. There is no doubt that commercial fisheries are about to collapse in the area (what’s left) and that the level of chemicals is already too high for mammals to reproduce normally (that’s us). Plastic pollution plays a central role in the biodiversity collapse. However this critical information for our survival is not known or is it too hard to accept? Once again, if you have questions we may answer them as long as it concerns science and not what other people believe.
Some may think that we are a frustrated bunch that can’t get it to work. In fact, it is rather the inverse, our society cannot make it work. We could have chosen the easy way, greenwash our image on Instagram to promote our products and make some well deserved money. We have done more than our bit and will continue to try maintain our area in a decent state but that will not be at our financial and health expenses anymore. As a group we can solve this but, first, we need to be informed, second we need to want it to happen. Do you want it to happen? How much is worth our future? It is time for others to step up and continue engaging more directly against ocean plastic pollution at their doorstep.