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May 16, 2023

Should polluters pay?

Including our islands, Scotland’s coastline measures a whopping 11,602 miles and that constitutes a very large target for the mountains of marine pollution to wash up onto. Beach clean ups are nothing new and for years, island groups have been feeling like King Canute – no matter how much they pick from their coastlines it just keeps coming. Scottish Islands Federation have been working with Marine Scotland and others to tackle this ever growing problem. Research by them indicates that the fishing and aquaculture industries are responsible for ⅔ of all the pollution. Does the polluter ever pay?

Susan Windram

A pilot project aimed at tackling marine litter along our coastline recently saw volunteers hard at work on Skye and the Small Isles.

In a massive operation, which is the first of its kind in Scotland, waste rope and nets were gathered from beaches by volunteers in Skye, Eigg, Muck, and Canna to be recycled into usable products, mainly pots created by Ocean Plastic Pots.

Funded by Marine Scotland, the Scottish Islands Federation’s marine litter officer and marine litter working group have been looking at ways to support island beach clean groups in their effort to deal with the huge amount of marine litter waste ending up on Scottish island beaches.

Their latest data collection supported by the Marine Conservation Society, showed that 98 per cent of the waste collected and analysed was made up of plastic, with 64 per cent (4.4 more times the average of mainland Scotland) of it coming from the marine industry – be it fishing or aquaculture.

Camille Dressler of the Scottish Island Federation (SIF) said: “Removing marine plastic from our islands environment is only part of the solution, however, the other issue being what to do with it, as sending it to landfill is not sustainable and will no longer be possible by 2026 in any case.

“So teeming up with recycling businesses, harbour authorities and organisations such as Caledonian Horticulture seemed the way to go in this innovative pilot project involving Mallaig Harbour, Skye and the Small Isles beach clean groups.

“The Scottish Islands Federation is delighted with the progress of the pilot, which we hope can be extended to many other harbours and beach clean groups throughout the Scottish islands.”

The work has involves the help from Mallaig Harbour Authority, CalMac (using the Spanish John) and a boat from the Scottish Coastal Clean-up project (supported by Caledonian Horticulture).

Jaqueline McDonell of Mallaig Harbour Authority said: “Mallaig Harbour Authority is  delighted to be able to support the Small Isles and Skye communities in their efforts to recycle marine litter. The issue of marine litter and the difficulties in collecting and recycling this impact on all our coastal communities, and it’s great to be able to play a small part in the solution along with some of these communities and Ocean Plastic Pots.

“The wider work being done by the Scottish Islands Federation, which included the recent marine litter event in Mallaig is so important in raising awareness of the issue of plastic pollution, and the impact on our seas. If each of us can play a small part in reducing the waste in our oceans then cumulatively we can have a big impact!”

The waste rope/nets were collected on Skye from April 21-23, and waste picked up from Eigg and Muck was collected from Mallaig on April 24 for recycling.

Kate Miller of Scottish Coastal Clean Up said: “After running several beach clean events on mainland Scotland, in April 2022 the Scottish Coastal Clean Up initiative gathered more than 75m3 of marine detritus on the Isle of Ulva over one weekend. They were only able to remove the marine plastic from the island with the help of local businesses Mull Charters and Turus Mara, and Bakkafrost, which sent its boats with a crew to help.

“Our time on Ulva highlighted one of the main issues faced by island beach cleaning communities – what to do with the litter once it has been gathered. After this experience we decided to change our focus slightly and now have our own boats that we can use to help support beach cleaning groups and facilitate the removal of gathered rubbish from the islands. We are also able to access areas inaccessible by land and target identified litter hotspots by working in partnership with local groups.

“This year our beach cleaning activities started on the Isle of Skye, where we worked with Skye Beach Cleans and the Scottish Marine Island Federation. We aim to remove marine litter already gathered in some of the more remote areas on the island, conduct our own cleans, and to check and document the state of some areas inaccessible by land to allow Skye Beach Cleans to build up a deeper understanding of the marine litter across the island.

“We will be in the Slate Isles and Mull in May, Eriskay in July, and around Lewis and Harris in August before returning to Ulva in September.

“If anyone would like to work with us during these events please contact or visit for more information.”

SIF, in conjunction with Marine Conservation Society, has started a new monitoring programme of the plastics that get washed up on the beaches. If anyone would like to get involved or just help with the beach clean they can also email:  or call call 01989 566017.