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Ocean Plastic Recovery: from Porthleven to Mullion

Over October our team set out to the West of the Lizard – the most southerly point of the UK – tackling the first waves of plastic flotsam and jetsam arriving with the winds of winter. Starting with the most southerly – in the picturesque Mullion Cove and working our way via Poldhu, Church, Dollar and Gunwalloe Coves  and Loe Bar Beach upto Porthleven – we will detail what we found & where it may have come from.

mullion harbour

Mullion COve

Arriving first at the rugged little harbour of Mullion Cove, we headed down the road to it’s little stretch of beach. Here within the harbour walls as the low tide went out it had left a good sized area of pebbly sand out of the water. Whilst now only small scale fishing goes on we found scattered fragments of black netted off-cuts. These nets are of the type used to cover lobster pots. Found in the seaweed and pretty intact these lost fragments are likely from the harbour’s fishing boats itself. 

After scouring the beach and inside the cove we started looking beyond the granite harbour walls. Beyond is hard to access towering cliffs and a series of intriguingly shaped seastacks just offshore which we – kitted in wetsuits and gear – coasteered north along the cliff and in the sea to explore .

Here we found the largest find – in a small sea cave, more a ravine barely wide enough for one of use to reach in, we found a great gordian knot of crab and lobster pots twisted together into a singe mass. With the knifes and a lot of sawing we removed as much as we could, filling two huge 100l dry bags to swim back with with the nets. Happy we’d filled our bags before the tide turned and as we knew the stacks are known spot for breeding seabirds – which are vulnerable to die trying to scavenge such tangled fishing gear deposits – we climbed back over the walls designed to face the full fury of the Atlantic storms.

poldhu cove

Polurrian Beach and Poldhu Cove

After our success at Mullion and a quick traditional Cornish Crib (a snack in the mid-morning during worktime) we rolled over the hill in our van to Polurrian Cove. The cove lies south of the village of Mullion on the Lizard and is a southwest-facing beach. Despite its easy to access golden sand and shingle we didn’t find much here – only finding loose strands of net in the tide line and cleaning bottles that have floated up onto the high shore. Barely filling a bag here, cheered us up, reminded us not all beaches are littered equally!  

Next as the winter sun threatened to set early – we headed onto Poldhu Cove – an unspoilt, sheltered and sandy beach like Mullion & Polurrian facing west out from the Lizard peninsula. As we trotted through the dunes enjoying the rich sounds of the wild birds we immediately we faced with a yet another set of  tangled fragments of crab pots that had been hauled by a heroic effort up past the tide line. Our little team grabbed, bagged and tagged it and enjoyed finding a beautiful worn-pinky-orange and green colour net strand we’d never seen before used to tie the black net sides of the pot to the broken blue-plastic and rusted-metal frames. 

dollar cove south coast cornwall

Church COVE

As we started another day out on the West Lizard we we’re joined by a friend who took to net spotting from the cliff tops and down in the cove on its granite-hewn sand we found bottles, nets and fragments of plastic along the tide line. All of which we took and recorded as we worked our way across the beach. In the far cove we found several net pieces and in the cave at its zenith we found a poor-man’s chandelier of fishing floats and bottles wedged in the crack at the top.  After removing what we could see we set off along the coast path to Church coves sister beach over the wind-worn hill.

dead gannet

Jangye-RYN / DOllar COVE

Here in Dollar Cove – famous for the silver dollars that wash up from an ancient shipwreck offshore – we found this poor dead seabird along with many others. Never again will they soar above the Atlantic waves. Sadly the same goes for the dozens of gannets we’ve been finding this winter lying along Cornwall’s beaches, and uncounted corpses washing up all over the UK. There’s no mistaking them for sleeping birds. They lie like fallen angels might, head flung back, wings splayed, one eye staring to heaven.

Bird flu first killed millions of poultry from 1996 onward and sometime in the last year, a strain of the virus mutated and became even more transmissible hitting seabirds especially hard.

The UK is not alone – over the last few months, the list of mass mortalities among sea bird species has been growing. With breeding colonies where birds cluster in large numbers hardest hit all across the world: from pelicans in Greece, terns in the USA, to Gannets here in Cornwall. 

Whilst we could do nothing for the changing world casualties we found today, we could at least get to grips with the plastic we found on the sand amongst the seaweed and in the rocks and boulders of the cove – removing another threat these blighted birds face.

loe bar in Cornwall

Gunnwalloe, Loe Bar and Porthleven Beach

After depositing yet more dry bags in the rapidly filling van – we set off towards Loe Bar via the coast path and Gunwalloe Beach. This vast stretch of sand starting at Gunwalloe and at low tide at least carrying on to turn into the Loe Bar – a unique dam of sand between lake and sea – carries on yet further to Porthleven beach and the harbour itself. 

It’s vast shingle mounds make for weird ankle-straining walking and stunning views as we search out our targets. Here we strike lucky – or unlucky if your the environment – finding fishing crates, flagged buoys (for marking crab pots), entire gill nets clear to the eye and lethally unseeable underwater and as always many multi-coloured fragments of fishing net. We pack these up in our bags which drag behind us open-wide like the filter-feeding whales to be filled with plastic which quickly piles high.

What WE MADE: Turning Trash into Treasure

We took all we found transforming by hand from the lost ‘ghost’ fishing net that haunted Cornwall’s wild coast, into unique bracelets that will never re-enter the sea.

With the hard plastics and nets too frayed to repurpose we melted them down and recycled the previously unrecyclable into our unique Porthleven beads which turned out looking like the deepest depths of the sea.