Detonation cord from the USA?

At first glance this 3mm diameter plastic cord or line looks like any other piece of marine debris washed up on our British coastline. Potentially from the fishing or shipping industries, but taking a closer look it seems a little different, stronger and more akin to strimmer line. What would strimmer line be doing in the marine environment, would it come from gardens backing onto beaches?

Take an even closer look and you discover the texture is very rough, strimmer line is usually smooth. And the final observation to discount all previous theories is that it is a tube! There is a hole all through each piece, whether yellow, orange or (rarely purple or green). This is nothing like anything we had observed before. Some research was needed.

With a little investigation, we were able to find out more from Laura Ludwig at the Centre for Coastal Studies (shown in the image above).

And here’s the timeline…

First noted as a new item washing up on south coast beaches in October 2022 – Cuckmere Haven, East Sussex

Discovered as a new item washed up by Strandliners in January 2023 at Dungeness, East Sussex

More than 50 pieces (between 3.5 & 35 inches in length) recorded on Brighton beach in November 2022

Recorded at Newhaven beach in March 2023 for the #PreventingPlasticPollution project with the @TheRiversTrust.

Identified in April 2023 as ‘explosive shock tubing’, it was used to transmit a charge to underwater explosives during a Boston Harbour dredging project that ran from June 2021 to January 2022.

Multiple records at every beach litter survey with Strandliners in East Sussex and Kent from throughout 2023, and by other beach cleaners who ask questions of what is found.

Hold on though! There is another potential source but the timing is not right. The Rampion Wind Farm was constructed off the Sussex coast and opened in 2018. Shock tubing may have been used in the construction but if the shock tubing we are finding is from the wind farm construction, why was there a 4 year delay for it to travel the 10 to 50 km? And the tubing is very abraded, more than a 10 to 50km journey’s worth of washing around the ocean!

Here is a Citizen Science project used for recording where these waste pieces of plastic are washing up. The aim is to use the data to encourage the U.S Army Corps to change systems so that there can be a reduced environmental impact.

Here is the reason why we are all part of the cause of this American explosive shock tubing polluting the south east England coastline:

1 – Why was it used in the first place?
To deepen the harbour at Boston Harbour, Massachusetts.
2 – Why did Boston Harbour need to be made deeper?
To allow a greater percentage of New England cargo to be shipped through the Port of Boston, rather than through the ports of New York and New Jersey, and permit larger fleets of greater TEU container ships to use the channel without delays due to tides.
3 – Why do larger fleets of container ships need to enter Boston Harbour?
Container ships hold thousands of containers full of consumer goods. These ships now carry up to 25,000 containers around the world from port to port. But the larger the ship the larger and deeper the port needs to be. Most ports were able to continue being a destination for the transit of containers without the need of underwater quarrying (dredging in some form is usual) until these ships became so large.
4 – Why are these container ships increasing in size?
The global market for consumer goods is increasing – we demand a greater choice of goods from all over the world.
5 – How are we connected with larger container ships?
90% of all we own has once been in a container. The more things we buy, the more things are made, the more things made require larger means of transport. Many of the things we buy are part of a global trade. When we click ‘buy now’, do we consider the impact of the fossil fuel used to transport that item to us – up to 300 tons of fuel per ship per day – and the pollution it causes?

What can we do?
We can reduce the impact of container ships and our global consumerism by choosing to buy local wherever possible. Local trade of local things made from local raw materials reduces the need for these increasingly larger and larger container ships and will reduce the pollution of their travel.

Did you know?
Up to 2019, 300 to 2,000 containers are lost at sea every year, through extreme weather conditions and an increased urgency by the ship owners for global deliveries to be quicker and quicker. Between Nov 2020 and Jan 2021 alone, 2,675 containers were lost overboard!

The contents of the containers are unknown to us, and don’t even need to be reported, unless the contents are toxic or the container is a hazard to shipping.


What’s that lurking just around the corner?

Originally posted October 2015.

If you go down to the beach today, it looks amazing.

This is Cliff End at Pett Level, East Sussex, the beach my parents first took me to many many years ago. Wildlife includes Northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) at the eastern edge of their breeding distribution along the English Channel, Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) spying from the cliff tops, the occasional common seal (Phoca vitulina) fishing in the shallows and of course many species of marine organisms in the pools, in the sand and mud, on the rocks, everywhere.

In front of the cliff there’s the submerged mixed forest that was flooded and flattened by rising sea levels around 5000 years ago. And nearby the wreck of the HMS Anne lies, run aground and set alight in the aftermath of the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690. What an amazing place to live.

On the surface it seems untouched, blissful, wildlife-full, historical.


Just around the headland is a sign of modern times.

Two berms have been constructed to protect the cliff which has been crumbling consistently into the sea.

Behind which a trash lagoon is building up.

How much trash is here? Too much.

Where has it come from? The sea has put it there, but much has originated from land based activities. And all from human activities.

What trash is there? Plastic single use items – bottles etc, remains of fishing equipment – nets, ropes, traps etc. Polystyrene pieces in their million from packaging, fishing boxes etc. Sewage related items – cotton bud sticks, tampon applicators, wet wipes etc that have been flushed! And much much more.

This trash lagoon is only accessible at low tide after a 30 minute walk (potentially in danger of being cut off), and so not too many people may know it is there, assuming their local beach is as clear as in the top photo.

One positive outcome is that it has been taken out of the sea and won’t be endangering marine animals. But what of the strandline animals living where the land meets the sea?

What can be done? This post is not the end.


18th August 2020
Strandliners has organised a project to clean up this bay in partnership with the Pett Level Independent Rescue Boat.

Volunteers and members from the Strandliners-trained Community Action Team are involved in their first post-COVID lockdown beach surveys and clean ups from August 27th 2020. They will visit seven times in small groups to bag up the rubbish and sort into polystyrene, plastic bottles etc by volume and weight.

For more information please see our Fairlight Berm page.