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. https://anecdata.org/projects/view/1041
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.