A year ago, Strandliners started working with a film crew on a project that has become known as Wallowbird, a short documentary film examining plastic pollution in the UK. The Strandliners River Rother clean-up and brand audit was only a very small part of this film, but we are pleased to be able to tell the story.
The River Rother in East Sussex is a tidal river with saltmarsh and grassy upper banks. With stormy weather coinciding with spring high tides much mismanaged waste is stranded along with much organic material from upstream.
These coloured plastic tags, lost from ships or fishing gear, can be found on the strandline. Some are local (Sussex IFCA), but some have travelled on transatlantic currents to find their way to our shores in the same way as sea beans. In the image above you can see lobster trap tags from the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. & Canada. They are used as fishing licences for every fishing person and for every trap used. These may be renewed every year, or may be multi-year tags. Generally, single year tags are a specific colour. For example, in Atlantic fishing areas from 1 April, 2022 to 31 March 2023, the colour will be purple for Newfoundland and Labrador. Multiyear plastic tags must currently be white. There are regulations for the replacement of lost tags, which should be strictly controlled.
The letters and numbers show the location and sea area, date, and species (lobster, crab etc.) the tags have been used for.
ME = Maine MA = Massachusetts RI = Rhode Island C = Connecticut D = Delaware M = Maryland NH = New Hampshire NFLD = Newfoundland
A fishing licence, issued to the fisher person, gives the name of the fishing vessel, and often includes the name (and even the telephone number!) of the fisherman. Some are in remarkably good condition, considering their age. A surprising amount of information was found about the licence above, which was found locally.
Have you found any of these tags? Strandliners is creating a database of tags found on the Kent and Sussex coast. We need information including, if possible…
What it is? (does it need identifying?) Any photo available? Location, where found (nearest town, beach/riverbank, lower beach, strandline or back of beach) Date (day or season and year) Size (width x height)
Sea bean is the name given to a drift seed. That is a seed that can float and drift on the ocean surface driven by the currents and wind, to be washed ashore on a distant beach. The Sea bean website (www.seabean.com) is a good resource, as is the book ‘Sea-Beans from the Tropics’ by Ed Perry IV and John V. Dennis. Some are not beans at all, but fruits that contain seeds.
In the UK there are local seeds that float and can drift a short distance down a river or along the coast. We find conkers (Horse Chestnut), hazelnuts, acorns and beech mast on the strandline, especially in autumn. Some seeds we find, like peach and avocado stones, may have been discarded by beach visitors. We also find sea kale seeds, which use the wind and sea to disperse. These seeds would only survive a short time in the salt water and still be viable.
Butthen you come to the true sea beans, and it is these that have spectacular journeys. The most common ones that wash up on the northwest coastline of Europe are transatlantic travellers and will have started their journey in Tropical America or the Caribbean. They drop to the ground from a vine or bush, into a watercourse or when rain floods the ground, they float out to the ocean. They can float for up to 30 years (research still ongoing!) and drift on the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift to eventually land on our beaches. To do this, they must have hard, impermeable coats and contain air pockets to enable them to float.
While commonly found in Florida, they are scarce on the west coast of Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall (maybe 1,000 to 5,000 recorded in each area from 1690 to 1990), and incredibly rare on the southeast of England (under 10 recorded from 1690 to 1990).
Sea beans have been drifting across the Atlantic since time immemorial but plastic from the Americas also follows the same currents. Transatlantic plastic is a very important constituent of beach and plastic pollution as non-native species can hitch hike across the Atlantic Ocean and land on our shores, with the potential to cause an imbalance of our own fragile marine and coastal ecosystems.
We think seven sea beans have been found recently by volunteers on Strandliners surveys. Surveys are one of the best ways to find them as they involve close scrutiny of what has washed in.
But we would like to know what you have found so that we can create a Strandliners database of sea bean discoveries on the southeast coastline. Could you tell us what you found, where and when you found it, with a photograph if possible.
We need information including, if possible… What it is? (Does it need identifying?) A photo Location, where found (beach/riverbank, lower, strandline or back?) Date (day or season and year) Size (“diameter x height” or “width x height x depth”?)