Anna Richards, an outdoor and travel writer, penned the following article in the hopes of encouraging paddlers to get involved in a SUP river clean this summer. Using your paddle board to clear rubbish and debris has long been established. Combining a session with a river clean couldn’t be easier, as Anna explains below. So why not do your bit for the environment during the holidays. You’ll be glad you did.
Here’s how to make our waterways a more pleasant place for everyone.
What are the views that you appreciate when on the water? A sunrise over a calm sea, where the giant ball of fire growing and growing looks as though it’s going to engulf the whole horizon with pinks and oranges that would make a 70s disco look beige? Arriving at a pristine beach inaccessible by land and finding that you’re the only one there? Seeing the bottom of the lake look close enough to touch on a clear day, as perfect as though seen through a newly cleaned pane of glass?
There are many things we’ll bet that you don’t appreciate, though. Paddling into a cave and finding it awash with rubbish, for example. Disposable masks floating in the current. Finding a dead dolphin on the shoreline entangled in fishing tackle (sadly, not an uncommon occurrence).
Our waterways are polluted. In England, only 14% of rivers meet ‘good ecological status’, and not a single river in the entire country has received a clean bill of health for chemical contamination. Pretty shocking, right?
You might think that your local paddling haunt is relatively free of plastic pollution, but did you know that one million seabirds are killed by marine plastic pollution annually? Or that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of marine debris caught in the currents between Hawaii and California, now measures 1.6 million square kilometres (that’s more than three times the size of France, for reference). Or that 700 marine species are at risk of extinction due to plastic pollution?
We’re not saying fishing a plastic bottle out of the water when on a SUP trip is going to make a dramatic difference to such a vast problem, but if you’re looking for ways to make a positive impact, why not plan a SUP clean? On your paddleboard, you can get to places which are difficult to access by foot, or even by boat, for example stretches of riverbank where rubbish accumulates.
What do I need?
Large bags are essential, but don’t take more plastic. A reusable polypropylene sack will hold much more, and won’t break or snag if you put jagged objects inside. Try to borrow some litter pickers, it makes it much easier to fish trash out of a fast moving current, and gives you extra arm reach. Many UK beaches have litter pickers that you can borrow to clean up the beach, and that includes cleaning up the sea from your SUP! Other than that, heavy duty gloves are a must. Not all waste is safe to touch, you’ll come across broken bottles, and maybe toxic substances. Even if something is safe to touch, it’s probably disgusting. Do you really want to fish a stranger’s old underwear out of the water using your bare hands?
How do I plan my first SUP clean?
Get a group of friends together, litter picking is more fun (and more efficient) in a group. Go with a plan for disposing of your waste. Is there a skip and recycling plant nearby where you can properly dispose of your loot?
There are many organised beach cleans if you don’t know where to begin. The National Trust organises regular beach cleans throughout the country. Or why not join the Surfers Against Sewage Million Mile beach clean? There’s a handy interactive map where you can see which parts of the coastline have already held beach cleans. That way you can pick somewhere that hasn’t been cleaned up yet, to have maximum impact. Speak to your local SUP club to see if they have sea/river/lake cleans organised, and if not, suggest it!
Are there charities that I can support?
There are several great charities out there committed to cleaning up our oceans. Previously mentioned Surfers Against Sewage is one of the most impactful. As well as beach cleans, they lobby for systemic change and go into schools to educate young people on the impact of waste in our oceans. Plastic Oceans is another fantastic charity aiming to change our attitudes towards disposable plastics, encouraging people to commit to rejecting single-use plastics and throwaway culture. Clean Ocean Sailing is a family-run charity sailing around Europe on board a schooner, taking tonnes of garbage out of the waterways each year. Consider donating to support their work, or join them on the Annette on a day trip or longer voyage to get involved in the sea cleans yourself.
So grab your paddle and some mates and get cleaning, you’ll make our waterways a better place for everyone, and probably have a great time to boot.