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by stephanie coates, brighton

"I've always had a very romantic vision of beach combing"

I’ve always had a very romantic vision of beach combing. I was sure I'd find beautiful and
unusual sea glass in a wonderful array of colours - maybe an old bottle with a message or a well
preserved box of treasures, and the sun would always be shining. My sister lives in Scotland, and during her beach cleaning sessions she does actually find large parts of glass bottles from the 1800's - all in wonderful shades and covered in writing. Our kitchen is full of these attractive pieces of Scottish history.

In Brighton & Hove such delights are rare. At first I'd be disappointed that I never found any sea glass at all, let alone a bit covered in writing! Walking across the pebbles listening to the rolling of the sea I would find plastic bottle tops, cigarette lighters and plastic bottles. I would quickly become frustrated and annoyed. I wanted to find treasure, but lazy people were ruining it for me. This wasn’t beach combing - this was litter picking.

But after only one or two visits doing this on Brighton beach my mindset changed. Yes, other people were lazy and irritating, but if I didn’t visit the beach regularly a lot of this stuff would just get washed into the sea - the sea that I love swimming in, the sea that I take my children into, and of course the sea that millions of magnificent creatures live in.

"I walk methodically along the tide line and every
day is different"

I became horrified at the amount of rubbish I would find in small spaces - in 30 minutes I can
easily fill a couple of bags. With this horror though comes a real sense of calm - I walk methodically
along the tide lines and every day is different. The sunlight highlighting the items, or casting shadows over them. The sea, which might be wild and noisy, or whispering to me, gentle and welcoming. The amount and type of litter differs too, depending on the weather. Wild winds bring up older pieces of rubbish from all over, and nice weather means remnants of family picnics and BBQs.

I do actually find it fascinating, and it has to be said that none of my family (or many of my friends) share my fascination! I just love seeing the different things each time I beach clean. How many lighters will I pick up today? Will i find anything unusual, or lots of plastic bottles? Will i find another TV (which my friend Jo and I lugged to the bin together!)? Any clothing? How much fishing line? I didn’t know that I’d found 2 Portuguese Man of Wars until I showed my 12 year old a picture of ‘a strange bright pink bubbly plastic thing’. He knew exactly what they were and we contacted the local beach team to warn them.

"I really do get a sense of well being from this weekly activity"

So, after all this, i find it upsetting that litter picking is even an activity we need to do. Why should there even be rubbish on the beaches and in the sea? Why is there so much? I find it horrifying the effect that its having on the ecosystem. But I really do get a really sense of well being from this weekly activity. I have 4 kids and work, so this time is very precious. I love being so close to the sea and crunching on the pebbles, sometimes alone, but often chatting away with my friend Jo. I enjoy not knowing exactly what I will find, and also that real sense of achievement, and knowing that I am doing some good.

I have also become part of an amazing community, and by posting some photos on social media of the stuff I found i have entered a whole world of like-minded people. I wasn’t alone with my bin bag and marigolds! These are not treasures and rare finds, but still things to document and marvel over and to be shared. There are so many people trying to improve the world we live in simply by picking up other people's rubbish. I love being part of that, which is why I have loved taking part in the
Pier2Pier Beach Cleans in Brighton - I am on a beach, wearing headphones, listening to indie music, and saving the sea one plastic bag and bottle at a time - what’s not to love?!

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