The Plastic Tide

A guest blog from: The Plastic Tide

The plastic tide is swamping our ocean; the 8 million tonnes of plastics pouring into our oceans a year today are set to reach 80 million by 2025[1]. 

Yet, once plastic enter of our ocean the fate of 99% of it is unknown[2], although scientists believe coastlines are a major sink. understanding how much and what type of plastics accumulate where is vital to understanding the impacts[2].  Indeed, due to the difficulties of generating scientific data on the level of contamination, it is believed we’re underestimating coastal litter by as much as 10 times[3]

The Plastic Tide harnesses the power of cutting edge machine learning algorithms and drone technology in an innovative and revolutionary way; surveying beaches to autonomously detect, measure and monitor the accumulation of plastic pollution.

But we need YOU! Our machine learning algorithm, or computer program, learns from our citizen science volunteers! By tagging the plastic litter in our drone survey images, volunteers teach the computer program to detect and identify plastic litter on its own. Another part of the program then goes on to calculate an estimate of the volume and therefore the weight of plastic litter on the beach!

This technology could revolutionise our understanding of the plastic menace in our oceans and coastlines, by revealing how much of the missing 99% of plastics are in our coastal waters and potentially what type. This would not only allow for more positive evidence led action against the causes the of plastic pollution, it would also allow us to more effectively keep our coastlines clean. Perhaps even eventually allowing us to predict where and how much plastic will wash up on our coastlines.

However much time you have spare is all that is needed, simply log into our webpage and click the "Tag Plastics Now" link, have a look at the tutorials and get tagging! We'd encourage you to post messages on the message boards about what you find, there is a great community of support and also share what you find on social media!  

All the data gathered, the computer program and the method for surveying beaches will be made publically available, when complete, allowing anyone, anywhere to monitor beach litter in the same way.  The results will be uploaded to an online global portal and map showing where and when the litter is accumulating and making it freely available to download.

Introducing Hugh Tooby

Exploring the rocky shores of Scotland

“Hugh is a great example of our fantastic Capturing our Coast volunteers. Hugh is one of these people who is fascinated by so many different things, and loves actively getting out and discovering more about the world. Hugh’s insatiable thirst for knowledge, dedication to citizen science and sense of adventure has been a brilliant addition to the Capturing our Coast Scotland team, and we look forward to having him as a key part of the team next year!” Hannah Grist, Capturing our Coast Scotland.

I'm 55 years old and used to be a GP. I left the NHS in 2013 to give myself time to pursue a different career path. I'm a great believer in the health - and other - benefits of active engagement with the natural world and wanted to do something to support this. Over the last few years this has taken various forms including supporting friends and family to get involved in outdoor activities such as hill walking, canoeing and cycling. I've also volunteered with conservation charities such as the John Muir Trust and Scottish Wild Land Group supporting them in their campaigning work. However, my main focus - and great passion - over the last year or so has been citizen science wildlife surveys. This started with the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative in central Scotland where I live but has steadily expanded since. As a lover of the sea and mountains I'm drawn to doing surveys in these places and I can use a lifetime of skills acquired in wild camping / backpacking / canoeing / mountain biking skills to support this - which will hopefully help to fill in some of the blanks on the data map.

So, when I became aware of Capturing our Coast (via my membership of the Marine Conservation Society) in early 2016 it seemed like an obvious fit. March 2016 saw me travelling to SAMS near Oban for my initial training day. We were lucky to have good weather for this and, much to my surprise, I found myself volunteering for the barnacle package at the end of the day ("there's always one" Hannah our trainer informed me). To be honest, this wasn't due to any great prior interest in these amazing little creatures - it was the compactness of the kit required (a 3cm square quadrat rather than its 1m square big brother which is required for all the other packages). Such minimalism fitted better with my plan to go to more out of the way places once I'd honed my skills. I was back at SAMS in May for a brilliant field support day getting more detailed barnacle training from Prof Mike Burrows and then it was time to get going. Since then I've completed seven surveys and have another four pending upload of the data when some rainy days stop me getting out and about. I've visited sites on the west coast from Clach Toll in the north to Carsaig Bay in the south and on the east coast from Kingsbarns to Coldingham - it's already been fascinating to see the differences between the west and east coast barnacle scene. Volunteering with Capturing our Coast has given me the opportunity to have some amazing days out visiting stunning locations whilst contributing data to support ongoing ecological research and learning new things about our coastal environments. I very much like the fact that Capturing our Coast is also aiming to get some evidence base around how best to utilise citizen science - and this is leading me to develop an interest in its potential health benefits; which brings me neatly back to where I started in medicine all those years ago.

Spermwatch 2017

The secret life of lugworms – citizens scientists are needed to help shed light on the sex life of this sediment-dwelling worm

Love is in the air again this year along our coastlines and University of Portsmouth needs your help to keep an eye out for signs of passion in the lugworm population.

The lugworm, Arenicola marina, is a vital source of food for wader birds and fish as well as playing a key role in fisheries as a source of bait.

Volunteers are being asking to keep an eye out for any signs of love within the lugworm population on sandy shores around the UK.

This species spends its life in a burrow in the sediment so opportunities to meet a mate are limited. Instead, the males release sperm which collects in “puddles” on the surface of the beach. When the tide comes in, the sperm is washed down into the burrows of the females and fertilises her eggs.

Not a lot is known about the process - all that we do know is that specific environmental conditions are needed to trigger the release of the sperm and the egg at the same time. So scientists are calling on members of the public to join them as “citizen scientists” to help fill in the knowledge gaps.

The “Spermwatch” project is part of a wider conservation project called Capturing Our Coast funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is a partnership led by Newcastle University including Portsmouth, Bangor & Hull Universities, Marine Conservation Society, Marine Biological Association, Scottish Association of Marine Sciences and Earthwatch Europe.

Zoe Morrall, Capturing Our Coast Project Officer at the University of Portsmouth’s , Institute of Marine Sciences, said “Not a lot is known about lugworm reproduction and it is fascinating how the entire population of a species spawn, just for a few days every year, only when the environmental conditions are perfect.”

“By continuing last year’s study, and adding temperature data loggers to some sites it means we can better understand which conditions are important for a spawning event. We will also be able to understand how climate change may affect these events. By going out for a walk on any sandy beach across the UK, members of the public can get involved and help us answer these questions.”

The study starts on the 22nd October and runs until 1st December 2017 and people are asked to collect data every three days from one of 12 different sites around the UK. It should take around 45 minutes and it is an ideal way to take part in ‘hands-on’ science whilst just walking along a beach – all you have to do is download an instruction book and get recording. 


Get in touch with your local hub to find out more information and to get involved!

It's Competition Time!



For the month of August we are running a competition to win tickets to the screening of your choice of the Ocean Film Festival Tour. It's back for 2017 and screening some of the world’s most inspirational and mesmerising ocean films around the UK this September and October. 

Dive into this brand-new collection of films, each featuring incredible cinematography from rarely explored corners of the ocean! Take the plunge with world-champion freedivers as they explore a haunting shipwreck, cast off with nomadic sailors tackling Antarctica’s treacherous waters, and meet the most mind-blowing marine creatures imaginable. See the trailer. 

Photo credit: Perrin James. Diver: Kimi Werner.

How to be in with a chance of winning...

To win a pair of tickets to the screening of your choice all you have to do is get out surveying and submit your data online at The volunteers who carry out the most amount of quadrat surveys & submits the data online will win 2 tickets…it is as simple as that.

The competition runs from the 1st August until the 22nd August so that gives you 3 whole weeks to get out and enjoy your local rocky shores.



Terms & Conditions:

Winners will be chosen by the number of quadrat data submitted. Only 2 winners per hub location. Data submissions will be counted from 12:00pm on the 1st August until 22nd August at 11:59pm.  Cost of getting to screening location is not covered. Winner will be contacted by email by 26th August where you pick the screening date and location of your choice and tickets will be available to collect on the door. Guest of winning volunteer does not have to be a CoCoast volunteer.