If you’re a Cornwall lover, you’ll already be well aware that our glorious coastline is one of the most exquisite in all of the UK. Newquay (on Cornwall’s North coast) boasts a plethora of beautiful beaches, teeming with heavenly nature and abundant wildlife. But that’s not all our beaches teem with. If you’ve spent a week or two here in Newquay during the peak season, we don’t have to tell you that our beaches become a hotbed for a whole lot of litter. Which is a shame, because sharing our wondrous region with visitors is what we do best at Self Cater Cornwall. So we asked ourselves – how do we encourange sustainable holidays in Newquay?
That’s why we recently became members of Newquay Marine Group: a collective of brilliant, proactive, conservation-focused minds banding together with a common goal – to protect and preserve our county.
We spoke to their Chairperson, Laura Guy-Wilkinson, to find out more about the group and their sustainability-driven initiatives.
Where it began
Let’s set the scene. It’s 2013 and two colleagues are car-sharing on their way to work (already a good sign). They don’t know it yet, but they’re about to have one of those lightbulb moments. With plenty in common including diving and marine life, they start a conversation – and find themselves asking why there aren’t any prominent groups in Newquay making noise about conservation.
From here, the idea snowballed into a plan that evolved into Newquay Marine Group. They went on to spend 6 months seeking out and talking to like-minded people. They found that there was lots going on in smaller pockets, but nothing bringing these people together. Concluding that a collective consciousness certainly existed, Laura and co-founder Gabi made it their mission to give rise to an influential, unified voice.
Fast forward to the first meeting, we find a full crew assembled at the local pub. With a range of ages, interests and levels of expertise, the Newquay Marine Group family was born.
Members & Volunteers
The group now has over 110 members and the pub meetings have grown to include anywhere from 20-40 people. They are also part of a wider network of groups who are all using their enterprising spirit and dynamic determination to drive Newquay towards a more sustainable tomorrow. At their core, the group is a wonderful bunch of proactive people who care about the environment and are passionate about marine life.
Projects & Initiatives
Where to start?! During our call Laura enthusiastically filled me in on as much as she could about the numerous projects the group takes on.
In the warmer months, they take to the great outdoors! From surveys to rockpool rambles, snorkels to swims, wildlife boat trips to wildlife walks, plankton days to Seaquest Sundays (not to mention some lively nights in the pub), the group gets hands-on!
And it doesn’t stop there! They also host frequent beach cleans run by Laura’s co-chair, Liz at Newquay Beach Care and have recently bought a kayak – made from recycled materials of course – so that cleans can now happen out in the water.
On top of all that, they have taken on drainage work upon request of the Environmental Agency, have secured funding from the National Lottery to work with underprivileged children AND set up trawls to analyse the microplastic in the waters of the Cornish coastline.
Recently, they have been involved in a collaborative project with Land & Sea Cornwall, Clean Cornwall, Cornwall Council and Newquay Town Council. Deployed by the Ocean Recovery Project, they set up bodyboard bins across Newquay.
While we’re at it, did you know that the cheap bodyboards you find for sale everywhere pose a dangerous threat to marine life? Made from polystyrene, these boards are not biodegradable. This means they remain in the environment and eventually break into hazardous pieces.
The bodyboard bins offer a solution! They act as recycling collection boxes and allow for bodyboards that are no longer needed to be recycled and repurposed by SWM Recycling.
The group also hosts talks and presentations by renowned lecturers, professors, TV personalities and friends of the group. These have included everything from Spring Watch’s Gillian Burke to the U.K’s leading octopus expert.
Other core work and highlights
As if they couldn’t be any busier, here are 3 awesome projects undertaken recently that really deserve recognition.
Newquay Marine Group works closely with various schools as well as Newquay College to bring the cause of conservation into the hearts and minds of young people. The response from the younger generations has been really engaged, and the kids love getting involved and voicing their thoughts.
Recently, the ‘Yellow Fish’ Campaign has seen NMG working with local schools and preschools, stencilling yellow fish symbols beside drains to remind people that any waste entering them can end up in the marine environment. The aim of this initiative is to improve the quality of bathing water in some areas and also bring this issue into the public consciousness. Everyone plays a role in protecting the seas, beaches and marine life. The rallying cry? Only rain down the drain!
Newquay clean also recently had a real win. A local Texaco garage was giving out flimsy, plastic gloves as part of covid health and safety precautions. Though these may have kept people’s hands protected, they had the opposite effect on the environment! In one litter pick alone, NMG collected 100 gloves strewn all over the Gannel and surrounding beauty spots. Proactive as always, this became a mission. They spoke to the Council and the garage and were able to get the dispensary and bins changed. Nice one!
This next initiative is as important as it is poignant. It’s no secret that there are serious threats to the ocean ecosystem from plastic pollution. The issue of microplastics (tiny pieces that have broken up from bigger pieces) is becoming a major problem with dire consequences for marine life.
Headed up by co-chair Liz and conducted by volunteers as a citizen science project, the group set about finding a way to survey and research the plastic in the sea that is hard to see.
Thus, they launched the first project to ever examine microplastics on a large scale on the north Cornish coast. The trawl (which is attached to a net) is towed behind the boat on the surface of the water, for approximately two hours to collect a sample.
Appallingly, their findings (based on 30 trawls so far) show that there are approximately 2 million pieces of plastic, between 1-5mm in size, floating on the surface of the sea between St. Agnes and Padstow alone. Keep up to date with news on the project here.
Unfortunately, in the pursuit of saving the seas, it seems nothing happens easily. Though their eager enthusiasm and ardor for positive change is irrepressible, Laura has learned that real change is a process that requires diligence, tenacity and patience;
“You get used to playing the slow game. If it’s that easy to fix, there really was no excuse for it in the first place, which is really sad. It takes patience to get a real result.”
When it comes to giving a voice to the marine environment, it’s all about making sure that everyone knows the right course of action and has the correct information. Fortunately, the group has become an influential voice with local Council’s, and frequently provides important insights on issues that need addressing.
The Peak Season
During the summer months when the sun is shining and the kids are off school, Newquay really is a beautiful place for a holiday. In a normal year, the population of Cornwall is thought to double or even treble. In light of the pandemic and the rise of the staycation, this year we have seen a staggering 400,000 extra people.1
Whilst we love sharing our beautiful home and tourism is a wonderful stimulator for our economy, the aftermath of so many people is devastating for nature.
With lots of people comes lots of trash, and everyone thinks their small contribution doesn’t make that much of a difference. The problem with that is, everyone does the same thing, and the power of that collective overwhelms our beaches with rubbish.
How many times have you encountered an overflowing bin on the beach after a long day soaking up the sun? Does this affect what you do with your own rubbish? Try to stack it on top? Place it neatly beside the bin? Take it home and recycle it? This is one of those everyday scenarios where the ultimate power lies with the people. The solution is not bigger than you, the solution is you. Even if you’ve tried to get it in or next to the bin, it’s important to remember it won’t stay there! The combination of the wind and the seagulls means it will end up in the sea. If you take your rubbish home with you after a beach day – thank you!
The beauty of this is that it’s not about perfection. Like much in life, it’s just about doing your best in the moment and starting with what you know. Every effort is greatly appreciated – so let’s be better, together!
Click here for our tips on how to have more sustainable holidays in Newquay.
Find out how you might get stuck in too by becoming a member! This will grant you access to various training, activations, conferences and inspiring talks led by experts in the field of conservation.
1The Independent, May 2021. https://bit.ly/373nZXW