People in Scotland believe sewage and chemical pollution pose the biggest threat to the health of our seas, according to new research.
The opinion poll, conducted by Survation on behalf of the environmental coalition Scottish Environment LINK, also found high levels of public concern over litter and the impact of climate change on our seas.
9 in 10 Scots say that it is important to them personally that Scotland’s seas are in a healthy state, according to the poll. But sea health is being damaged by a range of factors, including plastic, chemical and sewage pollution.
One factor concerning environmental charities is the lack of monitoring of sewage releases in Scotland – with the public left in the dark over the scale of the problem.
Sanitary waste such as wet wipes and cotton bud sticks can end up in our seas when sewers overflow due to heavy rainfall or insufficient capacity in the network.
These storm overflows, which release untreated sewage into rivers and coastal waters, are intended to operate during extreme weather events – but the Marine Conservation Society has raised concerns that storm overflows may be being used on a more regular basis.
Evidence from Marine Conservation Society volunteer Beachwatch litter surveys suggest a higher level of sewage related debris on Scottish beaches than in England and Wales, where monitoring rules are stricter.
Scottish Water monitor only 9% of storm overflows, and are required to monitor only 3%. In comparison, over 80% of overflows in England and Wales are monitored, with a commitment for 100% to be monitored by the end of 2023.
Scottish Water reported 10,763 spills in 2021 – however, this only covers the 3% of overflows they are required to monitor, suggesting a much more widespread problem. Environmental charities have called on the Scottish Government to install electronic monitoring on all sewer overflows by 2024.
Calum Duncan, Convener of the Scottish Environment LINK Marine Group and Head of Conservation for Scotland at the Marine Conservation Society, said:
“Scotland’s beaches are beautiful – but anybody who has visited one in recent years will have noticed pollution being washed up on our shores.
“Our ocean is fundamental to life on earth, and inextricably linked to all our health and wellbeing.
“But our seas are being used as a dumping ground for sewage, plastic rubbish and ‘forever chemicals’, all of which continue to build up over time, wreaking havoc on our planet.
“We need much stronger monitoring on our sewer overflows to help target improvements and reduce the sewage and debris entering Scotland’s seas, and a ban on all non-essential ‘forever chemicals’.”
Clare Cavers, Senior Projects Manager at Fidra said:
“Evidence of pollution in our rivers and seas from invisible chemicals and tiny plastic particles is growing all the time, and a lot is known to come from sewage.
“There needs to be an urgent increase in monitoring sewage from storm overflows in Scotland, so that we can understand exactly what is coming through the sewers and where it is coming from.
“Then we can work with manufacturers, retailers and government to turn off the pollution tap and protect Scotland’s stunning seas for the next generation to enjoy.”
Marine Conservation Society briefing – Sewage related debris (Oct 22):
Scottish Environment LINK – Ocean Recovery Plan:
How important, if at all, is it to you personally that Scotland’s seas are in a healthy state?
NET Important: 91%
NET Unimportant: 5%
Don’t know: 3%
Which of the following do you think represent the greatest threat to the health of Scotland’s seas? Please rank your top 3. (Sum % of Rank 1,2,3)
Chemical or sewage pollution: 69%
Litter pollution: 61%
Impacts of climate change: 48%
Industrial fishing: 28%
Offshore oil and gas extraction: 26%
Shipping and transport: 14%
Energy infrastructure (wind turbines, subsea cables): 13%
Invasive non-native species: 12%
Aquaculture (fish and shellfish farming): 11%
Coastal developments: 9%
Marine tourism: 5%
Aquaculture (seaweed cultivation): 4%
Survation (31st Oct – 6th Nov). Sample size 1033.