Agenda item

Impact and Opportunities

The Committee will hear from the University of Plymouth, National Marine Park CEO and community representatives.  



Professor Richard Thompson (University of Plymouth) introduced the subject of microplastics and highlighted:


a)    Microplastics varied in size, shape, polymer and chemical composition and origin, but had to be 5mm or less to qualify;

b)    The first paper on microplastics had been published in Plymouth in 2004;

c)    Action to reduce larger items of plastics in the present, would reduce “the microplastics of tomorrow”;

d)    It was believed that nano-particles of microplastics were in the environment in large quantities but they were so small, their presence had not yet been confirmed;

e)    Long term chronic effects of microplastics on organisms;

f)     There was a limit to the amount of plastics that could be banned as plastic was beneficial to society;

g)    Microfibers from domestic laundry were released in relatively high quantities, and some ‘solutions’ that were marketed, were not effective;

h)    Tyre wear created particles that were entering the environment in relatively high quantities and had been tracked locally;

i)     Testing had proved that some agri-plastic that claimed to be biodegradable, had not decomposed at all over 12 months in a different environments;

j)     Tests on a device collecting rubbish in the Barbican, had collected more seaweed and small fish (some of which were dead after not being able to escape) than plastic, and could be doing environmental damage;

k)    New products needed to have a focus on design for life and end of life.

Jenny Parkins (Ocean Conservation Trust) explained how water quality had impacted some of the work the Ocean Conservation Trust (OCT) was doing at the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth, and highlighted:


l)     The OCT was working hard to get as many people involved with Plymouth Sound as they could;

m)  In 2023, at least 7 snorkelling sessions (approximately 100 people in total) run by OCT had to be cancelled due to sewage discharge from storm overflows;

n)    Getting involved with the water was important for heritage, culture and mental health;

o)    OCT encouraged young people to write to the Council and SWW when they had been unable to enter the water.

Elaine Haynes (CEO, National Marine Park) gave an overview, following on from her statement included in the agenda pack, and highlighted:


p)    People were responsible for the water quality they received and were both the problem, and the solution;

q)    Need for update of the bathing water regulations;

r)    The National Marine Park (NMP) would campaign and work towards the goal of good water quality 365 days a year;

s)     Education of local communities on water quality;

t)     Changing behaviours of local people and help people to take personal action;

u)    Sea grass meadows in Plymouth Sound were being killed by some of the pollutants coming down the rivers;

v)    Nature was resilient;

w)   Need to hold polluters to account;

x)    Need to use the NMP status as leverage for improvement.


Mark Hinchliffe (Sea Swimmer) and Paul Montgomery (Sea Swimmer) spoke about their experience of water quality in relation to sea swimming and highlighted:


y)    Sea swimming was of huge benefit to mental health;

z)    It could impact sea swimmers negatively if they could not sea swim that day due to poor water quality;

aa)  Bathing areas would benefit from more signage on safety of the water, and of the location/provision of safety equipment;

bb)Confusion and frustrations on accuracy of water quality levels.


In response to questions, the following was discussed:


cc)  There were a number of other sea swimming groups in Plymouth;

dd)Misinterpretation of water quality data;

ee)Request for previous years data on snorkelling sessions cancelled due to poor water quality from OCT;

ff)    Possibility of Water Quality Ambassadors;

gg)  Reliance on the Surfers Against Sewage app and the lack of clarity of data on whether it was a large storm overflow or small;

hh)Need to reconnect people to the ocean and how their actions could improve water quality;

ii)    Cost of water sampling;

jj)    Need to look at how information on water quality was communicated and understood;

kk)Importance of the role of all stakeholders in improving water quality;

ll)    Education of young people on water quality;

mm)   Checking of safety features at sea swimming locations;

nn)      Need for bins near to sea swimming areas;

oo)      Education on disposal of waste.


Supporting documents: