Do you know what you’re swimming in?

Flood water after heavy rainfall plagues our local beaches, farm runoff our rivers and lakes but did you also know that raw sewage is regularly dumped into our waterways?

Surfers against Sewage have been running campaigns to stop this practice by our water companies and the latest was the Paddle Out Protest at 12 venues across the UK.

Ballyronan Marina, Saturday 20th May saw a crowd of swimmers, SUPers, kayakers, surfers and a dingy turn up to make their voices heard.

With cardboard gas masks, flags and placards the event started with voices raised chanting;

“What do we want?… clean water!… when do we want it?… NOW!”

Of course we all make our impact and so in my plan to turn up to this protest I had to think of my protest footprint. I wasn’t prepared to go out and buy anything – the idea of balloons had been quickly dismissed as majorly un-environmentally ethical! I had seen this image on the SAS website and thought that I’d like to recreate it. Only, cardboard certainly won’t work and I don’t have a small surf board. So, dumpster diving it was, well Paul’s trailer destined for the recycling centre.

Treasure found! Top of a broken ottoman provided hardboard. With a jig-saw I would cut my mini surfboard and use markers for the slogans, I wouldn’t even need to use tape – no chance of any escapee plastic floating away.

The black underside material then cried out to me to be re-purposed as a flag decorated with leftover white paint. (I may also use the foam and the top material to make a garden kneeling pad… adding to my ever growing list of projects!)

I was happy to see so many hand-crafted signs where others had clearly the same idea in mind.

This is not my first protest, my first in fact was I think 1981; CND. Greenpeace, so many of us have been trying to make ourselves heard for decades and it was a blow to read recently of the Uk’s return to animal testing for cosmetics, we seem to have lost ground to the desire for money. Disheartened but not giving up.

We have passed several of the “tipping points” scientists warned us of. Many, we won’t be able to reverse but surely that doesn’t mean we should give up on trying to halt the next landslide? I grumble as much as the next person about why do I have to change my lifestyle when not everyone else does? But, if I don’t, who will? Could we move to a Circular Economy? This video with Ellen MacArthur gives a really simple explanation.

We must transform every element of our take-make-waste system: how we manage resources, how we make and use products, and what we do with the materials afterwards. Only then can we create a thriving circular economy that can benefit everyone within the limits of our planet.”

It makes sense not to use finite resources, now more than ever we have better innovations for fuel, packaging, homes. Another article that was pointed out to me recently was pet flea treatments contaminating rivers. The Guardians’ article stating that 1 medium sized dog treatment containing fipronil has enough pesticide to kill 60million bees. That prompts me to look at my personal impact; sunscreen, deodorant…

According to a further Guardian post around “200,000 tonnes of sewage are discharged each year in the catchment area for Lough Neagh, where 40% of Northern Ireland’s drinking water is sourced, and about 250,000 tonnes a year is dumped close to the shores of Lough Erne in Fermanagh”

Even the North Coast has recorded around 1.3m tonnes of sewage spillages each year! The effect on us and our wildlife is horrifying. In the DEARA report of 2021 “no river, lake, transitional or coastal water bodies received good overall status” New substances were introduced to the monitoring:

For the first time the presence of ubiquitous, persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic (uPBT)
substances, so-called ‘forever’ chemicals, have been assessed as part of chemical
status. Due to their bioaccumulative and persistent nature, uPBT substances have
been detected at all monitored stations and resulted in failures of all of those stations.
” Scary stuff!

You just have to think, why has the population of our Lough Neagh eel plummeted? Many factors have contributed to their decline, with pollution well up the list, changing the eels trophic status!

Lough Neagh is an Area of Special Scientific Interest with it’s vegetation, aquatic, fish and bird life.

I think back to those slogans I had written over my school bag; Think of the link between the sea and your sink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle… (recycle being the last option)

I know there are screams of the fuel we use to travel… the impact of our sporting kit… and everything else. There is no one solution; veganism isn’t going to sort the plastic problem, natural cleaning products aren’t alone going to fix pollution, electric cars aren’t perfect but one step at a time helps us each make more informed choices and each step takes us a little closer to where we are going.

What might be your step?