Litter has a major impact on wildlife, the main problems being entanglement and ingestion. It is estimated that over 50,000 marine mammals and 1 millions birds and turtles die every year from becoming tangled in or eating marine litter. Litter also diminishes the amenity value of an area and the cost to the tourism sector runs into millions of pounds. Plastics are the most prevalent beach litter material. Certain types of plastics are known to absorb chemicals from the surrounding environment, such as PCBs and heavy metals at concentrations up to 1 million times higher than in ocean waters. The ingestion of these toxins can have life threatening impacts upon marine wildlife.
It can be hard to identify the source of some water based litter. It is believed that recreational boating contributes very little to the total amount of marine and inland waterway litter (Marine Conservation Society Beach Watch Survey 2007). However it is extremely important that we all do our bit to prevent more litter from entering the marine environment.
The disposal of waste at sea is regulated by the International Maritime Organisation under MARPOL Annex IV and applies to all ships including small recreational craft. The law states that ships may not dump any plastic waste over the side. Other waste can only be disposed of overboard if ground up to a required standard and then only if more than 3 miles from land. A good rule of thumb for the recreational sailor is that the sea is not a dumping ground and no rubbish (with the exception of fresh fish and parts thereof) should be disposed of overboard.
The onus of the regulations falls on those who operate shore side facilities to enable vessels to land waste for disposal and to avoid the dumping of waste at sea. So it is important that clubs and training centres provide adequate disposal and recycling facilities.