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  • Writer's pictureMartha Edwards

Microplastics: Human Activity and Wildlife on Beaches

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

People have a massive impact on the wildlife on UK beaches; in this article we will explore the human impact on wildlife, conservation efforts on beaches and how reduce the human impact on the coastline.

How Human Activity is Impacting Wildlife on Beaches and What We Can Do To Help

Several activities have a large impact on coastal wildlife; we list the main ones here:


Overfishing is one of the most detrimental activities to marine life in the UK and around the world. The abundance and diversity of life in our oceans are dwindling as humans catch more fish than nature can replace. This has a significant knock-on effect on all the other animals that rely on the sea for food.

Climate change

The warming of the planet is having a big impact as habitats are changing and animals cannot keep up. For example animals like sand eels, which are a source of food for puffins, prefer cold water so are moving North, leaving less food in the Puffin habitats which the birds return to each year.


Sadly humans are polluting the planet including the oceans, and as well as events like oil spills which are catastrophic locally, plastic is entering the ocean ecosystem and this is having many effects, some of them unknown. Plastic can take 20-1000 years to decompose and large pieces are eroded in to tiny microplastics, which then enter the food chain.


Microplastics are plastic fragments less than 5mm and can be seen on beaches as minute pieces of coloured plastic in the sand. Marine animals frequently absorb microplastic contamination in the waters.

Although littering contributes to some of this environmental contamination, a large portion is caused by storms, water runoff, and winds that transport plastic into our oceans.

Single use plastics like straws, which are used once and then thrown away are a particular problem.

Microplastics have been found in commercial seafood, drinking water, in plankton and whales, and scarily even in the human body: Microplastics found in human blood for first time | Plastics | The Guardian

What Can You Do? Our Top Tips to Help Beach Ecosystems

  • Reduce the plastic that you use personally

  • Look for plastic free products and companies. Plastic Free Penzance, for example, aims to minimise the town’s contribution to the plastic crisis. They are proud to be the first community in the UK to be awarded SAS Plastic Free Communities Status, and many local businesses including Seaside Jewellery, Sennen Jewellery and Kernow Gold have committed to being plastic free.

  • Participate in a Beach Clean. Surfers against Sewage (SAS) organise cleans but look out for locally organised beach cleans too.

  • Never leave rubbish on a beach

  • Support charities from home. For example Surfers Against Sewage is a marine conservation charity working with communities to protect oceans, waves, beaches and marine life. It was created in 1990 by a group of Cornish surfers from the villages of St Agnes and Porthtowan on the north coast of Cornwall.


Although microplastics are now in our coastal environment it is not too late to change our behaviour and stop this issue from becoming an even bigger one for future generations.

Interested in what wildlife can be found on UK beaches? Take a look here: Exploring the Unique Wildlife of British Beaches (


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