Paddling Without Plastic: A Kayak Adventure With A Twist In Suffolk
TPlastic bottle caps, cotton swabs and styrofoam pieces are easy to spot. But under the shingle hide more unidentifiable things. I dig with my trash collector, discovering disposable masks, shredded trash bags and a huge piece of bubble wrap. Kurt Finch, owner of Nomad Sea Kayaking, sums it up: “If you gave me a thousand people now, I would put them all to work, and each of them would end up with a bag of garbage.
Kurt and his partner Becky MacInnes-Clark have been running kayaking expeditions along the Essex, Suffolk and Dorset coasts for 16 years and were already encouraging guests to be aware of their impact by participating in mini beach cleanups . But when they saw how much trash there was along the Orwell River, they decided to combine the scenic tour with an eco-cleaning.
The result is a mix of micro-adventure and satisfying green action. Kayaks are the ideal boats for navigating the estuary, able to land on hard-to-reach beaches. “Anyone can pick up trash. We wanted to take it to a different level, ”says Kurt. “The idea is to go to places that people don’t, can’t, or won’t have access to.”
This thin strip of land south of Suffolk’s Orwell Bridge has wooded shores and is difficult to reach on foot. On closer inspection, it’s not made of pebbles, but rather covered with millions of tiny sea snail shells, ridged hull shells and driftwood fragments. Within these natural wonders are many brightly colored shards of plastic and perfectly round, perfectly deadly plastic nurdles.
At the 2019 Great British Beach Clean, hosted by Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), volunteers found 22,095 pieces of plastic and trash along the AONB coastline. Other than 2020, when the numbers were naturally lower, that amount has increased year over year since 2017. comes to beach cleaning, ”says Becky.
Earlier we saw a more idyllic side of the river. Departing from Pin Mill, a former sailing hamlet with shipyards and a shore of weather-beaten wrecks, we paddled through rows of pastel-painted clapboard boats on swaying moorings, watching plovers fly low above the silvery water and spotting moon jellyfish as you go. But now, as I pull on crumpled plastic strips with my pliers, reality catches up with me.
No one has studied the origin of the waste on the estuary of the estuary. It could come from Ipswich, I’m told, or drift upstream from the Port of Felixstowe, with its huge container ships. It could come from the garbage cans and toilets of the six marinas in the estuary, or perhaps be thrown from the countless pleasure boats and canoes on the river.
The movement of waste from source to sea has not been studied in detail in this or any other estuary. “Eighty percent of the plastics in the ocean come from land-based sources,” says Clare Whitelegg, East of England project coordinator for The Rivers Trust. “There are relatively few studies on how much is coming from each of these sources, and we need this information to solve the problems.”
Along with the Environment Agency, the Rivers Trust is partnering in a new £ 14million European Development Fund-funded project that maps how waste moves through the Medway, Great Ouse, Tamar and Poole Harbor, and creates a tool to help identify sources of waste along any river.
Kurt saw things thrown out of car windows and thrown along the shore, watched fishermen break and abandon 100 feet of line – and rescued the hungry seagulls enveloped in it. “Litter is just a symptom,” he says. “The problem is us.
Back at the beach, we picked up 12kg of trash in an hour – nothing to do with the 77kg a previous group handled – but there is still a sense of satisfaction, doing something rather than nothing. Anxious not to find ourselves stranded on the mudflats at low tide, we launch the kayaks and set off in the middle of the river. The current is slow and steady; paddling requires little effort. As I take advantage of the breathtaking view of the estuary, I feel my stress soar. The expanse of water, dotted with small boats, is magnificent. “Being on the water improves your mood, doing good improves your mood – and if we can connect the two, then good job,” Becky says.
Kurt and Becky’s drive to be a sustainable business includes reducing their carbon footprint, and the carbon emissions are offset by planting trees donated by the Woodland Trust and rewilding 15 acres of land in Suffolk. It is no coincidence that the word “nomad” is included in their name – they do not have an office and work from home, by car or by boat as required. “We’re very lucky,” Becky said, gesturing to the water. “This is our office. And if we can share it, so much the better.
When we return to Pin Mill, the romantic little harbor has come to life. The parking lot is full but you don’t need to bring a car here – Ipswich is 7 miles by bike or 30 minutes by bus. Just before Ipswich, next to Orwell Bridge, is the Suffolk Food Hall, which works to cut down on plastic packaging, with grocery bags and items like compostable freezer bags.
I watch the gambette knight and the little egrets feeding in the mud of the tides. It’s a coastal day with a difference – a day that leaves you with a healthy glow and clearer awareness.
For a longer stay, the Dutch barge Adelaar, available for rent via Airbnb, is the ultimate in off-grid peace and quiet.
Kayak beach cleanups organized by Nomad Sea Kayaking will resume in spring 2022. Monthly excursions will also run from March to October 2022. Excursions are suitable for beginners. Book on: nomadseaakayaking.co.uk