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Nurdles may sound cute and often look beautiful but the small plastic pellets are a sinister presence on three-quarters of beaches in the UK.
Volunteer nurdle hunters on the Great Winter Nurdle Hunt searched their local shorelines in early February and the survey has found that 73% of 279 shorelines contain the plastics.
In one 100m-stretch of beach in Cornwall, beachcombers found 127,500 of the lentil-sized pellets – but that is just a fraction of the 53 billion nurdles that are estimated to escape into the UK environment each year.
The microplastics pose a significant threat to fish and animals that ingest the plastic.
Experts warn that nurdles can soak up chemical pollutants from their surroundings and then release the toxins into the animals that eat them.
After the BBC reported the story some nurdle hunters have been getting in touch to explain why they do what they do.
Sarah Marshall, the Isle of Wight
Sarah Marshall, a 49-year-old former speech and language therapist, started collecting nurdles two years ago and says she is now addicted to finding the pellets.
“They look like tiny eggs, some are bigger than others, some are thicker, and they are all different colours,” she says.
“They congregate on the tide line and I often use my hands to pick them up – whenever I go to the beach, I cannot help but pick them up.
“I even found some in Martinique. My daughter says ‘mum let’s go look for nurdles’ – it’s like a competition between us,” she adds.
The threat posed by nurdles to wildlife and the marine ecosystem is the main motivation for Sarah to spend her time picking them up from beaches.
She normally throws away the collected nurdles but she has also sent samples to the International Pellet Watch who analyse nurdles for the presence of toxic chemicals.
Jay Lowein, Shanklin
Jay Lowein, who is 59 and runs a business, is a recent recruit to the Great Nurdle Hunt.
She went on her first hunt in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight in February and explained that she used tweezers to pick up the pellets.
Together with a friend, she collected over 1500 nurdles in one hour.
“I’d never even seen them but when I went on the nurdle hunt, I was really shocked at how many there are,” says Jay.
“I collect them because I think it’s horrible that there is all this plastic floating around.
“I want to do my bit – I don’t want to eat fish that has ingested plastic pellets”, she explains.
Daniel Moore, Cumbrae
Daniel Moore, a 29-year-old PhD student in Durham, found these nurdles at James Bay in March 2015.
Maranda Thomson, Caithness
Maranda, a self-employed embroider, took part in her first nurdle hunt this year in the freezing Scottish rain by her house at Dunnet Sands at Britain’s most northerly point.
“I go beachcombing every day – but on this hunt I collected 355 nurdles in 45 minutes,” she explains.
“It is back-breaking work – my hands get cold from the freezing water and my specs are always falling down.
“I do it because I care about the environment – I want to do a bit of good for the world when I’m out there,” she adds.
Maranda, who is 44, uses some of the refuse for craft, including twine to make pictures, and she recycles the plastic rubbish she finds.
Emily Cunningham, Durham
Nurdles are not the only plastic material occupying beaches in the UK.
Emily Cunningham, a 26-year-old marine biologist in Durham, found plastic ribbon and latex from 101 balloons on a beach in Anglesey.
She believes that they are the remains of balloons sent into the air on mass balloon releases.
Emily collects nurdles almost weekly, whenever she visits the beach, and says that often she finds more plastic than seaweed on Britain’s beaches.
Tina Triggs, north Wales
Tina Triggs, who is 44 and works in a supermarket, found 66 plastic cotton buds on a beach in February at Barmouth in north Wales.
By Georgina Rannard, UGC and Social news
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