The coastal waters around the UK are of great importance in the life of the planet.
Although relatively small in area, they carry a disproportionately large amount of
marine life because of their relative shallowness. Sewage, nitrogen, phosphate, heavy
metals and chemicals of many kinds including chemical weapons have been dumped
into the marine environment, with the result that the health of the North Sea as a
whole is beginning to fail. The Irish Sea carries the dubious distinction of carrying
the highest burden of man-made radioactivity of any sea in the world. The assumption behind the philosophy of dumping is that the pollutant will "dilute and disperse" in the sea. In fact a better description of the marine environment is that it "consumes and concentrates" . Many pollutants increase in concentration as they pass up the food web, with the result that cetacean (whale) carcasses can sometimes end up being classed as toxic waste.


Evidence that the UK's coastal waters are reaching the limits of their tolerance
for accepting pollution is provided by algal blooms, and the presence of diseased
fish. In 1988 an epidemic of viral infection attacked the seal population of the
North Sea. In the end, when far more is known about how pollution affects living
organisms, it is possible if not probable that pollution will be found guilty of
depressing the seals' immune systems. After all, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), 37,000 tonnes of which have been dumped into the North Sea, are known to have immune depressant properties. Evidence is growing that several common synthetic chemicals, (eg DDT, DDE,
PCB's and Nonyl phenols) have oestragenic properties (i.e. mimic the effects of
female hormones) and that this is affecting the reproductive capacity of many
species, including man. It is vital that Government passes a law to ensure the
screening of all chemicals that are likely to pass into the environment for oestragenic

There is no doubt that bathing in waters contaminated with sewage carries with it a
health risk, primarily of gastroenteritis, but also ear and eye infections. Hepatitis A
can be caught through eating partially cooked shellfish (which filter and concentrate
the virus) from sewage contaminated water. The faecal coliform test used to
measure contamination is outmoded and unreliable: coastal authorities should switch
to faecal streptococcal measurements, and also test for viruses at least quarterly.


Sea dumping exists as a result of the misconception that the ocean is big enough to be
unaffected by anything that we could do. This misconception arises from the fact
that the ocean seems extremely large when viewed by individuals, especially those
of a nervous disposition. The fact is that the North Sea especially is not infinite and in relation to the massive input from industrial processes, its ecosystem is relatively fragile. The interaction of human economy and natural marine ecology is being acted out on a long time scale. This makes it imperative to act now to stop the pollution and to study the effects of this action, rather than to study the harmful effects now and act later. The burden
of proof must lie with the polluter, not to those concerned with defending the
environment. This is the Precautionary Principle, to which politicians now pay lip service,
although a gap often forms between their words and their deeds.

Pollution is the result of linear processing, that is, the extract-manufacture-use-dispose model that lies at the basis of the present industrial system. This system cannot be sustained indefinitely in a finite planet, since in the end, extracted resources will give out, and the ability of the environment to absorb the disposed substances will fail. Living ecological systems are not linear but cyclical, and our industrial processes must in the end fall into line with Nature by becoming cyclical, that is, by becoming use-reuse (i.e. recycling) systems. Some conservative economists make much of the difficulty and expense of zero pollution policies. These difficulties are generated from a short-term, narrow-scope perspective. Viewed ecologically, that is, from a long-term, global perspective, zero pollution policies are invariably economical. Indeed, the payback period for the solution to the sewage problem (via anaerobic digestion with methane and soil conditioner as end products) can be as short as three years. The use of soil conditioner on land whose soil structure has been weakened by agrochemical farming methods is also an economic advantage. The cyclical solution to the sewage problem entails the separation of industrial effluents from domestic sewage. The costs of this operation will carry a longer pay back period. Advantages will come not just from a healthier ecosystem, but also in some cases from new economic uses that are found for the "wastes" that had been previously lost.

In order to protect our coastal waters, the Campaign Against Sea Dumping calls for
the following measures:
· Governments must provide adequate funds to set up a North Sea Protection Organisation to co-ordinate research and enforcement of environment protection measures.
· Governments and must not wait for the scientific community to finish its research deliberations before acting.
· Because of the great importance of the North Sea and the disastrous consequences that would follow its ecological death, Governments must act on the worst-case scenario
and take action immediately and urgently to end pollution. Useful Laws of the Sea have been drawn up, but have not been ratified by some Governments, including the Government of the UK.


On nuclear waste the CASD position is clear. There are two ways of dealing with nuclear waste:
(a) returning it to the environment at a rate at which it is there is a very low hazard to life, or
(b) storing it away from the open environment in a such a way that it can be monitored and retrieved if necessary.

In common with the rest of the Green movement CASD rejects option (a) on the grounds that human knowledge of radiobiology is so rudimentary, and the monitoring efforts made to date are so sparse, that it would be irresponsible to take any action that cannot be later corrected, the consequences of which might not become evident for several generations.

We reject disposal option (a) and advocate the storage/monitoring option (b), linked with cessation of any further production of nuclear waste.


At the end of the Second World War, up to 200,000 tonnes of chemical weapons were dumped in the seas around the world. Britain dumped in the Baltic, the North Sea, Irish sea, and around the Channel Isles.

Chemical involved were Organophosphorus nerve agents, mustard gas, and blistering agents. Some were tossed overboard, others packed into ships which were then scuttled or blown up.

These are now beginning to breach their containment. One Russian scientist believes that the containers are all at a critical stage of thinning and that rather than expecting a gradual release, there may be a catastrophic surge in release. Containers are occasionally
occasionally dredged up by fishing nets, endangering the health of fishers. At lease 7 fishers have had to be hospitalised after their nets brought up mustard gas residues.

The chemicals will adversely affect the health of the marine ecosystem, concentrating as they pass up the food web.

The response of Governments and official "scientists" is - predictably - problem denial.
"There is no immediate danger" was the response of one "respected" group - which begs the question of what happens in the future if all the canisters corrode in a relatively short space of time.

They claim that the seawater will neutralise the chemicals. This is true in the case of Sarin, which breaks down in humid conditions, but is patently not the case for mustard gas. In the case of agents which contain Arsenic, even if they break down, an environmental problem persists. The Russian Academy of Science in St Petersburg found levels of arsenic up to 200 parts per million around one of the dump sites.

They also run the standard circular argument - no contamination is expected, therefore there is no need to monitor the problem.


It is clear that the rational response to this problem involves

  1. A definitive chart of areas where dumping took place - so far as is possible, given that the UK Government, true to form, destroyed their records as they were not deemed to be of further administrative use.
  2. A continuing programme of monitoring of seabed sediments and fish, sampling their liver for possible toxic content.
  3. Research and development of a range of retrieval and neutralisation methods.

CASD favours the option of a robot which can "sniff out" specific chemicals and travel up the concentration gradient to the point of origin.

The robot could envelop the shell in an impermeable container, or attach a radio transmitter and flotation bag to enable retrieval by support ship at the surface, or take other action.

Contaminated sediment could be chemically neutralised robotically on the seabed.

These solutions are technically feasible, but would be enormously expensive. However the alternative, letting the ecosystem deteriorate, would be more costly still in the long run. The Polluter Pays principle dictates that those responsible should pay, so a fund should be set up by the UK Ministry of Defence, with a contribution from the German chemical firms that produced the toxins in the first place.

It should be noted that political resistance to these rational measures will come not just from the Government but also from the fishing industries who would fear a collapse of public confidence in their product - the "Jaws Syndrome".



The CASD position on oil spills is that every effort must be made to skim the oil from the
surface of the water before it reaches the shore. To this end, skimmers (small
pieces of equipment that can suck oil off the surface of the water) should be held
at every port, refinery, oil terminal and coastal District Council, and mobilised
immediately to the site of the spill as soon as it is detected. The cost of the operation will be borne by those responsible for the pollution incident.

We call for all oil tankers to be of double skinned construction, and to have double engines and propulsion systems.

Accidental oil spills of the Braer and Sea Empress types contribute only a small proportion
of the total oil contamination of the sea. Most comes from routine discharges and
tank cleaning, often carried out by ships masters in defiance of the law, confident that they
will not be caught. Therefore we wish to see that all oil carried at sea can be identified by
means of traces of marking chemicals which are unique to each company. By this
means, any oil found in the marine environment can be traced back to its source, with
resultant prosecution of, and compensation paid by the company responsible.


The Green movement has been warning for years that we cannot continue to raid
Nature's finite resources without limit. To erode non-renewable resources is one thing;
but to destroy essentially renewable resources like fisheries is a sign of utter irrationality
on the part of political leaders. The warnings of political ecologists have been dismissed
and attacked by establishment politicians and journalists, but falling fish stocks are
now proving the Movement right.

We call for an outright internationally agreed ban on

(1) large factory ships that indiscriminately "hoover" marine life forms,
(2) nets with a hole size below an internationally agreed minimum,
(3) all drift nets over a length that can be managed by a small fishing vessel under sail,
(4) all monofilament nets, because cetaceans are unable to detect them with their sonar.

We call for fishermen to be restricted, not by rationing the times they are allowed
to put to sea, but by the scale of their operations. Sea time rationing is a bureaucratic device which displays ignorance of the realities of the seafarer, who must go with the tides and the weather.

Fuel rationing would restrict their range, and their ability to catch, but will necessitate the use of sail, and conserve finite fossil fuels. It will also eliminate the huge commercial fishing fleets which are at the root of the problem, while enabling the small fisher to continue. The rations will be enforced by tank size, which will be sufficient to get the boat safely out of difficult situations. This measure, although radical, is not so radical as the alternative in use now, which is that of compensation for fishing boats which are burnt. By restricting the use of fossil fuel, this measure justly corrects the disproportionate amount of fuel that are expended to put one calorie of food on the plate.


In marine pollution incidents, ecosystem damage means that the productivity of the sea is degraded to a variable extent, locally or generally. Groups such as fishermen or, who depend on the sea for their livelihood stand to lose as a result of this. Historically they have been left out of the reckoning when pollution compensation is being considered. The CASD calls for this situation to be rectified.


The dominant line carried by the media is that Greenpeace's success in banning the dumping of the Brent Spar was a triumph of emotion over rationality. This is false. The issue was not just the return of the toxic contaminants of Spar to the marine environment, but the precedent that the dumping would have set for the 400-odd other rigs in the North Sea. CASD wishes to see feasibility studies into leaving redundant rigs in situ and converting them into wind turbine platforms.


The Campaign Against Sea Dumping is a small informal group, operating on an ad hoc basis, activating from time to time for non-violent direct action as specific issues of marine pollution arise, especially in the Severn area. The campaign arose out of the successful blockade of a rail train carrying nuclear waste to Sharpness docks for sea disposal. CASD also runs a library of environmental photographs which are available at commercial rates. We rely entirely on donations from sympathisers in order to survive financially, and would appreciate a small donation of three first class stamps to cover costs of sending out this paper.

Recommended reading: Global Marine Biological Diversity. Ed.Norse; Island Press, Washington DC

Sunday, 03 March 2002

© 2001 R. Lawson This page was last updated on March 3, 2002