Could new tech solve nurdle problems at Chessel Bay?

basking shark nurdle machineThe Environment Agency is to trial technology to remove tiny pieces of plastic – known as 'nurdles' – that are a continuing problem at Local Nature Reserve Chessel Bay in Bitterne Manor.



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basking shark nurdle machine
Nurdle collection machine

Local community group the Friends of Chessel Bay carries out regular litter picks at the site, but because nurdles are so small, it's very difficult to remove them - especially when they are mixed with natural materials in amongst reeds.

Now the Environment Agency has announced it's providing £5,000 later this year to fund a trial of technology that could help solve the problem.

Developed in 2020, a machine apparently known as the 'Basking Shark' will be deployed. It's so named because it filters the environment for microplastics, and basking sharks are also susceptible to microplastic pollution because they filter the seawater for plankton and accidentally consume plastic.

The tech has what's described as an "innovative sieving system that separates microplastics from sand, large sticks and seaweed", so the amount of important organic material removed should be minimised. A seven-metre wandering hose helps it get into nooks and crannies.

The test will be happening in September once funding becomes available. The Environment Agency says it's also the best time of year to avoid disturbance at the nature reserve.nurdles chessel bay supplied focb

Commenting on voluntary clean-ups last summer, Rose Nicole, a local volunteer with the Friends of Chessel Bay group, said "the continued build-up of nurdles ... has been a real challenge".

Local Environment Agency fisheries specialist Kerry Sims said: "We'll be working closely with Natural England, as well as site landowners Southampton City Council. We're also working with the local community and interest groups to address litter in general in Chessel Bay, including Friends of Chessel Bay and Surfers Against Sewage.

"If the trial is successful, we'll be seeking further funding to undertake a full clean-up of microplastics in Chessel Bay, and it should also pave the way for the new technology to be used at similar sites in estuaries elsewhere in the country."

Josh Beech from social enterprise 'Nurdle', which developed the machine, said pellets should be captured before currents can take them out to sea and they dissipate along the coastline.

"The trial clean in Chessel Bay will provide us with a strong case study to be able to take action against polluters who damage the oceans by spilling pre production pellets (nurdles) into the environment. It will also showcase that the machine will be able to tackle the most severe pollution in incredibly fragile sites," he said.

"Chessel Bay is a beautiful nature reserve and we can't wait to help alleviate the pollution there!" he added.

Report highlights plastic pollution at Chessel Bay

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