'Our beaches are supposed to be safe' - concerns as palm oil dumped along coast
PUBLISHED: 17:04 19 May 2019 | UPDATED: 13:43 21 May 2019
Concerns are growing after large amounts of palm oil were found scattered along our region's coastline.
Deposits of the substance were collected over the last few days from beaches across Norfolk and Waveney, including Walcott, Sea Palling, Hemsby, Great Yarmouth, Gorleston, Hopton and Pakefield.
Palm oil, which ships are permitted to dump into the sea if they are at least 12 miles offshore, is known to be poisonous to dogs and can lead to them becoming seriously ill.
Bags full of the potentially dangerous material were cleared from Caister beach on Friday, prompting Great Yarmouth Borough Council to urge dog owners to keep their pets on short leads.
Despite its name, the oil - said to have a distinctive diesel-like odour - often washes up as large solid lumps and is white and waxy in appearance. Several chunks were found between Sea Palling and Eccles-on-Sea on Saturday (May 18) by Ksenia Bulygina, who regularly walks her dog Hector along the coast.
The 29-year-old bagged up around 25kg worth of palm oil in just 45 minutes while walking along one of her favourite coastal stretches.
"Seeing so much palm oil on the beach was deeply upsetting," said Miss Bulygina, who lives in Acle. "I'd heard about it being washed up on the beaches before but nothing like these amounts.
"It is a big worry for dogs. People don't want to take them to the beach and be worrying all the time, thinking about what they might ingest - our beaches are supposed to be a safe place.
"We are lucky in this part of the world to have beautiful countryside and beaches and it is sad to see this happening so close to home."
A few miles up the coast, in Happisburgh, pub landlord and North Norfolk District Councillor Clive Stockton says he has received frequent reports of palm oil washed up on nearby shores.
"We've had several customers come in recently and say they have seen it, not just in Happisburgh but up in Bacton as well," said Mr Stockton.
"Ever since, if I see people with dogs I warn them to keep an eye out for palm oil. People simply have to be careful."
Peter Whittleton, who lives in Walcott, takes his sons Carson and Theo down to the beach every weekend and was shocked to find so much palm oil dispersed along the sand.
"The boys were determined to go down and see if there was any that needed picking up," said Mr Whittleton, 44. "It's easy enough picking up the large chunks but you can't do much about the tiny fragments.
"I don't have dogs myself but the beach here is really popular among dog walkers. Our countryside and beaches are what we're known for in Norfolk and they are being ruined."
In addition to posing a health risk to animals on British shores, the harvesting of palm oil from the fruit of oil palm trees in Africa and Southeast Asia is a major driver of deforestation.
Thanks to its versatility the ingredient can be found in a huge range of supermarket products, meaning it remains a product in high demand.
With the number of dogs falling ill after ingesting palm oil on the rise, Jon Sweatman - a marine medic with Seal and Shore Watch - says the problem demonstrates an obvious need for new rules.
"The issue is not so much the palm oil itself, but the fact ships are able to drop it if they are 12 miles out," said Mr Sweatman. "They are allowed to do it and it's completely ridiculous.
"If ships deliver palm oil somewhere, they should have their tanks cleaned before they sail again."
With ships able to discard palm oil undeterred, pressure on MPs to push for a change in legislation looks certain to increase.
"This has been on the radar in parliament for quite some time," said Waveney MP, Peter Aldous. "It is one of those things that rises up and down the agenda at particular points in time.
"What's clear is that the implications of using palm oil are devastating and it has an adverse effect on our economy because people are going to think twice about coming to our beaches."