Polystyrene blocks that that have started to disintegrate and shed thousands of pieces in the Pegwell nature reserve and along the Western Undercliff are being removed.
A community effort of coastal wardens, volunteers and town and district council staff to clear up the debris has since taken place. District councillors Tony Ovenden, who is also a coastal warden, and Becky Wing also took part in the effort and have contacted various organisations. County councillor Karen Constantine raised the issue with the county authority.
The source was identified as coming from under a pontoon ‘washed up’ in the heart of the nature reserve with several more blocks at risk of breaking away. The polystyrene is used to float pontoons.
Thanet council, the Environment Agency, Kent County Council, Kent Wildlife Trust and the counter pollution and salvage officer from the Maritime Coastguard Agency were all notified.
Tony previously explained the situation, saying: “There are two pontoons ashore at the Sandwich side of the river. They are concrete pontoons and were originally kept afloat by blocks of sealed polystyrene.
“There are six blocks remaining, three under each pontoon. The polystyrene is breaking down and the eventual weight of the concrete pontoon will crush it. Doing the maths of the amount of polystyrene left under the pontoon allowed to breakdown, it amounts to an environmental disaster.”
He added that the pontoons came ashore in January in a restricted area, which is managed by the Kent Wildlife Trust, where human activity is banned. The first anybody knew of it in Thanet was when the debris arrived at the Western Undercliff last week.
Today (March 17) clearance of three loose pieces of the polystyrene at the nature reserve site has been taking place with plans being made for further removals.
Sandwich Marina harbour master Ian Broughton is among those working to deal with the issue.
He said: “Earlier emergency works with Kent Wildlife Trust yesterday were thwarted by the tides, but we are confident that the removal of these pontoons can now happen quickly. This will enable clean-up works to commence with a view to completion before the full onset of the nesting season.”
Stephen Weeks of Kent Wildlife Trust said the trust was working with the relevant authorities to deal with the issue and thanked volunteers who have been part of the clear up.
Thanet Green Party members says they have also been working to find a resolution for the pollution.
Vice chair Deb Shotton said: “Whilst the pontoons themselves may not be in water over which Thanet council believes it has jurisdiction, the coastline being polluted is ours and the seas belong to everyone. By now these toxic polystyrene beads will be spreading all along the Channel coastline, affecting everything living in these seas and on our beaches; this problem belongs to us all.”
UPDATE: March 18 – All pontoons/polystyrene floats have now been removed from the nature reserve