Here’s a new one to add to your list of family things to do at the beach – take the kids on a nurdle hunt! Yes really…(and this post contains a couple of other things you may never have heard of either).

Last week the Cubs had a fascinating (and worrying) marine plastic awareness evening at a local beach, doing a litter pick, jellyfish spotting and some quick rockpooling to look for Sea Hares & Sea Lemons! Yes they’re a thing.

Oh and we collected nurdles (raw plastic beads) of which there were many.

Image looking down on a circle of legs and feet in the sand wearing multicoloured boots with litter picking sticks inside the circle

It was brilliant fun, who’d have thought it! I’ve written before about how much children love litter picking – ask them to tidy at home and no way but take them to the beach or a stream and they’ll clean up for hours! Curious creatures, kids.

Lots was learnt by everyone and the Cubs did some eagle-eyed spotting of both litter and wildlife.

So who’s heard of a nurdle then?!

An ear-worm told me I was vaguely aware of the word from somewhere, possibly Blue Planet 2, or a Marine Conservation Society article, but if I did know what one was I hadn’t appreciated their environmental impact.

What Is A Nurdle?

Apart from a great word, nurdles are pellets of raw plastic, about the size of a lentil. They are usually white, clear, yellowish or blue and are the basic raw material micro-plastic used to produce ALL plastic products. Apparently they never leave the marine eco-system, they simply break down into smaller pieces, are ingested by wildlife and enter the human food chain too.

Image close up of two pink hands holding tiny plastic pellet-like nurdles in white, yellow and blue
Nurdles – a lesser known micro-plastic to add to the marine plastic problem

Going On A Nurdle Hunt

We met at the roadside for an introductory talk by National Trust Coastal Ranger Jane Lancaster, a conservation dynamo and fount of much plastic and wildlife knowledge.

Jane walked us along the sandy track through the dunes where she asked us ‘to get our eyes in’ and start looking for nurdles. Not in the sea, nor on the beach but on the track to the beach, blown there by the wind. Which shows how prolific the problem is.

Within 5 minutes or so our small group had found all the nurdles in the main photo as well as these pieces of plastic cotton bud stems.

Image of cupped hands holding handful of coloured plastic pellets and blue and white plastic straw pieces

The Cubs were genuinely interested as well shocked at the amount we found and their effects in the sea.

We continued to the beach and spread out across three recent strandlines to search for litter. It turns out there wasn’t much, mostly due to Jane’s regular volunteer teams. We did find a dead Guillemot which Jane would have dissected on other occasions to check for ingested plastic, a stranded Lion’s Mane Jellyfish which Caroline proudly identified and 3 vehicle tyres which required collection at a later time.

With little time before parents arrived we dashed to the rocks to spot Sea Hares – black sea slugs – which were busy mating in the shallow rockpools. 17 were counted in a short space of time (poor old Billy-no-mates…)! Sadly we didn’t see any Sea Lemons – yellow sea slugs, funnily enough – but we know where to look next time.

The Cubs thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and if you haven’t considered Scouts or Guides to get your kids outdoors more, find a pack near you and check them out.

Beavers, Cubs and ScoutsScouting, Traditional Scouting

Rainbows, Brownies and GuidesGuiding

Image of black slug-like creature with tentacles and grey spots on back amongst seaweed in a shallow rockpool
The elusive Sea Hare

Plastic pollution is a problem that’s not going away any time soon. Blue Planet may have brought it to the world stage but it didn’t give us many ideas for solving it. There are lots of ways you and your family can help keep our beaches clean but we really need to stop using so much plastic in the first place.

How Can I Help Keep Beaches Clean?

  • Do a nurdle hunt and record your findings to help scientists monitor the problem. Click here for the online recording website
  • Take a bag and do a 2-minute beach clean every time you visit a beach. 2 Minute Beach Clean even have an app to locate your nearest beach cleaning station
  • Join the Great British Beach Clean every September. Find one near you on the MCS website
  • Surfers Against Sewage organise regular beach cleans. Check out their website and borrow one of their beach clean boxes to make life easy
  • Donate to any of the above charities by clicking the links. American charity 4 Ocean give a recycled plastic bracelet and promise to clean 1 pound of sea litter for every $20 donation received
  • Become a #litterhero with The Outdoor Guide – sign up for their bag for life in conjunction with Trail Magazine and use it to collect litter everywhere you go, not just at the beach

Encouraging the kids to collect litter and search for nurdles is a fantastic start. Everyone visiting a beach should do this. But the products aren’t going to stop entering the environment just because we clean them up. They will still keep coming.

How To Reduce Plastic Pollution

It’s all very well saying we’ll stop buying single-use plastic and recycle the rest but is that really going to solve the problem? What about the reusable plastic mug you’ve bought to re-fill every day at Costa? It may save you using thousands of single-use cups over a lifetime but it’s still got to go somewhere and it can’t be recycled.

We need to change the way we live. We need to re-think the need for coffee on the go, for food wrapped in cellophane and plastic, for plates and cups we can just chuck away. A recent article in The Guardian highlights more of the problem.

I wrote in 2016, a year before BP2, about the plastic in teabags amongst other things. I suggested a few obvious things we can all do to reduce plastic use.

All in all we had a really enjoyable, eye-opening evening and all of us have come away wanting to do more to reduce plastic. Let’s start now – be the change you want to see.

Let me know your thoughts or ideas on what you’re doing to reduce the plastic problem.

Image of piece of brown-green seaweed in a concertina shape lying on sandy beach
Sugar Kelp