A COASTAL campaign to tackle litter and protect sea creatures has been launched.
The scheme aims to raise awareness of the impact of waste on marine life, as well as visitors to the Durham Heritage Coast, which stretches from Salterfen Rocks at Ryhope to Crimdon Beck.
Litter Free Coast and Sea will focus on how marine litter, often washed into the sea from streams and rivers, can have a devastating impact on wildlife.
Fish and birds can get caught up and suffocate in abandoned fishing nets and toxins from plastic litter are absorbed into the food chain by mammals and birds which ingest plastics.
The coastline, which is gaining a reputation as a tourist destination, welcomed more than 300,000 visitors last year.
Businesses and communities are being recruited to lend a hand and keep the area tidy in the hope numbers will continue to rise.
Niall Benson, Durham Heritage Coast officer, said: “Durham’s heritage coast is amazing and that’s why visitors are coming here in ever-increasing numbers.
“But even the most beautiful section of the coastline can sometimes be marred by litter, so we need to ensure we stay on top of this issue.
“As well as being unpleasant to look at, litter on and off the coast can have a major impact on wildlife and eco-systems and cause serious long-term damage to our environment.
“The damage caused by plastics in particular is a big problem.
“Something as simple as a discarded plastic bottle washed out to sea won’t break down for thousands of years and yet the small act of littering took just a second.
“The message is a simple one really: please take your rubbish home with you. It’s our coast and we all want to enjoy it looking at its best.”
Keith Lawrence, from Seaham, is a maintenance engineer and was on hand for the launch as a member of Seaham Sub Aqua Club, which is among those to back the drive.
He said: “When you’re out in the sea you come across litter in the water or on the sea bed and it’s almost always plastic.
“You do think to yourself ‘well that’s going to be here until the year dot’, it’s not going to just rot away.
“We’re very lucky to have this marvellous coastline on our doorstep and need to make sure we look after it.”
Last year, Durham Heritage Coast achieved European recognition and was one of only three entrants out of 14 countries honoured with a formal “Special Mention” for its work in the prestigious Landscape Award of the Council of Europe competition.