Campaigners devastated by mass die-offs of sea creatures in the North East have called for a ‘tsunami’ protest around the entire UK coastline.
Nearly a year after beaches close to the River Tees were inundated with thousands of dead marine animals, the protest will call for an end to damaging dredging practices and sewage being dumped in UK rivers.
The marine devastation – which mainly impacted crustaceans but also led to the deaths of seals pups and dogs getting sick on beaches – began shortly after material from dredging was dumped 2.5 miles out to sea off Redcar last October.
But despite months of campaigning, new dredging in the area has now restarted.
Local officials say none of the potentially toxic sediment will be chucked into the sea this time – but on Saturday, September 10, a Minke whale washed up dead on a nearby beach in Redcar. It is unclear if the death is linked to new dredging, which began 10 days earlier.
Campaigners say ‘several’ whales and around 20 porpoises have washed up this since the original work started.
Now they want activists to link hands and form a nationwide ‘wave’ around the coast and riverbanks at midday on Sunday, October 2, in the latest demonstration calling for more protection of British waterways.
Though the protest will focus on national concerns, the North East fishing industry will also be involved after being shattered by the die-offs.
Some have had to sell their boats, with catches dropping off a cliff following the first of the die offs late last year.
Problems have been reported from Hartlepool to Saltburn.
Defra came to the controversial conclusion that an ‘algal bloom’, not dredging, was likely to be behind the devastation.
Yet an independent scientist has disputed the environment department’s findings and conservation groups want the investigation to be reopened and new dredging halted.
Some experts have also questioned that verdict, fearing dredging near the mouth of the Tees released toxins into the ecosystem that had laid dormant for years.
Three weeks ago a local protest saw demonstrators link arms around the North East coast – now a nationwide version is being planned.
Campaigner Sally Bunce told Metro.co.uk: ‘Following the incredible success of Reclaim Our Seas #wavetosavethesea… we are set to extend this action right around the UK coastline and across the country by lining the riverbanks and waterways.
‘We are creating a tsunami of support and solidarity for these dying ecosystems.
‘Profit, greed and the lack of regulation of those destroying our planet’s life support mechanisms means we must lend our voices and send a clear visual message to those in power that this must stop.
‘Our issues and concerns around the country will differ but our message is the same.’
She urged people around the country to join in ‘at a beach, river or waterway near you and at 12 noon link hands and send this tsunami right around Great Britain.’
The South Tees Development Corporation, which is behind the new freeport on the Tees, had said no dredging moving towards its development had taken place.
But with limited warning, on Thursday, September 1, civil engineering firm Graham began dredging the Tees. The work is expected to take around eight weeks.
The local mayor has promised that ‘not a single gram’ of the sediment taken from the once heavily-polluted river will be dumped at sea this time.
Approximately 125,000 cubic metres of material recovered will be removed from the river and disposed of on land.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: ‘As dredging work for the South Bank Quay begins, we will be holding ourselves to the highest standards in everything we and our partners do, far exceeding the baseline legal requirements.
‘All of the material recovered from this dredge will be disposed of safely on land.
‘Let me be clear, not a single gram of dredged material will be disposed of in the river or out to sea.
‘Everything is being removed from the river and disposed of on land.’
Yet Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham told the Mayor to take the concerns ‘seriously instead of writing (locals) off as conspiracy theorists’.
‘This (the work beginning) is a significant step forward for what is a major local project, and one we all want to succeed’, he said.
‘However there remains very real concerns of local people and experts about the impact dredging will have on our local wildlife and fishing industry.
‘People are extremely worried about the die-offs to crustaceans and wildlife in and around our shores, and it’s time for the Tees Valley Mayor to take them seriously instead of writing them off as conspiracy theorists.’
Calling for weekly testing to ensure there is no contamination, Mr Cunningham continued: ‘It’s not enough for him to simply announce the work will exceed baseline requirements; he needs to outline exactly what will happen and give people the assurances they need.’
Dredging in recent years has been carried out by Teesport owners PD Ports as maintenance of the river.
A Defra spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: ‘Defra led a comprehensive investigation into the cause of dead crabs and lobsters that washed up on the North East coast between October and December last year.
‘Government scientists carried out extensive testing for chemicals and other pollutants including pyridine but concluded a naturally occurring algal bloom was the most likely cause.
‘It’s a complex area of research – and we will continue to work with universities and other experts to understand it better.
‘We ruled out a number of potential causes including chemical pollution, sewage, animal disease, and dredging.’
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