Ocean Rebellion visited DEFRA on Marsham Street to deliver piles of dead and rotting crabs. The festering crustacean corpses brought the reek of destruction to the government department which allowed it – courtesy of the unhelpful policies of DEFRA. The crab couriers, dressed in fishing gear, asked DEFRA to tell the truth about the needless loss of marine life happening in the North East of England and to act now to stop further carnage.
The fisher people left the scene, leaving the debris behind, but later climate crime investigators arrived to inspect the corpses, test for chemical poisoning and to conduct the independent and unbiased investigation that DEFRA should be having carried out in the Teeside area. The investigators sealed off the area with Climate Crime Scene tape, carefully cleaned the site, making sure the toxic mess didn’t infect the environment – unlike the dredging that’s happening in the mouth of the River Tees, and, unlike DEFRA they tested for chemicals including Pyridine.
When the UK Government announced its environmentally blind policy of ‘Freeports’, part of the Tories’ ‘levelling up’ brainstorm, it was clear the cost would go way beyond putting more taxpayers’ money into industry pockets.
The ‘Freeport’ flimflam was eagerly adopted by Tee Valley Mayor Ben Houchan and championed by local MP Jacob Young, both part of the Teesworks team, and talk of ‘Teesport’ began with £26bn pledged in investor funding. What was unclear was how damaging ‘Freeports’ would be to marine life. But even before the government guidance was announced work was already underway in the North East.
On 4 October 2021, fishermen in the North East of England found lobster dying in their pots. By 7 October, the beaches stretching from the mouth of the river Tees as far as Saltburn by the sea (some 7 miles to the south) were covered in thousands of dead or dying crabs and lobsters; at points the piles were knee deep. These stricken creatures had foam and bubbles coming from their gills and were twitching uncontrollably. Gradually the death toll spread further south as far as Whitby and then eventually Scarborough. Fishermen reported a dead zone which stretched as far out as 4 miles… almost no crab or lobster could be found alive: those that were alive quickly died.
The seal-pupping season runs from September to January. The North East is a well known breeding area, Stockton-on-Tees boasts seal sands and seals are often spotted. As the pupping season progressed walkers started to report dead seals and pups. These began to wash up with horrific regularity and most of the bodies washed up were pups. The corpses of the pups were emaciated, pointing to a severe drop in food sources. Seals eat crabs and lobsters. A full marine die-off was happening off the coast and washing up in full sight of the public. On 11 January 2022 DEFRA warned the public not to walk dogs along the North East Coast.
Earlier, on 25 September 2021, the dredging vessel UKD ORCA began a programme of dredging in the mouth of the River Tees. Over ten days it removed and dumped a quarter of a million tonnes of sediment from the mouth of the River Tees into the sea, approximately three miles offshore. Dumping sediment at sea is environmentally hazardous. The OSPAR agreement of 2014 (part of the OSLO agreement of 1974) gives guidance on how to reduce the hazard and requires impact reports on environmental damage, especially if any sediment dumping might affect Marine Protected Areas or coastal wildlife areas. This is because sediment can contain toxic waste which has settled in river sediments from hundreds of years of industrial discharges, when dredged and then dumped offshore, these toxic chemicals reenter the water column and spread across a wide area. They also settle on the seabed, suffocating any life – a bit like a fire sucking the oxygen from a room. As soon as the UKD ORCA began its operation fishers started to report the die-off of crabs and lobsters. Local divers in the area reported that everything was covered in silt.
The severity of the die-off sparked an Environmental Agency and DEFRA inquiry. After checking all the usual suspects, sewerage, cables and the like, the report blamed an ‘Algae bloom’, a conclusion described as ‘rubbish’ by local fishers (who know the local environment).
The same report did reveal an important finding – the presence of extremely high levels of Pyridine, a toxic chemical that’s prevalent in many industrial processes – especially in factories along the banks of the River Tees. The levels of Pyridine found in the crab corpses examined by DEFRA were ten times higher than crabs found in other parts of the UK.
There are plans for more dredging soon, and on a larger scale, this time two million tonnes will be dredged and dumped, four times more than last time. The scale of this dredging is so large it is hard to conceive – the devastation equally so.
DEFRA has closed its environmental case. Independent research has revealed massive Pyridine levels in the sediment of the River Tees – this is being ignored by DEFRA.
DEFRA reopens its environmental case in the North East and suspends all dredging. The new report must be undertaken by an independent organisation in consultation with local stakeholders like the RSPB, local seal sanctuaries and fishers. DEFRA must act on the findings of this report.
The government must end its ‘Freeport’ policy and undertake a proper survey of local needs in areas of increased poverty. Other, non-industrial, solutions to coastal economic change must be considered as a priority. Progressive and enterprising solutions are already underway in other countries, solutions like co-operative environmental tourism, urban mining, low impact fishing and vertical sea farming. Policies that seek to increase shipping, industrial fishing and just in time supply-chain consumerism must be consigned to the past.
George Eustice accepts responsibility and resigns his position as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. All the decisions George makes favour industry and ignore the environment. Ocean Rebellion cannot recommend a replacement, there isn’t anyone trustworthy enough. Instead we propose the post remain empty until there’s some real environmental policies and someone with the guts to enact them. Our lives depend on it.
Click HERE: georgeeusdeath-cmyk.pdf to download an A3 George Eusdeath poster to display wherever you like.
Sally Bunce says:
In my role as a marine mammal medic for the charity British divers marine life rescue, it has been incredibly sad attending so many seal pups which have become so thin and underweight that they simply can’t survive in the wild.
Sophie Miller says:
We want the die off to be taken seriously. This is an ecosystem collapse we are watching unfold in real time. And yet the government do nothing to stop it and they have it entirely within their power to do so. Standing by and allowing it to happen simply for financial gain is abhorrent. Not just the massive loss of life for marine animals, but the loss of livelihood for the communities affected. The ocean is our life support system, when it dies we all die. And right now, DEFRA is standing by and watching it die.
Rob Higgs adds:
The government approved the dredging on the basis that it was “routine maintenance’, thus getting around the need for such rigorous environmental assessments of the impact. Dredging a 17 metre deep channel of a quarter of 1 million tonnes releases 200 years of toxic chemicals, chemicals accumulated since the start of the industrial revolution, in one go into the sea and this mass die-off is the result. To still avoid holding their policies accountable for this action is criminally and morally indefensible.
Roc Sandford adds:
We need the ocean as much as we need the organs in our own bodies. It produces over half of the oxygen we breathe and sequestrates 70 times as much carbon as the atmosphere. Without it we all die. Yet we are killing it by doing dumb things like dumping toxic sludge dredged from the River Tees. It’s the North East coast of Britain and the Great Barrier Reef dying today, and anywhere still left tomorrow. This is going to have to stop now. Anyone with compassion for their own children must see to it. We don’t have a choice.
Photos from top: 1 and 2 Guy Reece. 3 – 6 Crispin Hughes.