An unspoilt view from Sanday

Crates of whisky famously ‘washed up’ on the shores of Eriskay when the SS Politician was wrecked.  These days the tides bring in a far less cheering bounty of plastic bottles – and much, much more manmade rubbish – on every shore.

During the Scottish Enlightenment James Hutton marvelled at and learnt from fossilised shells embedded high above sea level. Three hundred years from now, what might scientists learn from the bits of plastic they will find embedded high and low across the globe?

Left by the tide, near the bridge connecting Canna and Sanday

That thought struck me after our latest visit to Canna.  Climbing Compass Hill we had views of South Uist and Skye to lure us on and eagles for company as a reward when we reached the highest point of the island.  But even here there were sun-bleached plastic containers and wind-tossed polythene sheets among the moss covered rocks.  Litter brought in by waves and dumped by the wind.

No place on Earth is too remote or too unspoilt to be littered with the stuff we chuck away every day.  Our poly bags and bin liners, flip flops and welly boots, household cleaners and industrial packaging and lots more things you wouldn’t like to inspect too closely – it all swirls faster and faster around the world.

I remember John lamenting the fact that seaweed had become so polluted with plastic it was no longer fit for manuring the fields.  The problem became more obtrusive as plastic replaced wooden fish boxes, hemp  ropes gave way to day-glo blue, green or orange nylon and glass bottles and tin cans were superseded by PVC containers. Across the world, the detritus of modern life disfigures beaches and rocks and refuses  to rot away.

Now a huge mass of our litter (from fishing, industry and household waste) has become a morbid new marine wonder of the world. Actually, it seems there are now two such wonders – the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch – not so much a floating island as an archipelago of plastic flotsam and jetsam – is now matched by a growing patch in the Atlantic.

Apart from being a grotesque reminder of our greed and carelessness, it has tragic consequences for the creatures that eat it or get caught up in it.  There are campaigns to fight the problem – take a look at the Marine Conservation Society website – and on Canna volunteers of the National Trust for Scotland regularly come to gather and dispose of the rubbish washed up on the shores.

But the tidal wave of plastic grows relentlessly. As the Mother Nature  Network website puts it: “As a society, we have to get better at reusing what we buy.”

A whisky chaser

In 1941, SS Politician, a cargo ship bound from Liverpool for Jamaica and New Orleans carrying 260,000 bottles of whisky was wrecked. The incident provided the story for Compton Mackenzie’s most successful novel, Whisky Galore, and the thousands of cases of Scotch ‘liberated’ from the vessel were dispersed all over the islands. Two full bottles from the ‘Polly’ are still in John’s desk in Canna House.

Spot the plastic?