Surfers Against Sewage: Warning for our beaches

Celine Gehret has been asked to pose for photographs many times but never while wearing a pink colander for a hat and a plastic shopping bag for a face mask. But Gehret, one of Cornwall’s most outstanding surfers, is anxious to make a point.

The campaign group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) claims that Britain’s beaches are being damaged by the “growing problem” of marine litter and the discharge of effluent into the ocean.

An unusually warm April has already led to packed beaches but to coincide with the official start of the bathing season next month, SAS will launch a new warning system whereby beach users - from families with buckets and spades to professional surfers and body-boarders - will be able to receive real time sewage alerts that will warn them that the water they are intending to swim in is unclean.

The alerts will be sent by text and tweet and will cover up to 50 of Britain’s best beaches. The warning system is being set up in conjunction with three of Britain’s biggest water companies, South-West, Southern and Welsh. The alerts are part of a wider surfing campaign called “Protect Our Waves” and will be accompanied by an arresting poster campaign featuring some of Britain’s star surfers.

In the most shocking image of a campaign produced by the advertising agency M&C Saatchi, which includes the Conservative Party, Coca-Cola and the Department of Health among its client roster, the champion British body-boarder Jack Johns is pictured covered head-to-toe in what appears to be excrement (it is in fact brown coloured polystyrene). Johns, 24, who began surfing in his native Cornwall at the age of 16 and is the current world belly-boarding champion, said Cornish waters were generally clean but he had encountered severe problems off the east coast of England. “I have been surfing in Yorkshire among raw sewage and it’s horrific – you don’t realise until it is right in front of you,” he said. “There are amazing waves in Yorkshire when the conditions are right but raw sewage is being pumped into the North Sea so often and there’s nothing stopping it.”

Gehret, 30, who is shown entirely shrouded in marine refuse, is a four times Swiss champion surfer who is based at Fistral beach in north Cornwall. She recalled once trying to surf at Whistand Bay in south Cornwall and finding that the water was brown. “We didn’t go in because it didn’t seem safe. The waves were good but you couldn’t surf.” Hugo Tagholm, director of SAS, said: “I have suffered from stomach bugs and throat infections. If you visit any beach in the UK there will be marine litter and there has been a 120 per cent increase since 1994.”

Among the beaches being covered by the new warning system are Bude, Porthleven and Porthtowan in Cornwall, Brighton and the Welsh beaches of Newgale and Broadhaven. “These real time alerts are about giving people reassurance. If pollution incidents are being reported in real time then people using bathing spots can have confidence in whether or not the water they are using is clean.”

SAS hopes that Yorkshire Water will join the alert system next year and that the remainder of Britain’s water companies will eventually sign up to the scheme. The images of champion surfers covered in sewage and detritus will be shown in magazines and on strategic billboard sites, such as alongside the River Thames, which conveys large amounts of marine litter into the ocean. Graham Fink, executive creative director of M&C Saatchi, said: “Most people think of the seaside as quintessentially British with fresh air, sea and sand. But it’s not all what it seems. Lurking under the surface are hidden horrors. We wanted to smack people in the face with a wet fish and show the problem in an arresting way.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Guru Careers: Report Writer / Reporting Analyst

£25 - 30k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Report Writer / Reporting Analyst is nee...

Guru Careers: German Speaking Account Manager / Account Executive

£24-30K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A German speaking Account Manager ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own