When asked why he wanted to climb Everest, George Mallory reportedly replied: “Because it’s there”. Asked why she has taken on the almost equally daunting challenge of clearing the rubbish from her local beaches, and from the sea beyond them, 10-year-old Flossie Donnelly takes a similar approach:
“I go crabbing in rock pools in Sandycove with my mummy and we see rubbish and we pick it up. I go swimming and see rubbish in the sea, so I dive and take it out.”
She first became aware of rubbish in the sea when kayaking in Thailand. “It’s a beautiful country, but there is an awful lot of plastic in the water. We filled a whole kayak with rubbish on our first day out. I hate to see the same thing building up in Ireland, so I want to help stop it.”
Her personal efforts have turned up a troubling diversity of garbage, ranging from a firework through a car battery to a full nappy ("yuk!"). She takes a wry pleasure in one particular discovery, a bridal bouquet, inventing several funny and dramatic scenarios as how it came to be in a rock pool on her entertaining blog, www.flossieandthebeachcleaners.com
This blog is just one of several tools that mark Flossie out as an organiser as well as an individual activist. She started with the help of her mother, Harriet Donnelly, and a few friends. They put up posters to ask neighbours to join them, but the results were initially disappointing.
“Posters just don’t get awareness these days,” she says. She sought the help of the chair of the local council, Cormac Devlin, who advised her to use social media. Now there is a clean-up every week in summer, every month in winter, and the council now supplies gloves and bags for the clean-ups.
But shouldn’t the council itself be doing a lot more to clean the beaches and sea? Already a diplomat, Flossie discreetly sidesteps this question.
She has also managed to engage the help of a coastguard, Kryon O’Gorman, to get out on the water and clean Dun Laoghaire harbour, which she has found is “very dirty”.
Where does the rubbish come from? She is particularly baffled by cat food packaging, which she finds repeatedly, in large quantities, on a small beach she calls “secret” because no one else seems to visit it. She wonders if it is being dumped by commercial shipping in storms, but cannot explain why it all ends up on the one beach.
Flossie is now fund-raising for a sea bin for her area, a machine which automatically extracts rubbish from water pumped through it. “Sea bins have never hurt a fish or a person,” she says. Of the €3,500 needed, she has already raised 1,017, “and fifty cent”. Contributions can be made through her blog.
Not content with organising in Ireland, she has contacted an international school in Thailand and has set up a “virtual beach clean” in both countries for January.
What perhaps makes all these activities more remarkable is that Flossie is dyslexic. She recommends being upfront about this condition – “that helps people understand when you make spelling mistakes” – and writing a blog as the best cure.
Her love of sea wildlife shines through her conversation, from starfish to octopus to dolphins. She greatly enjoys the growing local seal population, but wisely advises against swimming between a female grey seal and her pups. “Swimmers should understand,” she says, “that we are intruders in their world.”
Her career ambition is to be a rock star, “and write songs about cleaning the ocean”.
She says she finds the current state of the world environment “very scary”, but then reflects that dire warnings about the future were made in past centuries, too.
The future definitely seems just a little brighter, to this environmentalist of a certain age, after listening to Flossie Donnelly.
The next beach clean-up is on Saturday December 9th. to take part, make contact through Flossie's blog.