TV adventurer Ben Fogle today warned that fish suppers may be riddled with plastic in future if an internationally renowned Scottish ocean research station is closed.
Fogle said that scientists at the University Marine Biology Station in Millport played a vital role in combating the hazardous rise of plastic bags and other litter in the world’s seas which is increasingly contaminating the food chain.
The TV presenter and World Wildlife Fund ambassador spoke out as he pledged his support for the growing campaign to save the laboratory on the Isle of Cumbrae in the Clyde.
It is expected to close at the end of the year after £400,000 in annual funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England was withdrawn.
Fogle told The Scotsman: “The word environment has become such a contentious issue. It is institutions like Millport that are going to provide the hard evidence that cannot be disputed [by those who don’t believe the oceans are in danger from threats like pollution].
“I think that’s where we should be focusing our resources because otherwise there are always going to be doubters. Yes, £400,000 is a lot of money but in the grand scheme of things it really is a drop in the ocean.
“When little pieces of plastic start appearing in people’s fish and chips that’s when people will say, ‘I wish we had known earlier’, but we would have known earlier if Millport can continue doing the research that they do.”
The TV presenter became an advocate for the environment after living on the Hebridean island of Taransay for a year when he took part in the BBC reality show in 2000 which launched his career.
He added: “It was without doubt my time on Taransay, living very much by the elements and surrounded by the great big ocean that inspired me and made me aware of the fragility of our world. That was the beginning of my passion for the environment.”
Scientists at Millport recently revealed new evidence suggesting that microplastics are widespread in wildlife in the Clyde.
Fogle’s call comes as he prepares to swim the Atlantic next year to help UK marine scientists gather evidence that could add to work done at Millport on the extent and impact of litter.
During the crossing, of more than 3000 miles, he will collect samples for experts at the University of Southampton.
Marine biologist Dr Anthony Jensen, who works at the University of Southampton and has collaborated with colleagues at Millport, added his support for the campaign.
He said: “It seems an absolute crying shame if Millport is closed down. It is in an excellent location for marine research and education.”
More than 10,000 people signed a petition opposing the closure of Millport in a single week after news of the threat to its future spread.
The University of London, which owns the facility and receives the money from HEFCE, has begun redundancy consultations with around 30 staff.
It is due to decide next month (march) whether to keep the station open.
Millport is used by a range of universities across Scotland as well as institutions further afield for education and research in marine science.
It is hoped another university can be found to take over the facility, or the centre - which supports 39 jobs - can be taken into community ownership.