Dozens of red flags were raised on Gwithian Beach — along with banners bearing the message ‘Keep Our Sea Chemical Free’ — when protesters gathered to show their anger about plans to release magnesium hydroxide into St Ives Bay. 

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Many of the campaigners took part in a mass dash to the sea, braving the chilly April waves to celebrate the bay they believe to be under threat.

Sue Sayer, founder of Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust, said: “St Ives Bay is so beautiful and so special — for our wellbeing, our marine life, and our fishing and tourism industries. If this goes ahead, the worst case is that there will be no fish, no seals, no surfers, and no tourists.”

The magnesium hydroxide project is a partnership between South West Water and Canadian company Planetary Technologies, and aims to reduce the acidity of the ocean, drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to lock it in the sea.

Planetary Technologies says it plans to release a small, carefully controlled amount of magnesium hydroxide into fresh wastewater, a process already used in wastewater management elsewhere. It claims that this has a positive role to play in responding to climate change, and it plans to sell credits to other companies to offset their carbon footprints.

But the objectors claim that the scheme risks causing lasting damage to the seabed, and are working with scientists to show that the plans are seriously flawed.

“We have asked for experiments with an air-locked swimming pool to assess the impact of magnesium hydroxide,” said Sue. “It is pumped into the sea as a slurry, and it only draws down carbon dioxide if the particles in the slurry dissolve in 33 days. If they don’t dissolve, they don’t draw down carbon dioxide.”

St Ives town councillor Senara Wilson Hodges, founder of the protest group Keep Our Seas Chemical Free — Save St Ives Bay, said “We are calling on South West Water to pull out of their partnership with Planetary Technologies and concentrate on cleaning up their own mess.”

She said that the community was not informed about initial tests which took place in September 2022. “We were told that South West Water and Planetary Technologies were trying out a new process, and it was all fabulous and not to worry. It was being sold as a solution to the climate crisis. I care about the climate crisis — but I also care about the eco-system of the bay.

“I discovered there was no scrutiny of what South West Water and Planetary Technologies were doing. We gathered for a protest on the beach this time last year, to say that we needed more information and proper scrutiny. And against all odds the tests were stopped. They have now delayed the tests again — we are clearly a force to be reckoned with! But the threat still hangs over us. We have to be vigilant.”

The crowd were entertained by Global Jamming and joined in the singing of a protest song which the group wrote for last year’s protest: “All hands on deck to protect what we treasure … we won’t let you kill our seas,” Samba band Dreckly Drummers then led a procession along the beach, before the bravest protesters plunged into the sea.

The swimmers were met by around 20 fishing boats, gigs, and other vessels, many sounding their horns in support of the protest. “The St Ives and Hayle armadas have joined forces!” said Senara. “It’s great to see so many people gathered together to save St Ives Bay.”

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