I have recently come back from an amazing trip in the San Blas islands off the coast of Panama. If you think of a tropical island paradise then these islands fit the picture perfectly; white sand beaches with swaying palm trees and turquoise, crystal clear waters. But the inhabited ones unfortunately come with an additional extra – trash. The islands are owned and governed by an indigenous group, the Kuna. Now I completely understand that living in the middle of the sea it is kind of hard to get rid of your trash but still the amount is pretty shocking. One island we stayed on, Iguana Island, had an entire side devoted to old shoes. You could have probably given a pair of shoes to every member of the Kuna from this island, granted they probably wouldn’t be a matching pair but you get my drift. I agree that some of this does wash up onto their beaches but an alarming amount of it is just dumped off the side of their island into the water. I’ve been to Asia and I’ve never seen so much rubbish concentrated in one area. Like I said it’s not like the have a responsible waste disposal system but to have it dumped in the ocean or just scattered all over these beautiful paradises is extremely sad and will in part be contributing to the colossal amount of human rubbish in the ocean.
Eventually, no matter where you dump your trash it will end up in the ocean. For example street-sewer-river-sea. All of the worlds oceans are connected so even if your trash enters water in your local area it could end up in the Pacific garbage patch. Or it could end up in one of the other FOUR trash gyres. Yes there are five of these trash monsters floating around. Some of you may have heard of this before but let me just clarify now, the garbage patches are not an island. Instead it is billions of microscopic pieces of plastic, broken down by the sun, just floating about in the ocean. In fact 90% of this rubbish is plastic, which is not biodegradable, 80% of which comes from land. To put this into perspective; around 300 billion tonnes of plastic are produced every year and 10% of that ends up in the ocean. There is roughly 45 kilos of trash per KILO of plankton in the ocean. It’s size is only growing annually and it is not just affecting marine animals and birds, millions of whom die every year from ingesting plastic, but it also affects YOU. Remember that most of the worlds oxygen comes from the ocean not trees and that the fishing industry is worth billions of dollars. These fish are consuming animals that have eaten these microscopic particles and therefore tons of pollutants and toxins that we then eat. We are therefore ingesting these chemicals from the ocean, ironically that we have put there. If we keep destroying this now fragile ecosystem then it’s not going to just be the marine world that suffers.
So here’s what you can do:
- Divers you can help by collecting any trash you see when diving and disposing of it responsibly
- Volunteer for a beach or river clean-up effort
- Put trash in a secure, lidded receptacle – most marine debris starts out on land.
- Properly recycle everything you can in your area.
- When boating, bring your trash back to shore, and ask your marina to handle waste properly.
- Less is more: Don’t buy stuff you don’t need, and choose items that use less packaging.
- Inform and inspire your friends and co-workers to help stop marine debris at the source.
- Bring your own containers for picnics instead of using disposables. Take your own reusable bags whenever you go shopping.
- Write to companies or visit local businesses and encourage them to reuse, recycle, and generate less packaging.
- Put cigarette butts in ashtrays, not on streets, sidewalks, or beaches.
Remember you may think one person can’t change anything but how many people do you think say that? If all of those people did something then maybe we could help make some difference or at least prevent the problem from becoming an even larger one in the future.
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