Plastic: not so fantastic

April 28th, 2011| No Comments

This day a year ago (more or less), I’d just got back from the Bahamas and was doing my best to readjust. You know how hard that can be, right? It was a sensational week for all kinds of reasons. There were multiple double-hook-ups, the double-figure monster one of us was lucky enough to catch, the ‘night of a thousand Kaliks’ – but I’ll tell you about all that another time.

One of the things I spent a lot of time thinking about while I was there was trash. It was impossible not to, really – the sheer volume of oceanic detritus in some places was quite alarming.

When you’re wading the flats, you wouldn’t know it. The flats shimmer and twinkle around you; pure and clear and humming with the life of a thriving marine ecosystem. In the distance, crystalline waters lap at a shoreline that appears perfectly unsullied, with rows of mangroves and low-lying trees mingling at the water’s edge.

Move a little closer, or just beyond the shore and you start to see something else – something less agreeable. Flotsam – the majority of it plastic – is all around. There are the usual suspects of course – plastic bags sit tangled in low braches, bottles lie scattered in the undergrowth, surfed in on high tides and condemned to a decade-spanning future bleaching in the sun. Shoes as well, in almost every style available; flip-flops, high heels, slip-ons – you name it, it’s out here. Imelda Marcos would love it.

There’s the occasional, more unusual item too – the television that lies half-buried in the sand, wondering for all the world how it came to be so far from a power source. It’s tempting to imagine the stories behind some of the items and the journeys that led them to be washed up in this forbidding place. However, often that’s too depressing – the boat radio system lying forlornly on the rocks for example – was it a faulty item jettisoned at sea, or does its presence here hint at some other unseen and unreported disaster, something too unpalatable to consider?

This accumulated mess really does sharpen your focus on the problem we face in terms of marine pollution. It’s not the fault of the Bahamians – it’s your fault when you think about. Yours and mine and everyone else in the world. We all blithely go about our business of consuming plastic on a titanic scale, adding a bottle here and a few bags there, every single day. It’s why there’s a trash vortex in the Pacific that scientists now estimate to be twice the size of the United States – 100 million tons of plastic soup.

In the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to visit some incredible places – The Maldives, Costa Rica, the Florida Keys – and I’ve seen this exact same phenomenon every time. Otherwise pristine beaches dotted with debris. The oceans grown under the weight of this filth, a non-stop of trickle of poison, and every so often they belch a bit back at us. And there simply aren’t enough resources available to clean it up.

If you ever find yourself in one of the remote Bahamas Out Islands and see what I mean, you’ll probably agree that they’re fighting a losing battle. The manpower needed to make a meaningful dent in this problem is simply not available. Nor will it ever be, yet the garbage that gets washed onto their beaches will outlast this generation, and will be added to – gradually, steadily, inexorably.

I’m no expert but I can’t help but wonder what impact this is having on the marine life. This plastic, as it breaks down at its painfully slow rate, releases poisonous little particles back into the system – a system which we ultimately rely on to put food on our own tables.

Like I say, I’m no expert, and there are people out there better qualified to comment than me. What I do know is that I find it pretty depressing. It’s bad enough seeing garbage in city streets back home, but when you see somewhere so beautiful, so completely undeserving, being slowly choked by this plastic menace, you can’t help but despair.

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