Ocean waste pollution


08-October-2012

ICS with IDC (Islands Development Company) and hotel friends are doing our bit to fight on our little paradise corner of Seychelles against this global issue of waste washed ashore. Join us in supporting wider campaigns for clean seas and helping your local beach cleaning scheme.

Alphonse organisations work together against waste

To keep our beaches clean, and save turtle nesting spots, ICS, Alphonse Island Resort and the IDC work together to pick up solid waste washed ashore. Approximately 50kg of solid waste is collected most months from the shorelines of Alphonse Island. This increases to 100kg during the southeast trade wind season, when the strong winds concentrate trash on the south side of the island. During the annual beach clean-up of St Francois Island the work team picked up half a ton of garbage in a single day. In one year, more than 1000kg of solid waste is accumulated on the sandy white beaches of Alphonse and St Francois atolls. The marine litter that pollutes our environment includes fishing nets, plastic and glass bottles, flip-flops, polyester, cans, bottle caps, lighters, toys, syringes, pharmaceutical vials and unidentifiable small plastic fragments. Plastic makes up most of this solid waste.

Devastating effect on marine life

Various animals get trapped in bags and fishing nets; turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish; and mammals, fish and seabirds all mistake colourful pieces of plastic for fish. These items eaten by mistake can fatally obstruct animals' digestive systems. In some excessively polluted locations, decomposed bodies of chicks can be found with their bellies containing plastics caps. A dead turtle was found surrounded by plastic waste on Alphonse Island in August 2011. Polyester is also a very common waste found on our beaches; it floats well and when ingested by animals it disturbs their floatation abilities, increasing buoyancy so that the animals can have difficulties diving to feed. This can cause death by starvation or intestinal occlusion. The number of fish, birds, and mammals that succumb each year to derelict fishing nets and lines and other plastic waste cannot be reliably known, but estimates are in the millions.

Solid waste creates a plastic continent in our three Oceans.

In 1997, finishing the Los Angeles-to-Hawaii sail race, Captain Charles Moore reported the discovery in the North Pacific of a shocking phenomenon: "Here I was in the middle of the ocean and there was nowhere I could go to avoid the plastic’’. The Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer referred to the area as the "eastern garbage patch’’ and estimated that the area was roughly the size of Texas.
Our garbage, when not washed out on our coasts, is trapped into the middle of our three Oceans by the five major subtropical gyres. A gyre is a widespread circulating rotation or vortex of ocean currents. There, waste cannot escape.


Plastic waste does not biodegrade; instead it breaks down into toxic pellets

Plastics are persistent waste that will survive beyond than our children or grandchildren. We don’t even know how long it takes to break down completely:  by experimentation scientists estimate it to be centuries. Plastics are synthetic materials and never biodegrade, instead they photodegrade (meaning degrade by light). When exposed to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, polyethylene's polymer chains become brittle and start to crack. Because plastic pellets are magnets for toxic chemicals like Dichlorodiphenyl-trichloro-ethene (DDT) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) they can become poison pills; producing concentrations of these chemicals as much as a million times higher than in water.
 
Plastic contaminates the entire food web

Scientists dissecting plankton-eating fish find many plastic fragments in a single fish. That means fish eat small pieces of plastic! Indeed, it is logical that as the larger pieces of plastic break down, they mimic the size, shape and texture of natural food. But an excessively high concentration of toxic chemicals adheres to plastic pellets to be consumed by plankton-eating fish, which in turn will be eaten by carnivorous fish themselves eaten by larger carnivorous. The entire food chain is contaminated with humans at the top. The impact on human health is a serious concern.

Who are the culprits of this disaster? 

Marine debris is often the result of deliberate or accidental actions by people on land or at sea. People who leave waste in streets and on beaches, or throw items overboard account for tons of marine debris every day. Waste is carried by rivers, streams, and other waterways into the ocean. Cruise ships with 3,000 passengers, produce seven tons of garbage and solid waste every day, dumping plastics at sea despite an international treaty barring this behaviour. There are also open dumping sites near coasts, from where offshore winds carry waste. But primarily, it is the responsibility of businesses including, polymer chemistry industries who need to develop smarter products designed for recyclability, while governments need to impose better regulation and encourage greater responsibility.

What can we do?

We must realise that our environment is not a dumping site but a beautiful fragile living place that we share with many hosts. Individuals of all ages can make an important difference to the overall health of our ocean by the actions they take every day. The basic rules are (1) do not throw anything in the sea, (2) keep the beach clean, (3) do not throw waste including cigarette butts on the ground, (4) contribute to better waste management. The “Clean Up The World” day at the end of September saw many beach cleaning events organised by communities throughout Seychelles – let's keep up the momentum.

 

By Aurélie DUHEC - Conservation Officer for the Alphonse Group

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