KT For Good: Your beach litter is killing oceans


KT For Good: Your beach litter is killing oceans

The third part of our series explores how bad consumer choices result in filthy beaches and polluted oceans.

By Natalie Banks (Marine Conservationist in UAE)

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Published: Mon 15 Apr 2019, 10:14 PM

Last updated: Tue 16 Apr 2019, 12:27 AM

As a marine conservationist and a scuba diving instructor, I have been involved in many activities associated with the collection of marine debris throughout Australia, Maldives, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Oman and the UAE. The issue of marine debris didn't really hit me until around six years ago, when I started noticing that I could no longer take a dive without seeing debris alongside the coastline or within the water.
Sadly, I also started seeing news reports of marine debris - such as abandoned fishing line and nets - entangling the precious marine animals we all love, like whales, dolphins, dugongs and turtles. Eventually this moved on to reports, which are now almost a daily feature, of marine animals beaching themselves with stomachs full of litter.
I have been holding clean-ups both within the water and along the coastline for a few years now, having a specialty in 'diving against debris', and it genuinely is a heart-breaking, eye-opening experience.
Majority of trash found along the coastline are mostly single-use items, which come primarily from the packaging associated with consumer goods, such as cans, plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic straws and utensils, plastic containers - and the worst, but most prevalent litter we find being cigarette butts.
I have been raising awareness of the impacts of the toxins in cigarette butts and plastic by undertaking school and corporate presentations on marine debris in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah. And quite honestly, the toxins in cigarette butts should be nowhere near the marine environment, given that we rely on the oceans for the air we breathe, the water we drink, food for those that choose to consume seafood, and lastly for a wonderful recreational playground.
The majority of marine debris found is associated with consumer choices.
People make the choice to smoke, just like they make the choice of purchasing items with single-use plastic packaging. Generally, individuals don't need a straw to drink - but we opt to use the single-use plastic version because it's provided with our drink and it's a habit.
Just one person opting for a reusable water bottle and coffee cup will prevent over 360 containers from entering waterways and landfills. Imagine how many containers could be reduced if everyone made this simple switch.
When I first started undertaking marine debris clean-ups, the amount and the type of debris that was found used to shock me. Generally, it takes quite a bit to shock me these days.
I do remember being shocked in May 2016, after spending some time on a ship, when our vessel had to stop to avoid a collision with a refrigerator that was floating on the surface and still hadn't sunk yet. Every now and then, filled nappies and used sanitary items still shock me but, sadly, I believe I have started becoming immune to the shock value.

It still hasn't stopped me from encouraging others to see the marine debris for themselves, though. I still do get a feeling of great satisfaction whenever I see the shock in others, as I know that the potential for greater awareness, education and change can occur as a result.
To overcome the issue of marine debris, we simply need to start refusing and reducing single-use plastics to begin with. While we wait on the waste industry to catch up to the issue of plastic pollution (only nine per cent of global waste is recycled), we also need to look at materials and facilities that can compost.
I am optimistic that solutions to the plastic pollution problem will be found and that, eventually, we will start seeing the results of clean-up campaigns being held the world over in reducing the litter in our oceans. But until then, we must all do our bit.

Dirtiest beaches around the world
Kamilo Beach in Hawaii, US: Also infamously known as 'Plastic Beach', this location is dangerously polluted with thousands of kilos of plastic items, left behind by irresponsible visitors
Guanabara Bay Beaches in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: This spot made headlines during the 2016 Summer Olympics, as athletes rowed across its polluted waters, caused by human-produced trash.
El Gringo Beach in Bajos de Haina, Dominican Republic: This has been dubbed the 'Dominican Chernobyl', as the city outside of it is filled with chemical plants. Factories dump their waste into the waters.
Juhu Beach in Mumbai, India: The waters on this beach is known to contain fecal coliform bacteria. It's been formed by the pollution caused by untreated sewage from
nearby slums.
Kuta Beach in Bali, Indonesia: This country is known as the world's second biggest marine polluter. This beach is filled with garbage and the condition worsens during rainy seasons as trash covers its sands and waters.

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