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Marine pollution – Part One The cries of our coastlines

As the team disembarked our vessel along the Chacachacare shoreline with gloves and bags in hand, there was a strange silence. With shocking expressions on our faces, all eyes were fixated on the mounds of garbage plastered on the sand. This once pristine beach now resembled a landfill. One almost felt like giving up before the cleanup had even begun–it seemed to be an insurmountable task.On September 21, 2013, the EMA embarked on its ninth annual beach clean-up exercise at Chacachacare Island as part of the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). The ICC has been conducted for 27 years and is the world’s largest co-ordinated volunteer effort towards building awareness of coastal littering. It is essentially a data-collection exercise which seeks to trace the sources of coastal debris; the data will be used to guide environmental legislation and public awareness initiatives. Ocean Conservancy compiles and analyses the data each year, and publishes the world’s only item-by-item, location-by-location snapshot of marine debris in an annual report. In 2013, a total of 648,015 volunteers collected 12,329,332 pounds of debris at beaches across the world spanning a distance of 121,914 miles (Ocean Conservancy, 2014).

Chacachacare is a nesting ground for sea turtles such as the Green, Hawksbill, Loggerhead and Olive Ridley species which were recently designated by the EMA as an environmentally-sensitive species.Beach-goers who frequent this site have contributed significantly to the unfortunate and unprecedented accumulation of debris, while the high tide ushers wave after wave of garbage from the mainland (Trinidad). This mass of debris not only becomes an eyesore, but also negatively impacts on the survival of marine animals, including these sea turtles and their vulnerable hatchlings.Our team of approximately 60 volunteers were therefore challenged to clean a portion of this island’s littered shorelines. We discovered filled bags of garbage left behind by beach-goers, used iron pots, fishing gear, cigarette lighters, personal-care items, hundreds of styrofoam containers and plastic utensils, and of course, thousands of beverage containers (glass, plastic and aluminium). After only one-and-a-half hours, our operations came to a halt. All 130 bags were bursting at the seams with garbage, and now there was the logistical nightmare of transporting these bags back to shore. The combined weight of these bags was an astounding 1,412 pounds. One can only imagine how much debris would have been collected over a 24-hour period.

There is a disturbing volume of debris collected along our shorelines for a small country of approximately 1.3 million citizens. Data from the ICC for T&T revealed that 34,228.8 pounds of garbage was collected in 2011, the highest figure since plastic and paper bags were added to the data collection list in 2008. The most notorious marine pollutant remains the plastic bottle, with 929,000 collected at the ICC events from 2002-2012. Food wrappers and containers follow closely behind, with 622,299 pieces collected over the same period.Littering, particularly along our shorelines and rivers, has regrettably become part of our culture. There may be several theories to explain this behaviour–an absence of disposal bins, inadequate enforcement of anti-litter laws, or a general nonchalant attitude towards the environment. Whatever the reason, our marine ecosystems suffer the consequences of our ill-informed choices. An urgent change in attitude is required to address this problem, a change that starts with each citizen.

While driving along the nation’s roads, many citizens still toss bottles and food wrappers out the windows. At the beaches and rivers, “cook out” limes are usually enjoyable for families and friends, but detrimental to marine animals that are left to survive among the waste. Some animals inadvertently consume discarded materials mistaking them for food, which often leads to their demise.As we continue to enjoy our beautiful “liming” spots, let us start walking with our “litter prevention kits” and dispose of our debris responsibly. If the bins at the beaches or rivers are filled with garbage, we can take our items home for disposal. Reducing our waste still remains the number one action against littering, while reusing and recycling are also good practices to consider when reducing the amount of waste we produce each day.We challenge you to assess your attitude towards littering and pledge to reduce your individual waste output. Each action, no matter how inconsequential it may seem, can inspire a change in our actions toward the environment, and it’s never too late to start! To conclude our article, the clean-up team left Chacachacare Island that Saturday afternoon with mixed feelings of accomplishment and defeat. We had completed yet another beach clean-up exercise and returned to shore with our loot, knowing we were far from finished.

Marine Pollution Part Two: A global snapshot will be featured in next week’s article.

For more information, please visit www.ema.co.tt. If you have any comments or would like to contribute to this column, please respond to emacorner@ema.co.tt

Source Guardian

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