Plastic literally surrounds us all day long. Looking around me at a first glance I can see a plastic keyboard, a plastic framed laptop, a plastic mouse, plastic frames for my glasses and a plastic dive computer strap. I could go on and on and I’m sure you could too. Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century and 50% of the plastic we use is used just once and then thrown away. And the main problem with this plastic is where it ends up. Some of it is recycled, some of it ends up in landfills, but a large amount of it ends up in our waters.
We have all encountered it whilst diving; the drifting plastic bag, the empty beer can stuck on a coral reef and the numerous plastic water bottles floating on the surface. Plastic or non-biodegradable waste in our oceans is a major problem and it is something we should all be aware of.
“Five Asian countries are responsible for between 55-60% of all plastic in our oceans…”
Recent statistics show that just five Asian countries are responsible for between 55-60% of all the plastic that finds its way into the oceans and unfortunately, Lutwala Dive’s country of residence, Indonesia is in there along with China, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines. Historically these countries have not been huge plastic consumers in comparison with western nations but due to prosperity the rate has grown and the understanding of the obligation to discard properly has not grown with it.
It is estimated that around 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year. This plastic can come from disregarded rubbish, flotsam and jetsam from ships (equipment or cargo cast overboard to lighten load), as well plastic microbeads in cosmetics. All of this poses a massive threat to the ecosystems in our oceans as the animals can choke and die on the plastic or be poisoned by the toxins released once the plastic has decayed. It is estimated that half of the turtle population will at some point ingest plastic. Turtles feed on jellyfish and unfortunately they look very similar to floating plastic bags.
The chemicals in plastic can also be harmful to humans as they can be absorbed by the human body. 93% of Americans age six or older tested positive for the plastic chemical BPA.
To help reduce the risks of plastic, better waste management needs to be enforced and everyone can make an impact with the practice of the alliteration ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’. As divers we see what most people do not and witness the effect of what human beings are having on our oceans. If you see some rubbish when diving, pick it up. If you witness illegal dumping or fishing, report it to the authorities. Pay attention to what cosmetics you use and think about the impact they could also have. And most importantly, share your knowledge and stories about what is happening to our oceans and encourage others to take action as well.
Here on Gili Trawangan, the Gili Eco Trust and SeaMade strives to make a difference by improving the waste management on the island, organising weekly beach clean up days and creating recycled products to sell. The weekly clean up starts at 5pm every Friday from one of the GIDA (Gili Islands Diving Association) dive shops and all those who participate gets a free beer. If you are in the area and would like to help, please see SeaMade’s Facebook account for details. SeaMade products are handmade from recycled marine debris and also support sustainable development in Indonesia, seeking to provide an alternative income source for local community members while raising environmental awareness and increasing education.