A question occurred to me recently after a particularly relaxing experience off the coast of Northern Phuket. I’d gone for a walk in the tropical heat, and found myself at a local beach with only one person out enjoying the water. The lifeguard smiled as I placed my belongings down, and happily wandered off into the water. The sand was pure white, shimmering in the sunshine. Local families sat in the shade and enjoyed lunch. It was a typical, restful scene that one dreams of when one is stuck at a desk for more days than not.
I decided to walk back along the beach to return to the resort, and it was on that journey that I encountered a vast expanse of rubbish. Waylaid footwear, ropes from boats, bits of polystyrene, chip packets, netting and numerous light bulbs obviously cast overboard from the fishing trawlers provided a stark contrast to the previous beach I’d been on. I’d quickly moved from a treasured place, to a trash heap.
It was then that I wondered to myself, what is it about glorious expanses of natural wonder that seem to bring out the toddler in humans? A toddler with a giant ego and inability to think past the moment, that is generally determined to run riot regardless of what the annoying adults say in careful, educated voices?
The trash heap extended for at least half a kilometre along the beach. Of course, in Phuket, and in other tourist driven locations, employees clean up the sand directly in front of the resorts on a daily basis. Some resorts dispose of the waste thoughtfully, others don’t. When I spoke to locals up and down the Phuket coast, they always blamed a non-local region as the source of the rubbish. Northern Phuket blamed Thailand’s mainland, Ko Phi Phi blamed Phuket, and The Lonely Planet claims that those on the southerly Ko Lanta island blame Ko Phi Phi and the copious tourists.
The truth is, they’re all correct, but that’s only part of the issue. What they’re witnessing is a microcosm of a phenomena that is occurring throughout the Pacific. Trash is moving from as far north as Japan, and China, to churn in giant currents before heading out toward what has now become known as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch‘. The patch hasn’t yet become a tourist destination, but it is claimed to be big enough to be an island – or even a continent.
The patch is largely made up of plastics that float in layers beneath the surface depending on the size of the polymers, and are ingested by turtles, fish and sea birds that literally starve to death as a consequence.
In the same way the locals blame others, the global community is also busy pointing fingers and placing the blame in a drifting fashion similar to a floating plastic bag in the breeze, which incidentally is how most of the rubbish ends up in the ocean in the first place – it’s estimated up to 80% originates from land. The clean up is prohibitively expensive so it’s no surprise that only a handful of countries have signed theGreat Pacific Garbage Patch Treaty (GPGPT).
It’s simple to stop littering. It’s easy to use a canvas shopping tote instead of accepting plastic bags, and it’s not much extra effort to sort and recycle rubbish, yet these simple actions combined can make a big difference to the problem. When will humans as a whole grow up and stop trashing our treasure?