On the beaches of Bali, Indonesia, where tourists arrive from around the world to experience the island’s amazingly warm culture and climate, there is a quiet crisis brewing. You can see it around the colorful pontoon fishing boats when they come ashore after pulling in their morning catch. It lurks beneath the surface of the light sandy ribbons of its coasts. It is a menace that thrives in the densely forested areas that line the beaches. This crisis is growing with Bali’s economy, and very little action is being taken. This crisis is, of course, the ocean plastic pollution that is washing up on the shores of this island paradise. It is literally a ‘tsunami of trash.’
Bali is certainly not alone in facing an ocean trash epidemic. From the rapidly developing countries of Southeast Asia, to the mature economies of the Western world, every nation is facing the challenge of uncontrolled solid waste disposal in the global ocean commons, where national boundaries are ignored by floating rubbish. In fact, of the 260 million tons of plastic produced each year, over 10% of it winds up in the oceans, creating massive ‘garbage patches’ that act like islands of plastic that continue to grow each year. The Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch, which lies between California and Hawaii, is now estimated to be twice the size of Texas. When considering the whole of the Pacific Ocean, researchers estimate that over 5 million square miles is now a soup of plastic confetti.
For the coastal regions of countries attempting to climb the value-added ladder of economic development, tourism is often the first rung of that ladder. This dependency on visitors is threatened by the continuous arrival of trash and deceased marine life that wash ashore in areas with high concentrations of ocean plastic pollution. Exposure to surf, sun and sand is designed to refresh a weary city-dweller’s connection to nature, not remind them of the world’s environmental problems.
While membership in transnational agreements designed to stem the tide of ocean plastic pollution is definitely an important first step for ocean-based tourism development, local governments and chambers of commerce must recognize that the vast majority of all plastics entering the ocean come from land-based sources that are carried out to sea by urban runoff into rivers and storm drainage systems. Thus, to prevent tourism from receding, efforts must be made to stem the flow of plastics from the source. Liberal deployments of trashcans, an effective system to dispose and recycle trash, citizen behavior modification techniques and environmental law enforcement are all effective mechanisms that must be used in synchrony. While the solution employed by the city of Santa Monica, California, to build a water runoff treatment and recycling plant is an effective stopgap, collecting some 40,000 pounds of rubbish in 2007, its price tag of $12 million dollars makes such a solution prohibitively expensive for a developing island-state such as Bali.
Western environmental indifference and the rapid economic development of places like Bali, Southeast Asia, China and India is equivalent to a massive earthquake in the world’s oceans, and it is sending a tsunami of trash to a beach resort near you. How will you respond?
Photos Courtesy of TriciaAnneMitchell.com