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Indonesia – The Plastic Problem Conservation Indonesia Opwall News 

Indonesia – The Plastic Problem

Written by and Photos Courtesy of Emma Camp

plasticindo

Plastic pollution accounts for 60-80 % of marine litter worldwide that totals approximately 14 billion pounds each year.  Due to ocean gyres, trash will accumulate in massive islands with an example of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch estimated to range in size from 700,000 square kilometers to more than 15,000 square kilometers.

The primary problem with plastic pollution is that most is not biodegradable which means no natural process can break it down; instead plastics degrade by photo-degradation. This means the absorption of photons, typically the wavelengths found in sunlight result in molecular break-down.  A plastic milk jug in the ocean will fragment into smaller and smaller pieces without breaking into simpler compounds; which is estimated to take 1 million years.  Consequently, the ocean is accumulating plastic which breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic called mermaid tears or nurdles.

Nurdles can get sucked up by filter feeders, or eaten by other marine life which can potentially be life threatening.  In addition, nurdles can soak up toxic chemicals that can threaten an entire food chain.  The nurdles ‘mop up’ chemicals or poisons that are diffused in the water, which makes them highly concentrated and the nurdles potentially toxic.  Larger plastics like shopping bags can also be mistaken as a typical food source and can be consumed by fish, marine mammals and birds. In total, more than a million birds and marine animals die each year from consuming or becoming caught in plastic and other debris.

What are we doing?

On Hoga the plastics problem is prolific with currents washing plastic onto the islands coastline. Unfortunately, despite immense efforts by Operation Wallacea management, efforts to implement a regional wide recycling scheme have not been successful. Consequently, each year during the research season, students and staff carry out bi-monthly beach clean-ups. During these clean-ups, teams disperse around the island and collect rubbish from the beaches, which predominantly consist of plastics. Any rubbish collected is separated into major materials and then sent off the island for recycling.

The efforts of Operation Wallacea staff and students help to clear the main beaches of rubbish, allowing us to show the local community the value of clean beaches. Unfortunately, the idea of clean oceans is an alien concept for many of the local people who have used the ocean for waste disposal for generations.  For example, when we were cleaning one beach this week, an elderly local man asked us what we were looking for. When we explained that we were cleaning the beach they just laughed because for them this is a crazy idea! However, some of the younger generations are starting to understand what we are doing and why, which is a huge step forward in effective waste management.

plasticindo2

 

This week the first beach-clean of the season took place, with over 12 large bags of rubbish collected, weighing 100’s of kilos. See some pictures below of our staff and students at work!

Plastic pollution accounts for 60-80 % of marine litter worldwide that totals approximately 14 billion pounds each year.  Due to ocean gyres, trash will accumulate in massive islands with an example of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch estimated to range in size from 700,000 square kilometers to more than 15,000 square kilometers.

The primary problem with plastic pollution is that most is not biodegradable which means no natural process can break it down; instead plastics degrade by photo-degradation. This means the absorption of photons, typically the wavelengths found in sunlight result in molecular break-down.  A plastic milk jug in the ocean will fragment into smaller and smaller pieces without breaking into simpler compounds; which is estimated to take 1 million years.  Consequently, the ocean is accumulating plastic which breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic called mermaid tears or nurdles.

Nurdles can get sucked up by filter feeders, or eaten by other marine life which can potentially be life threatening.  In addition, nurdles can soak up toxic chemicals that can threaten an entire food chain.  The nurdles ‘mop up’ chemicals or poisons that are diffused in the water, which makes them highly concentrated and the nurdles potentially toxic.  Larger plastics like shopping bags can also be mistaken as a typical food source and can be consumed by fish, marine mammals and birds. In total, more than a million birds and marine animals die each year from consuming or becoming caught in plastic and other debris.

plasticindo4

 

What are we doing?

On Hoga the plastics problem is prolific with currents washing plastic onto the islands coastline. Unfortunately, despite immense efforts by Operation Wallacea management, efforts to implement a regional wide recycling scheme have not been successful. Consequently, each year during the research season, students and staff carry out bi-monthly beach clean-ups. During these clean-ups, teams disperse around the island and collect rubbish from the beaches, which predominantly consist of plastics. Any rubbish collected is separated into major materials and then sent off the island for recycling.

 

plasticindo3plasticindo5

 

The efforts of Operation Wallacea staff and students help to clear the main beaches of rubbish, allowing us to show the local community the value of clean beaches. Unfortunately, the idea of clean oceans is an alien concept for many of the local people who have used the ocean for waste disposal for generations.  For example, when we were cleaning one beach this week, an elderly local man asked us what we were looking for. When we explained that we were cleaning the beach they just laughed because for them this is a crazy idea! However, some of the younger generations are starting to understand what we are doing and why, which is a huge step forward in effective waste management.

This week the first beach-clean of the season took place, with over 12 large bags of rubbish collected, weighing 100’s of kilos. See some pictures below of our staff and students at work!


 

 

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