I THINK, I AM NOW GOING TO DIE!
By Aditya Nag
Team Coffee Bytes went for its first picnic this year to Ramchandi beach by the picture perfect road on the Puri- Konark Marine drive. It was a beautiful drive and our team was very excited to have a fun-filled day. As we approached our destination, we were aghast to see the lovely picnic spot was terribly littered by people owing to the picnic season. Even the temple and adjoining areas were not spared. The whole place was littered with used plastic plates, water bottles and trash. We wished to do something about it and ensured that we did no further damage to the already ruined beautiful beach
Jokes apart, does anyone really give two hoots about plastic littered on our beaches or in the ocean. The damage has been already done and we can see this in thousands of videos of plastic trash floating in the oceans doing rounds on the internet and social media platforms. There are now areas larger than the size of France which have become ocean dead zones. But thankfully due to a few handful supporters we have waged a war against our own greatest creation since the wheel- Plastic. Through this article we wish to spread awareness about how dangerous plastic is and why we need to stop them from invading our beaches and polluting our oceans and eventually killing living beings. We are looking at the beginning of a mass extinction period.
Team Coffee Bytes caught up with Nick Anthony from SEEK Foundation on an impromptu jungle trek near the Rangers adventure foundation (known for its superb and plastic free jungle hike to the beach). Nick Anthony and his team of volunteers have already cleaned up Phuket island in Thailand, which is well known as a tourist destination all over the world for its beaches. He has now pledged his life to cleaning up the Indian Ocean and ridding it off plastic.
“Our organisation SEEK was set up in Thailand in 2010 along with an Englishman called Sean Panton. We set up SEEK to tackle the problem of plastic bags and empty plastic bottles that were polluting the beaches of Phuket and also choking the natural drainage system over there. But every time we clean it up it would come back. So one morning we just snapped and decided we need to address the problem differently. So Society, Environment, Economy and Nature or SEEK was formed. It is based on a compass, so in the north you have nature, on the south you have society, in the west you have wellbeing and on the east it is economy. And any decision you make –be it plastic banning, composting, or changing people’s retail habits. All of this have a symbiotic relationship with the four points on the compass. This means that if you destroy nature, you also destroy society and then destroy the economy. So if you destroy the Indian Ocean you endanger the lives of more than one billion people who live in and around the Ocean.”
Nick’s last statement came as a shocker to us. We (The South-East Asian Region) are hugely dependent on the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Fifty percent of proteins that humans consume in this area come from dry fish. We could be looking at a total collapse of our fishing industry by the next five years going by the rate at which we all are dumping plastics in the Indian Ocean. Which means that by 2030 there would be far lesser and fewer fishing areas in the Bay leading to a massive collapse in the economy. And what happens when the economy collapses? Well, you don’t need to be a Guy Fawkes to answer that one, do you?
Let us explain how plastics in the Indian Ocean can end up killing humans. Every bit of plastic dumped into the ocean starts its journey from our home. We all like to keep our homes ‘Swaach’, so we take our trash out and toss it into the Mahanadi. ‘Not my problem anymore’ we say and we happily go home.
The trash which is comprised of wrappers, bags, packets and small plastics begins its journey. The trash which also consists of wastes such as a half-eaten burger, left-over cooked chicken and other bio-degradable waste. This slowly decomposes as Mother Nature takes over and breaks it down. But what about the plastic? It does not decompose. The small amount of trash that we throw out of the window will never ever decompose. It will lie there on the river bed in some form or the other for atleast a good one thousand years long after our descendants have stopped walking on this earth. The slow decomposition of plastic creates a slow but continual release of harmful chemicals into the ecosystem.
During the rainy season, it gets worse. The already-full Mahanadi has plastic trash floating on the water due to its light weight. Some of it makes way to the shoreline and the stagnated water inside the plastic waste starts breeding mosquitoes. Instantly in a few weeks dengue and malaria outbreaks occur all along the shoreline of the Mahanadi. Some people even lose their lives.
Hard to believe but it is true that plastic waste has been the main cause for Dengue and Malaria outbreaks across the world. If we just manage to collect and clean up a major area of plastic trash you could actually save lives.
Now the rest of the trash slowly in a few years reaches the mouth of the ocean where comes the worst part. The plastic is now in a form which is less plastic and more like some form of gooey green substance because of algae buildup on the trash. Some of the hard plastic like boots, construction hats and other such material are pretty much in good condition. Recently researchers have found old trash floating in and around many parts of our great oceans. The first of the plastic trash made back in the 60’s and 70’s is still around and hasn’t even decomposed!
The new journey of plastic begins. This milieu of pollutants now start freely floating on the ocean surface carried deeper and deeper into the ocean through wind and currents. The Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal swarm with life. Thousands of flora and fauna that survive in this region. Sharks, rays, whales, dolphins, turtles, various forms of fish, crabs, prawns, oysters, seahorses to name a few. Who knows there might be some areas that have not even been explored! Who knows what great surprise ‘Ratnakar’ has in store for us. Maybe there is cancer resistance sea creature, or maybe a regenerative animal which in turn can help curing and making human life better.
So what happens next during the journey of the trash? Algae, starts latching onto the plastic and soon the whole trash heap starts to smell like algae. Group of birds circling high spot the algae and swoop down for a feast and accidentally feed on the plastic. There have been numerous cases of birds swallowing plastics and feeding the same to their little ones. And what happens when bird populations fall? No birds in an eco-system would surely create an ecological disaster bigger than what anything mankind has ever faced.
The Indian Ocean like many other great oceans has what we call as a Gyre. It’s a place which basically is the movement area of ocean currents swirling and churning the water stretching from the Western Australian coast till the East African coastline and Madagascar. The gyres hydrological make up is something that we have only started recently. Gyres like the one in the Indian Ocean are areas where ocean water along with the debris gets churned and broken down releasing much needed nutrients. For the Ocean, this process that has been happening since millions of years. Mother Nature’s recycling system is the most efficient system till date and when we add plastics to the equation it creates havoc. Plastics survive even this intense and extreme pressure. They breakdown only into micro plastic which is plastic but more difficult to see. To add to it since it has been in the ocean for so long it inadvertently becomes a part of the nutrition of fish and other sea animal. These micro plastic is also food for our dear ‘Olly’ (the turtle) and his friends and relatives who spend most of the year inside deep waters and comes to meet us in at the end of February, to nest on the coastline of Odisha.
Plastic pollutants can create huge problems to fishing stocks and could well have the potential to trigger a mass extinction of life from the oceans. Research suggests that wherever successful clean up campaigns have occurred fish and marine life have bounced back by many folds. As in the case of Phuket island where due to the intervention of aware citizens and groups like SEEK, turtles are now returning back to its beaches. It is high time, we reduce our dependency on plastics and switch to materials which can be reused, recycled and refused. Let us reduce plastic waste and think before you throw that piece of plastic trash out in the open. According to reports compiled by many organizations, we are dumping around one million tons of plastic everyday into our oceans. Practices like refusing to use plastic shopping bags and having food on recycled paper plates or ‘khalipatras’ could actually stem the flow. The world is becoming more connected, technology is giving us better understanding of the world and we know that eco-logical disaster in the Pacific could have adverse impact on Odisha’s climate and its marine life or vice-versa.
Reports from as far back as 2013 have shouting about a huge ‘dead zone’ that has formed in the Bay of Bengal. If we want to see humanity continue on earth, we must act fast as time is running out, but if all of us come together and pledge to change certain habits we could potentially stop the adverse effect of plastics. Otherwise the only option left for us would be to get a ticket to Mars and start life afresh there. I have heard it’s a hard life on Mars though.