Around October last year, marine and underwater photographer Caroline Power, who is based in Honduras, published a series of photographs and videos on her Facebook page, of large swathes of garbage, mostly plastics, floating on the Caribbean Sea near Roatán, one of Honduras’s Caribbean Bay Islands. Horrifying is a mild way to describe the images in which trash extended as far as the eye could see. In one of the videos, which is truly cringeworthy, a diver is seen plunging into the trash-filled waters.
The response to Ms Power’s post was immediate and far-reaching. In addition to it being widely viewed and shared, including in articles written for Forbes magazine and the United Kingdom-based Telegraph newspaper, she reported that she was contacted by documentary makers, environmentalists, anti-plastic campaigners, engineers, inventors, and a scientist working on a United Nations panel on ocean trash. In a separate Facebook post, Ms Power said she was heartened by the offers to help. However, she also faced some backlash from locals in Roatán, who were, unsurprisingly, worried that drawing global attention to the problem might hurt tourism. She noted that the Roatán Municipality has long had a ban on plastic bags and strict laws regarding the importation of plastic bottles, but these are not enforced.
The Telegraph quoted Ms Power as describing, “… an area about two miles wide that had multiple trash lines that stretched from horizon to horizon. There was also a seemingly infinite number of plastic forks, spoons, drink bottles, and plates. There were broken soccer balls, toothbrushes, a tv, and so many shoes and flip flops.”
The newspaper also reported that Blue Planet Society, an organisation campaigning to end overfishing and the overexploitation of the world’s oceans, believes the rubbish originated from the Motagua River in Guatemala and that it washed into the sea during heavy rains.
Non-profit conservation organisation Oceana Europe told the Telegraph that it was “shocked, sad and angry, but not surprised,” by the photographs. It added, “If we don’t change our behaviour now, we’re going to have more plastic than fish in the ocean.”
While direct human littering is largely responsible for the pollution of the oceans and the seas, natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis also deposit trash into the waterways. When one sees the devastation of Barbuda, St Maarten, Puerto Rico and the Florida Keys, among other places from last year’s hurricanes, it becomes clear that some of what was torn up from these lands had to have been deposited in the sea somewhere. No doubt, these will turn up to haunt mankind some day. No one has control over nature, but surely human beings can stop the wanton use of plastics and the bad habit of tossing what they have used, and not only plastics, wherever and whenever.
Earth with its seven continents, five oceans and seven seas exists as it is and is livable for humans because of its balance. We have already seen, although there are those who pretend it is not real, what havoc global warming has been wreaking on our planet. And we know that it is largely because of human activity – carbon emissions. Do we really want to stand by and see what happens after we lose an ocean or a sea or two to pollution? Would we even be able to?
Here is what we know for sure, earth is home. While strides in space travel and exploration have been astounding, at this point in time there is no alternative planet on which we can live. And even if there were, would we really be so shameless as to destroy this planet and leave? Surely it makes more sense to save the place we are already familiar with and claim to love so much that we are willing to kill each other to retain our so-called entitlement to a particular spot.
Bewilderingly, with the signs all around us and clear messages about what we need to do, there are so many of us who prefer to ignore them to greedily pursue commercial and economic gains. While these obviously matter, they clearly can be pursued elsewhere or in ways that also benefit the environment. A case in point is ECOALF, a truly sustainable company founded by Spanish businessman Javier Goyeneche. It uses strictly recycled materials to produce high-fashion outerwear, swimwear, casual apparel, shoes and accessories. ECOALF recycles discarded fishing nets, which are largely made of high quality nylon; plastic bottles; used tyres; post-consumer coffee; post-industrial cotton; and post-industrial wool. It has so far developed over 98 different recycled fabrics which are exactly the same to the touch as any normal fabric.
Mr Goyeneche, who says he does what he does, “because there is no Planet B,” told the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Secretary General Angel Gurría during a chat in the series ‘The Coffees of the Secretary-General’ that the recycling his company does negates the use of petrol to create fabrics. It also conserves water through its recycling of cotton, since growing cotton is water-intensive. ECOALF also embarked on upcycling oceans in 2016, a project in which it encourages fishermen in Spain to bring in waste from the ocean; the company then recycles it.
This is the kind of project that could and should be replicated all around the world. However, one would hope that it has an end date, which would mean that the efforts to educate the world population on how to live clean lives will eventually bear fruit.