Yesterday I mentioned the large amount of trash we have seen on island beaches everywhere we have gone. Although we have only plied the Caribbean Sea so far, this problem is a global phenomena. In most cases, the trash we see on these otherwise pristine beaches – predominantly plastic items, but also glass, wood, and other floating items – can come from hundreds or even thousands of miles away from other lands who either directly dump their trash in the ocean, or allow countless tons of the stuff drain from their waters (rivers, or even drainage systems) right into the ocean. Another source are large ships – including some cruise ships – who dump their trash in the ocean thinking it will do no harm, or when container ships lose containers during storms (they stack them so high they are precarious and in a violent storm they simply fall off).
Plastic can last for years in the ocean floating even to other continents. The trash is often mistaken by animals – particularly birds – as food. Many birds have been found dead with stomachs full of small pieces of plastic – so full they died of starvation. In the sea, turtles see plastic bags and think they are jelly fish (one of their staple foods), and sometimes die of suffocation after being caught in the plastic. The plastic is particularly insidious because it takes years before it breaks down in the sun to smaller pieces. But, it still lasts and is consumed by birds, mammals and fish.
Some of you may have heard of the Pacific Gyre where millions of tons of trash have floated and swirled together in the large ocean currents to an area north of Hawaii. But, this is only the tip of the iceberg. In just one short mile-long beach, we’ve seen hundreds (possibly thousands) of plastic bottles, sandals, fish nets, and other trash. Multiply this times the number of islands we visited (more than two dozen so far on this trip), and multiply that times the hundreds of thousands of beaches we have not visited. It is mind boggling to think of how big the problem is.
You will occasionally find photos in our galleries showing examples of how widespread this problem truly is. There are steps everyone can take to reduce the problem: recycling plastic, re-using plastic bottles, bringing re-usable bags for your groceries instead of plastic bags, and making your politicians aware you would like your tax dollars spent to reduce trash into water-ways. Maybe someday it will be a true taboo to allow trash into the oceans. It will certainly take a long time to convince every nation, all ships, and every porson, to stop allowing trash to escape to the seas.