“It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.”Rachel Carson, (1907-1964) The Sea Around Us, 1951
As the world looks towards the ending of the current Covid-19 scourge – and like everyone else on the planet we hope it’s soon and permanent – Waterfront Charters would like people to focus on another scourge: one that is growing in size and destructive capacity every year and yet does not get nearly enough in the way of official focus and attention. It’s one of our major bugbears in the tourism industry, and at Waterfront Charters we make no apology for banging the drum continually. The aim of our vitriol is plastic pollution, and believe us, it’s an incredibly serious problem. Our oceans are vast, and yet as we progress into the 21st century there is no part of those teeming waters, calm bays and iced-over areas that is not polluted. When atomic submarines drift beneath the Arctic icecap and report sightings of plastic bottles lying on the ocean floor, you know we have a problem.
It’s not a dilemma that only exists at sea, of course. Every piece of plastic that ends up polluting our oceans is manufactured on land; each piece serving or having served a limited purpose. And that’s the problem. Plastic doesn’t vanish after it has served its purpose; it is virtually indestructible and so it gets…thrown away. Millions upon millions of single-use plastic items get tossed indiscriminately into waste areas (if the disposers are somewhat ethical) or into the environment (if the disposers are lazy or uncaring), and most of this enormous tonnage of plastic ends up polluting landfills, rivers, roadways – you name it. Scan any section of human inhabited environment and you’ll find plastic. Lots of it. Come rain, and it washes into rivers; rivers, being rivers, head for the nearest ocean and the tons of waste get dragged along and head out to sea. 8.8 million metric tons a year into the oceans is a conservative estimate, with Asia heading the list of indiscriminate dumpers. China alone is responsible for 2.4 million tons a year – and those figures are rising rapidly. Around four fifths of oceanic debris is from rubbish blown onto the water from landfills and urban runoff.
It’s just not sustainable. With viruses our brilliant scientists can develop vaccines and medication. Billions of dollars are poured into medical research each year; obviously there is an upside to this expenditure – the developers of ground-breaking medication will see profits that defy description. Think Viagra. But when it comes to plastic pollution, the profits are minimal. Recycling is a sensible resource, but it is costly and profit margins are minimal. Easier just to throw it away and make a new packet…a 1994 study of the seabed using trawl nets in the North-Western Mediterranean around the coasts of Spain, France, and Italy reported mean concentrations of debris of 1,935 items per square kilometre. Plastic debris accounted for 77%, of which 93% was plastic bags. That was 26 years ago; the mind boggles as to what conditions are like today. The effect on sea life beggars description. How do you count the number of creatures that are killed off each year by pollution? The same source that gave us the above figures estimates that 100 000 sea turtles are killed each year; they extrapolate and thumb suck the rather vague ‘millions of other sea creatures die each year.’ No kidding.
Fortunately, among the millions of people who wear (plastic) blinkers, there are movements and organisations that take this problem seriously. We are into July, so it’s a good idea to sing the praises of the ‘Plastic Free July’ organisation. They claim that their movement has inspired over 250 million people in 177 countries, which is fantastic. Just another six billion people to go, and the earth can start celebrating. That may sound cynical, but it isn’t: it’s pragmatic. If we can get 55 million South Africans on board, it’s a huge step forward. According to the Plastic Free July website, Plastic Free July is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – so that we can have cleaner streets, oceans and beautiful communities. They challenge each and every one of us to get involved, and they provide resources and ideas to help in the process. Waterfront Charters sincerely urges all our guests to get involved: check out https://www.plasticfreejuly.org/ and join the challenge. But don’t limit it to July: this is an ongoing problem that will need a global change of perspective and ongoing effort to remedy.
Our oceans are precious, as is each and every occupant from tiny shrimps to massive whales. The Atlantic ocean is where we at Waterfront Charters work, where we play and where we try to educate every person who enjoys a cruise on one of our vessels to become part of the solution. With the advent of Level Two in the lockdown process we will continue with that mission; the magnificence of the ocean makes our point very clear! Join us soon.