I like the sea.
That might be an under-statement: I really really love the sea. I love to see the different shades of blue, azure, turquoise and green. I love to take a stroll along the shoreline, barefoot, feeling the waves lapping over my toes, with various grades of coarse sand performing a wonderful natural exfoliation. I love swimming in the sea; kicking off from the beach in my swimsuit, sunglasses on, doing lengths to a sandbank that I know is out there, but the tourists can’t find, almost touching distance with the boats at anchor in the harbour. I love to sail on the sea, feeling the waves tilt the boat as we use the wind to propel us forward, going to sit on the rail to lean out the boat for a faster time, the water spraying over me. I love spending that glorious hour before dusk at a beach bar, cocktail in hand, watching the sun slowly set over the sea and hoping for a green flash of light when the sun finally goes below the surface of the now-darkened water. I love going on the motorboat, speeding up to see the island from different angles, then slowing, gently cruising in order to spot turtles or even a dolphin pod swimming in the sea.
I assume that many people reading this will have similar feelings. Many of you will live on your own rocks and have the same visceral attachment to your particular patch of water. Maybe you are a keen snorkeler or diver and often see the sea from its depths, deep below, exploring reefs and watching fish. Maybe your work is reliant on the sea; running boat tours, or fishing for a living, so you can appreciate the sea as your livelihood.
What I fail to understand is why anyone could possibly want to harm the sea. I’m talking about the abundance of plastic bottles, glass bottles, food wrappers, containers, condom packets, discarded clothing and toys, all littering our beaches, which will eventually find their way to the sea.
I don’t think I need to explain why plastic pollution, or why general litter is a problem. I don’t think I need to explain why it is more crucial a problem to solve on a small island nation because of the immediacy of the impact. I didn’t think that littering was a controversial issue. I have never heard anyone raise a coherent argument about why they feel it is right, moral or a good thing to throw their trash onto the land, particularly at the beach (please let me know if you have one as I would love the debate).
So if we all agree that the sea is a wonderful thing, worthy of being protected from harm. And if we can all agree that littering is a bad thing, then the natural question you may be asking is what can we do about it? I don’t pretend to have all the answers to this complex issue.
I live in Antigua, a country along with its sister nation Barbuda, which boasts a magnificent 365 beaches. I have countless photographs of seemingly pristine coastlines, of cool blue waters surrounding this wondrous island. However, whenever I look just a tiny bit closer, when I step to the side of the path, when I look down at my feet rather than further along the shore, I see rubbish. It is everywhere. I do welcome measures such as Antigua’s ban on plastic bags in supermarkets, ban on plastic straws and a new law that punishes littering. Unfortunately, these regulations are all regularly flouted and they don’t address the problem of the litter that already exists.
One thing we all can do is have a go at some of the things on this simple list:
- Take a moment to scan the area you are about to leave in case anything has been left behind by accident, or swept a little further away in the wind.
- Do a 5 minute beach clean (take a spare bag with you to collect items).
- Say no to straws. Think about whether you actually need a straw. Think about where that straw might end up.
- Encourage those around you to join in: children, the elderly, neighbours, co-workers.
- If you do see others leaving litter, politely approach them, ask if they’ve forgotten something, or offer to dispose of it for them. It’s incredible how behaviour can change when confronted by a non-judgmental and pleasant gesture, rather than by anger, rudeness or sarcasm.
- Support local organisations who are trying to assist. Here in Antigua we have the brilliant Environment Awareness Group, a well-established NGO that raises a lot of awareness. We also have “Adopt a Coastline” – a grassroots non-profit set up by young people to empower individuals to take responsibility for a small part of the coast, creating bins from recycled plastic bottles and other great work. A quick google search will show you what your rock can offer
- If you work in hospitality, ask your boss (or if you are the boss, ask yourself) what plastic does your business use that you can cut down on? Are there enough bins for customers to use? Can any of your waste be recycled or re-used in some way?
If we all take a little time, a little responsibility, together we can make a big difference.