Every week, Staff and volunteers in Pez Maya, Mexico clean two hundred meters of beach on the stretch of coastline we live by. Over the course of twelve weeks we clean a transect of about two km in length and the amount of rubbish that we collect is quite simply staggering.
The vast majority of this rubbish is plastic; unsurprising considering that it is estimated that about 90% of all rubbish in the oceans is plastic.
In 1950, when plastic became “mainstream” approximately 50 million tons were introduced into public circulation. In 2008, to sustain our disposable lifestyle approximately 245 million tons were produced, the majority of which could be found in products intended to be thrown away. It is worth remembering that plastic does not decompose and that the original 50 million tons produced in 1950, as well as every piece of plastic produced since, are still with us in one form or another. In the last ten years we have produced more plastic than we produced in the whole of the 20th century.
This plastic, for the most part, finds its way to the ocean where the pieces break down into smaller and smaller particles causing problems including but not limited to:
Plastics absorb chemicals (most commonly POPs) from the surrounding water resulting in absorbed concentrations which are orders of magnitude above the levels in the surrounding water. If the plastics are washed up on the beach the chemicals are leached by the action of sun and rain allowing the chemicals to run back into the sea at elevated levels where they are directly introduced to coral reefs resulting in bleaching and high incidence of coral disease.
If the plastics are ingested by an organism the toxins collect in its tissue, not necessarily causing death but being passed up the food chain as each organism is preyed on in turn. Ingestion by humans of the contaminated flesh of these organisms has been linked to cancer, altered immune systems and developmental problems in children.
So back to where we started, Volunteers and Staff collecting plastic and other pollutants from the beach.
When we first began using the method from The Ocean Conservancy at the end of 2011 we collected, in 12 weeks from 2 km of beach, 580 kg of non-recyclable waste (including nearly 4000 plastic bottle caps), and 65kg that was recyclable- this was the first time that we had completed the new 2km transect and so we expected to take a lot of rubbish off the sand. At the start of 2012 in the first 12 weeks we collected approx. 450 kg of non-recyclable waste and again approx. another 10% that was recyclable. Then with the start of the storm season came the plastic…
After collating all of the data from the most recent transect, in the last twelve weeks we have collected 1113 kg of rubbish, over a tone. From a beach that had been completely cleared twice previously in the last 5 months.
This is not a local problem, this is happening on every beach in the world. Please, if you can’t get to a beach to clean up the rubbish, contribute by not creating the rubbish in the first place, think about the items that you are using, refill your plastic water bottles, try not to use plastic bags or other ‘disposable’ items and please, pass the message on.
Last week Pez Maya welcomed 15 new volunteers from 5 different countries! Welcome John, Mariana, Josh, Holly, Eli, Kerry, Tate, Will, Luke, Jessica, Alex, Matt, Sam, Mitch and Madison! With the 4 remaining volunteers from the last phase and 8 staff, it is a very full house. It was an eventful first week full of many accomplishments. Everyone is working hard at learning their adult fish, coral, juvenile fish and diving skills. Congratulations to Sam and Alex for passing their juvenile fish tests and Tate and Holly for passing their adult fish test and Aaron for passing his coral test! Congratulations to Mariana, John, Josh and Madison for successfully completing their PADI Open Water Certification on Friday and becoming certified scuba divers! All divers have begun spot tests to practice identifying fish and coral species on the reef. Also, a big congratulations to staff member Valeria for completing her Dive Master!
It was a beautiful week at Pez Maya. The perfect weather allowed all volunteers to get in lots of dives and rainstorms cooled us down all weekend. A variety of incidental sightings occurred this week including a Loggerhead sea turtle, green turtles, stingray and many crocodiles. Four turtles nests have been spotted along the beach and we're patiently waiting for the first hatchlings.
The week was filled with studying, completing chores, a beach clean and diving but we still found plenty of time to relax and get to know each other in the evenings. This week we celebrated Canada Day for the Canadian volunteers on base, July 4th for the American volunteers and Jessica's 20th birthday! On Friday the Staff treated the volunteers to a fiesta style feast including our first Lionfish of the phase. After a fun weekend in Tulum and snorkeling at Akumal, we are all back on base, ready for another week full of learning!
Whether you are in Fiji, Brazil, Australia, Seychelles, Costa Rica, every time you go to a non tourist beach you will encounter with a sad truth, marine debris from all over the world is taking over the beaches.
The Ocean Conservancy organizes an annual Beach Cleanup Day; in 2010 they celebrated the 25th anniversary of this campaign and they had 615,407 volunteers cleaning the beaches all over the world. They collected more than 8 million pounds of trash and other debris—enough to cover about 170 football fields.
According to the United Nation Environmental Program (UNEP) marine debris is any manufactured or processed solid waste material (typically inert) that enters the marine environment from any source.
Mahahual, a small village in the Coast of the Mexican Caribbean is not the exception to this. Marine currents from all over the world bring a lot of marine debris to these beautiful beaches. In Mexico we have worked in the area for over 6 years participating with weekly beach cleans where it has been observed that between 60 and 70% of the debris is plastic.
To continue getting hands on the problem, a massive beach cleanup was organized by Sustenta (Mexican organization that promotes sustainable development and green technologies) and other organizations. This beach clean is done on the International beach cleanup day organized by the Ocean Conservancy; however this year was done on a different date. GVI Mexico has been working closely with Sustenta for three years in raising funds for a campaign to reduce the amount of plastic bottles. The goal was to buy water filters and give them out to families in Mahahual, that way they would get drinkable water reducing the amount of bottles they had to buy.
In two years more than 2500usd were raised to buy the filters and they were given out to the families that collected the most plastic in the beach clean and during a campaign that Sustenta launched to collect plastic bottles from town.
On February 25th 350 participants, including members of the community and all the organizations involved collected a total of 1547.5kg of plastic bottles. They also removed 4888kg of marine debris from the beaches in the area. This happened astonishingly in only a couple of hours.
Marine debris also comes from the land, therefore campaigns like this one where the goal is to reduce the amount of plastic used are really important.
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GVI Charitable Trust Manager