Protect Marine Ecosystems in Mexico

 
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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:

  • Death of the ingesting organism. Over 250 species have been observed to have ingested, or become entangled in, plastic.
  • Increase in plastic pollution has resulted in a corresponding increase in species invasion.
  • The UN estimates that the greatest threat to the world’s oceans, as identified by the Global Environment Facility is pollution from land-based sources.

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.

This week we have an update straight from the project, from one of our volunteers, Ben:

Another week has flown by! It is hard to believe that the 4 week volunteers are almost finishing their time here at Pez Maya.

We have witnessed a great deal of diversity in the area this week. Incidentals sightings have included a baby Hawksbill  Turtle, a Loggerhead Turtle, Spotted Eagle Rays, an Electric Ray and more crocodiles. We also excavated a turtle nest and counted a whopping 118 hatched eggs!!! Also, 3 Least Tern Chicks were spotted during our daily bird watches. Following a lecture on shark species and behaviours this week, we are all keeping our eyes open for the first shark sighting of the phase.

It was another beautiful week at Pez May! With the exception of a quick thunderstorm on Wednesday, our daily schedule has been packed full of dives giving volunteers ample time to study the reef. The volunteers continued their Emergency First Responder training by reviewing the skills we learned last week. We're all nervously awaiting the spontaneous practical session that the stuff speak of.
 

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!

After much preparation some staff and volunteers organised an Earth Day celebration for the small fishing town of Punta Allen. The goal was to raise awareness on the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling, as well as keeping out beaches clean.
Punta Allen is a small fishing village immersed in the mangroves and coral reefs of the Yucatan peninsula, inside  he Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. In recent years it has become a hot spot for tourists to take an “off road excursion into the jungle” and then partake in tours through the mangroves and snorkelling on the reef. It has come to the attention of the locals and surrounding community that the tourism brings a large quantity of waste. GVI organized an Earth Day celebration for the people in Punta Allen to amalgamate and clean up their town. It was an important issue to not only teach the children and adults how to recycle their waste but also the importance of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
The beach clean in the morning informed the locals on the amount of waste that was produced and what percentage of it was recyclable. Workshops were set up to demonstrate how to turn old chip bags into purses, tetra packs into wallets, recycle used paper to make new paper, and how to turn plastic bottles into usable items such as pencil cases and purses. There was a section of the day dedicated to the children to help make signs for the beaches and around town reminding people to recycle and to dispose their garbage appropriately. Two separate lectures were created; one for children and one for adults, describing the importance of not littering and keeping their beaches clean. The adults also received information on the importance of the mangroves and why we must not destroy them for our own benefit.
The Earth Day celebration was a great start to an on-going series of workshops for people throughout the town. We collected 70 kilograms of non-recyclable waste and 15 kilograms of recyclable waste. Although there were a limited number of adults in attendance, over 35 children assisted in the beach clean, workshops, and lectures. There are signs posted all along the beach, in the stores and restaurants reminding people to recycle and to dispose their garbage on the appropriate containers. The Punta Allen community is more aware of the threats to the reef caused by tourism, and GVI will continue with the workshops and English classes so they are informed on the importance of recycling and ecotourism. The more people are made aware of waste management the easier it can be dealt with. ´´We must clean the beach and not litter because the turtles and other animals, eat the trash because they think it is food´´ said one of the kids on the beach clean.

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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Project Leader

Sophie Birkett

GVI Charitable Trust Manager
St Albans, Herts United Kingdom

Where is this project located?

Map of Protect Marine Ecosystems in Mexico