Marine Pollution – Plastic, not so FANTASTIC…

by Aliya Chojoo

The ocean has always fascinated me. Did it ever occur to you just how deep it might be, or how many living creatures there are in this enormous environment? Indeed, covering 71% of Earth’s surface, the ocean provides us with food and fossil resources, as well as a way of transportation, with shipping being the most popular way of transporting freight. The ocean can also be used for leisure activities, and we, humans are spoiling it by abusing that opportunity…  We are dumping pollutants in the ocean, not only by means of transport used to carry goods and people around, but also by discharging multiple pollutants from land (80% of marine pollution comes from land-based activities). And on top of that, we throw our rubbish into the ocean, as a result of which a floating island made out of plastic is now spreading somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

   With the rise of plastic production and consumption, every year 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans[1] and the consequences are dreadful: animals get caught or ingest small plastic objects, causing them to suffer. Indeed, plastic debris kills an estimated 100,000 marine mammals annually, as well as millions of birds and fish. [2]

Can you imagine seeing plastic rubbish on your plate while eating seafood? Pretty disgusting, right? This situation requires reflection regarding our manners when it comes to how we treat the ocean and how can we change it.

Horrified by this vision, I wanted to take action, and decided one morning during my December vacation to do an experiment, and go to a public beach to pick up the rubbish left there.

It was the 2nd of January, and in Mauritius it is a public holiday (together with the 1st). To be honest, I was expecting some litter, as many Mauritians like to spend New Year’s Eve camping on the beach. I took plastic bags, gloves, and started picking up rubbish. To my surprise there was a lot more than I expected, and it was disgusting.  There were a lot of people as well. I started around 7:30am, and less than 10 minutes later a woman came up to me, and asked me if I had an extra pair of gloves, as she wanted to help me clean this mess. I was really glad, and offered her gloves and a plastic bag, and together we continued the cleaning. After 20 minutes, she gave me back the bag, as she was leaving, but told me that she was happy to see youth making this kind of commitment. “I have hope for this country’s future, thank you.” she said.

As I was walking through the beach, I picked up a lot of cigarette butts, bottle caps, plastic bottles and bags, burnt remains of fireworks, and so much more different kinds of rubbish.

During the cleaning, I took care to notice people’s reaction regarding what I was doing; some people showed support by helping me, some thanked me, some gave me encouraging smiles, but the vast majority just watched me with a “what is she doing” look, maybe surprised to see a young person doing this kind of “job”.

After one and a half hours of cleaning, it was getting very hot under the burning sun, and I had to stop. In the end, I collected around 110 litres of rubbish on this public beach. It’s not that much if you had seen how much there was left!

We don’t realise what an opportunity we have to be living on this paradise island that is Mauritius. Locals don’t realise how lucky and blessed they are to have the sea near them. I know some people who would do anything to be this close to the sea. And marine pollution is a growing threat. It’s a shame to see people throwing litter everywhere. Just to give you an idea, plastic bottles take at least 400 years to decompose, cigarette butts 10-12 years, and plastic bags 10-1000 years! We cannot continue to act like that, we need to take action and measures to save the environment. The first one is to educate ourselves, by raising awareness of this threat.

However, a positive measure taken by the Mauritian government is that production and use of plastic bags has stopped since the beginning of 2016 to reduce its impact on the ocean. This is a great start to tackling this global issue.

Local action matters and has global consequences, and it’s up to us to choose whether we want to participate in the preservation or the degradation of our environment.

Let’s work together to preserve our environment and oceans for better living conditions for us, humans, and other living creatures. After all, this planet is all we’ve got, so let’s take better care of it for its future!


[1] Laura Parker. Ocean Trash: 5.25 Trillion Pieces and Counting, but Big Questions Remain. 13 Feb 2015. National Geographic.
[2] Ocean Crusaders Statistics.

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