Coastal Cleanup

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The next stop is at the other side of South America in Vina Del Mar, Chile. I meet up with Michelle Manley, marine biologist at DIRECTEMAR and the local coordinator of the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. Over the past 25 years Ocean Conservancy has initiated and coordinated beach cleanings worldwide and recently brought out an overview with the amount of items they found most. Number one is the cigarette butt! Most of the top ten is food related plastic like bottles, caps, wrappers, and boxes. In total almost nine million people have picked up some 144 million pounds of trash in more than 150 countries and locations.

We go to a beach which is not been cleaned recently according to Michelle, but the whole coastal region of Vina Del Mar, arguably the most popular beach holiday region close to the capital Santiago is kept clean by law by the concession holders of a certain beach area. Usually one gets a concession of a year or several years to exploit the beach but in return it needs to be kept clean. This is done manually by beach cleaners who work 24/7 to battle the constant flow of trash. They work hard and around the clock but it is like mopping up water with the faucet still on (‘dwijlen met de kraan open’ – als er iemand een betere vertaling weet….)

Most of the trash is land based and although there are garbage bins on the beach, people just don’t seem to care. The amount of virgin plastic is also on the other side of South America mind boggling. Only in this small area of 20 x 20 cm I find more that 20 pieces.

Animals eat them, either directly, or indirectly because they feed on fish who ate them, and one can only guess what the result is on the long term. All over the world reports are coming out about plastic ingestion by catfish, turtles, albatross, … There is no conclusive result yet what the outcome is exactly of this contamination, but taking the POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) in account and the fact that most dissected dead animals did in fact have plastic in their stomach seems to indicate a causal relation. I keep seeing one dead sea lion after the other on the beach. A lot of them die of natural causes, but I saw so many rotten corpses that I start to wonder if things aren’t related. After they are washed ashore the dead sea lions are covered with a black plastic sheet until they are picked up and exterminated. Isn’t that ironic?

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