Saturday, 17 October 2009

What would you like to see on the beach?

During the monsoon season strong winds and large waves bring some unwanted visitors to beaches all over the world. Light weight plastics such as cups and bags can be blown into the sea, extra high waves can sweep ashore pulling rubbish away in the wave. Broken anchor ropes and fishing nets can act as a trap entangling all other floating rubbish and turning it into a raft of debris that increases in size day by day as more rubbish floats into it's path. This raft can stay afloat endangering passing boats that may not see it while sailing at night, it can become entangled on exposed coral reefs at low water breaking or damaging the coral or it can float ashore and become stranded on the beach.

When you arrive on a tourist beach you will see a beautiful stretch of white sand edged by crystal clear blue water and you will never even give a thought to what you may have found at day break. The local people that work by the beach renting beach chairs, selling drinks, massages, water sports or running a hotel or restaurant, will have been hard at work since sunrise collecting natural as well as man-made rubbish. They face piles of leaves, seeds, wood, dead fish as well as plastic bags, bottles, rope and just about anything else you can think of. This rubbish either has to be disposed of or separated for recycling. It's hard work, sometimes done in the hot sun, sometimes in torrential rain, and when the job is completed nobody appreciates just what had to be done to get that 'perfect' beach!

Sadly it's sometimes too late for some of the marine creatures. Plastic containers, bags or cups can act as a trap for small fish or crabs that can get in through a small hole but are unable to get out again. For some they will die inside, but for the lucky fish below, found alive and swimming in a sealed plastic cup, the story had a happy ending. Once the cup was torn open and the contents tipped into the sea, the little fish was quick to swim away!

Everyday cigarette lighters are thrown into the sea by local fishermen, these cheap plastic lighters are usually bright and colourful and look much the same as a fish or a prawn. I remember seeing a documentary once that showed a marine biologist explaining how he had found such a lighter inside the stomach of a squid. The squid had probably died due to the fact that it was unable to digest the plastic. The extent of this problem is depicted by Mimmo Cozzolino in a work created solely by cigarette lighters and named 'Crickets - not endangered' The image can be seen on his photostream at Flickr

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