Pam Le Noury
Over the past decade I have had the wonderful privilege of visiting some of the most remote and pristine areas of our planet. I joined an expedition cruise ship as a marine guide and this has taken me from the Antarctic to the Arctic, uninhabited islands in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Ocean as well as dozens of seas.
Over the years, I started to notice an increase in garbage accumulating on these islands and beaches. Where communities exist, the beaches are generally cleaned up by the people who live there. There are notable exceptions of islands or areas that lack effective garbage management, and it highlights our collective human problem with accumulating garbage – it’s just that we don’t always see our own garbage.
The garbage accumulation at these places was becoming hard to ignore; we could be hundreds or thousands of miles from any large city and yet, out in the middle of nowhere we’d be finding garbage.
The enormous investment in planning, effort, time, money, hopes and excitement to get to these places contrasts with the strange surprise to find a flop-flop, a fishing net, a boot, buoys, a bottle, a bucket, more bottles, more flip flops, fishing gear…….
What we find depends on where it is. Garbage that lands up on remote islands generally arrives with the ocean currents and could have travelled for years and thousands of nautical miles.
In the Norwegian Arctic we find a lot of timber logs that may have originated in Siberian rivers. In the Indian Ocean we find FLIP FLOPS in number you would not believe. But the most ubiquitous garbage we come across is always fishing gear! Wherever we go we find fishing gear.
In Cosmoledo Atoll (Aldabra Group, Seychelles), we found over a hundred flip flops in a small bay. The Aldabra Clean-Up Project later collected 50 000 flip flops on Aldabra!!!
On Ducie Atoll (Pitcairn Islands / South Pacific) we found many fishing crates but also rubber boots, an old computer and light bulbs.
On Atlasova Island (Kuril Islands, Russian Far East) we found dozens of glass fishing floats! These floats were used extensively to suspend fishing gear until the 1970s when they were replaced by plastic and aluminium buoys. Some 50 years later thousands of these buoys are still floating around the Pacific (and other oceans). It really makes you understand the crisis our oceans are in when you consider the amount of plastic buoys that have entered the ocean since the 70s, with a massive expansion of fishing effort and all those buoys (and other sources of plastic) are floating around on the ocean currents today.
Beach clean-ups have become quite an enjoyable and rewarding hobby among many of our staff and passengers, opportunities present themselves anytime any place. It’s also topical and people like to engage about the global scale of this problem. While we cannot say our small efforts are making a dent in the global garbage crisis, we can aim to leave many a remote wilderness area cleaner than how we found it. And we can rest assured that we continue to reduce our own impact as a fleet, year by year and item by item which is how, in the end, the problem might be overcome.