While on a motorcycle trip circumnavigating Bali, I stopped and took a snorkel trip with Sunrise Divers to Menjangan Island. I had been on snorkeling and diving trips in many places. I expected this trip to be similar. As we approached the island after a brief boat ride, the four Spaniards, two Canadians, and I started noticing drifting trash. Not just a piece or two here and there, but long snaking trashbars (sandbar with trash instead).
I had seen smaller versions of these trashbars on the ferry to Koh Phan Nang in Thailand and had commented to my friends that it reminded me of the news story that had been circulating earlier about the island of trash that was out in the Pacific Ocean. I even remembered seeing the boat made out of trash at the 2011 Burning Man Festival that had sailed from Santa Monica, California to help bring awareness about it. Even after the news stories and art projects I still had doubts that the ocean was that bad.
We pulled up to the beach and our friendly Balinese guides laid out the plan for the day. We were going to be on the divers’ time table who were going to be doing three dives. The two Canadians, one Spaniard, and I donned our mask, snorkel, and fins and waded into the water.
It was disgusting.
Let’s imagine we’re going to make some sea soup. You start your soup with some water. For this example, you’re making it in a 5000 liter saltwater swimming pool. You add 5 liters of gasoline but it just sits on top of the water. Then you add a few dozen plastic shopping bags of assorted sizes: from big trash bags, to grocery store bags, to small jewelry bags. Let’s stir a little here to get things mixed up. A few of the bags settle to the bottom of the pool, a few float on top, and some just get a few meters under. That gas you added earlier has only broken up from one massive slick to several smaller slicks, coating the plastic bags and the sides of the pool. Now the sunlight glinting off of the pool makes iridescent rainbows everywhere you look. Now let’s pull out our trusty blender and take toothpaste tubes, plastic water bottles, glass bottles, straws, cardboard milk cartons, candy wrappers, cigarette butts and packaging, napkins, flip flops, aluminum cola cans and the plastic laminated cardboard cup in which you just had your two pump iced local soy latte with whipped cream. Don’t blend it into a purée, just mix it a few times to cut up some of the bigger pieces. Dump that into the pool and use the skimmer to spread out that layer very evenly across the surface of the water. The toothpaste tubes and the aluminum cans sink, but most of the plastic based items float. The smaller pieces that got cut up by the blender create a layer that is just enough to block a small percentage of the sunlight from getting through. Now it’s time to add some animals! Throw in a few parrot fish, lobster, minnows, tuna, crab, sunfish, and a few other varieties I don’t know the names of and dive in!
You don’t want to? Why not? This is the state of the ocean today and it’s not going to get better without your help.
Two weeks later I went to Gili Trawangan. This island is 20 minutes north of Lombok, and 80 minutes east of Bali. Looking around at the water and beaches, it seemed pretty clean. I did a 5 day freediving class with Freedive Gili which was wonderful! In the bathroom, I noticed signs posted by Gili Eco Trust stating 10 principles meant to protect the Gilis’ fragile environment. On the second day of class, a diaper floated nearby as we dove. I started to get worried. The beach seemed fine and I wasn’t seeing much in the water. Then I took a walk around the island. The north side beach was quite littered. So even an island that boasts an eco trust, an awareness campaign, and an environmental protection charge of $5 USD added to the diving fee still needs your help!
You can make a difference. Every person can.
MOOP da BEACH!
My challenge to you is to spend two hours out of your beach vacation picking up trash. It doesn’t matter which beach it is or even if there is a beach, maybe it’s a muddy lake shoreline. You don’t have to do two hours all at once. You could break it up into 20 minute segments after each outing to sunbathe. If you like to look for sea shells, maybe bring a trash bag and collect trash while you are looking.
I know that there are charities like Jack Johnson’s Ohana Foundation and that Surfrider Foundation organizes beach cleanups, which are each great in their own right. Everyone needs to contribute more than what is currently happening to “turn the tide” on trash in the ocean and beaches.
One of the things that is taught and expected of each person who attends Burning Man is to spend two hours at the end of the event de-mooping an area that they did not camp in. What did any of that mean? Let me explain. Burning Man is an art, music, fire, and participant driven festival that takes place at the end of every summer on a dry lake bed in the Northern Nevada area. One of the unavoidable aspects of the event is camping: there are no hotels or restaurants. Because the participants and organizers are ecologically conscience and the event is held on federal public land, the event is required to clean up after itself and restore the dry lake bed to it’s original condition: essentially to leave no trace that the event even happened. MOOP is an acroynm that has sprung from the event’s unique terminology. It stands for Matter Out Of Place. More info is available from the Burning Man website. It’s one of the core things that the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to deal with. It has been used to describe anything that is not tied down or attached to something that will leave after the event is over. The spoon that fell on the ground, the battery on the blinking light, the beans from the chili you didn’t finish, the plastic bag that blew out of your camper van. You get the idea. Many events, such as concerts, movies, and parades provide a cleaning service after the event. The beach does not provide a cleaning service. The beach is free, it has no organizers. You are your own beach event organizer. If you want it to be clean the next time you come, you need to pick up that candy wrapper that isn’t yours, get the straw that came with your slushee, and ask the person next to you to join in the challenge. The high tide is the ocean’s way of cleaning itself, we just need to help so that it doesn’t do all that work for nothing.
I’ll leave you with one more example. Take a look at the picture below. Isn’t it just the perfect picture of a beach?
I had lunch at Kedonganan Beach which is about a 5 minute drive south of the Denpesar Airport in Bali. I walked out past the table to see the beach. The last picture is what it looked like beyond the groomed and cleaned area directly in front of the restaurant.
Is this a beach you’d like to lay out on? How about throw a football or frisbee with your friends?
MOOP da BEACH!
It would be a nice start.