The fight against marine debris

Save Our Sea, an environment-friendly organisation, has been trying to raise awareness about sea debris while also encouraging the cleaning up of the seabed, Ahmed Shatil Alam writes…

00011For the last few years we are getting used to a term called ‘marine debris’, after consecutive attempts by several organisations to clean up the Bay of Bengal coast-or more specifically Cox’s Bazar, the longest beach of the world, on the occasion of International Coastal Cleanup Day. Over the last few years on these days, thousands of kilogrammes of waste materials, mostly plastic, were collected from the shore and later dumped.
In fact, the beaches of Cox’s Bazaar and St Martin’s Island were found cleaner than 7-10 years back, as the attempts gained popular and local support.
But how many of us are aware of underwater debris in the sea? ‘The number is not more than a handful,’ says Mohammad Arju, the founder and CEO of Save Our Sea, a pioneer organisation that has been working against underwater debris in the Bay of Bengal.
There are many reasons behind why we are unaware of underwater debris. However, according to the UN’s 14th point in SDG, this is one of the main mantras of development for Bangladesh, which needs to significantly reduce marine debris and nutrient pollution within the next 10 years, says Arju.
Keeping this in mind, Save Our Sea organised a two day marine debris cleaning programme and survey at St Martin’s – the only coral island in Bangladesh. This is the fourth year that the organisation has carried out the programme ‘Trash travels’, says Arju. ‘Millions of tons of it enter the ocean each year. The case of our Bay of Bengal is no different,’ he adds.
00012‘This trash include the single use plastics that we throw away every day like bottles and bags. Animals mistake these for food as well as fishing line and nets that entangle marine life with devastating consequences,’ he shares.
He points out that plastic is the most to be collected by the people in his organisation. ‘Plastic cannot be destroyed properly. Rather it breaks down into small pieces and enters the food cycle of marine life,’ he says. ‘Once the small creatures eat this plastic, they later continue to move to other species in the food cycle,’ he adds.
Trash, like plastic bottles, consumer products and fishing gears were also found at the seabed, which also destroy the ecosystem of sea. ‘The biodiversity in a square kilometre of sea is higher than the same on land, therefore the ecosystem of the sea is also crucial,’ says Arju.
Frankly speaking, in Bangladesh the waste management system is overall very poor, and more specifically it is poor at the coastal areas, he says. He adds that in the coastal areas, the authorities prefer to clean up the beaches rather than the sea itself.
‘We have noticed very often that authorities of beach areas clean up the beach and they then dump the trash near the sea. This trash flows into the water and eventually can reach the seabed,’ he says.
According to marine life activists and divers, in Bangladesh, St Martin’s is the only place where scuba diving is possible.Therefore, they have organised marine debris cleanup programmeover the past few years.
In Bangladesh, the numbers of divers are also few, around four to five, thus limiting the cleanup programme’s scale. The corals are one of the core victim groups for this trash, he informs. ‘Due to the human carelessness with plastic, a significant area of corals can die out. It can only be imagined how the dumping of tin and plastic can affect other life forms in the sea,’ says Arju.
Save Our Sea, in cooperation with IUCN and MFF Bangladesh, organised the National Underwater Cleanup 2016 in the marine area around Saint Martin’s Island on February 25 and 26 this year. During the event, around a thousand items of debris were collected from the sea and seabed. Of which 90 per cent were various plastic items.
More than 10 volunteers participated at this year’s event. For the last four years, volunteers have been gearing up in wet-suits, oxygen tanks, trash bags and gloves to clean up the water of Saint Martin’s island. From the shoreline and depths of the sea, volunteers found everything from common keys, glasses, cell phones, pull tabs, boat anchors, and shoes to more bizarre things like undergarments, crankshafts, and iron and steel plate or rods.
Although the cleaning process continue through the year, Save Our Sea organised the event to create awareness among the tourist and islanders about threats of marine debris and providing critical information and data on how to fight marine pollution.
‘Almost regularly, divers pull out some trash from the seabed. But to create more awareness among the masses, this event was necessary,’ Arju stresses.
‘We have documented everything that is collected so that its origin can be identified and pollution problems can be tackled at source. We have recorded all data electronically to be available for public,’ says Arju.

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