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The Global Marine Debris Problem and Indonesia

Imagine the world renowned waters of South East Asia and you probably don’t picture this:

Wave of Trash

Dede’s trash barrel. Java 2012. Photo credit: Noyle/A-Frame
Links: @zaknoyle @aframephoto. Click for article

But in 2013 that’s what it can look like. These days even the most remote corners of the world aren’t able to escape our global trash epidemic.  Imagine being a local surfer such as Dede Surinaya, “I kept on seeing noodle packets floating next to me. It was very disgusting to be in there.” And at least he can get out of the water! All the marine life under that perfect barreling wave, the National Geographic picture worthy fish, sharks, etc. can’t just walk on out and leave.

I was lucky enough to go diving in Indonesia myself last winter at Komodo National Park.  I took 4 planes to get there, spent over 30 hours traveling, and a large sum of my personal saving account. I thought after all that surely I’d be able to experience an ecosystem untouched, unaffected by civilization (especially compared to diving in my home town of Los Angeles). But even there, hundreds of miles away from anything you could remotely call a town, I saw plastic trash floating atop almost every dive site I visited.

On our boat ride back we passed various small towns and I noticed trash all trapped in the docks. The captain told me, “Most of them just leave it on the beach and wait for the tide to come up and take it away…or they burn it.” I almost choked on my fried rice after that! I imagined the whitetip reef shark and sea snake I’d just gone diving with and my heart sank. Eventually these practices are going to catch up to everyone, and they’ll be the first to go.

There are two main problems here: accessibility and education. Most people don’t have access to any trash services. And they genuinely think when the tide takes their trash away it disappears. For small islands where the livelihood of everyone is dependent on thriving fisheries, it’s clear these people aren’t connecting the dots between increasing marine debris and decreasing fisheries. Not to mention the bioaccumulation of harmful chemicals in the fish tissues that everyone eats on a regular basis.

I’m not trying to put down Indonesia by any means. This country is still stunningly beautiful, and I would go there all over again in a heartbeat if I had the chance. I’m just hoping that by increased public awareness and involvement these places and their wildlife will continue to thrive years from now when I eventually return.

Terima Kasih! (Thank you!)

Marine debris is a worldwide problem that will require international cooperation. Unfortunately to this day, there are no international plans to take action.

Turtle Drips WaterSea FloorSea Urgent Photo Credit: Bri McDowell

Author: Shannon Walker


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