THE frightening scale of the scourge of plastic pollution was revealed this week on a paradise island in the Caribbean.
From Roatan’s powdery white beaches to its extensive coastal mangroves, plastic was everywhere, washing up in tiny shreds or forming in masses of bottles and bags.
I joined 150 employees of sparkling water firm SodaStream in a symbolic clean-up as part of the firm’s Plastic Fighters campaign.
The effort was inspired by the sight of a 15-mile plastic slick that formed LIFE is tough for hermit crabs. They’re tiny, have to find an abandoned shell to call their home and spend most of their lives trying to avoid being eaten by predators.
But the crab I met on a Caribbean beach this week had other hurdles to cross. When I approached he made a dash for it – across a large thick sheet of yellow plastic.
Then he dived into a pile of plastic bottles, cutlery, rope, the general detritus of modern life.
It was just another day in the hazardous life of modern marine creatures.
I was on the beautiful Honduran island of Roatan, a haven of rainforests, banana plantations, white beaches and mangroves where many locals bear the names of British pirates.
I joined 150 employees of the sparkling water firm SodaStream for its Plastic Fighters campaign. In Turkish bath humidity and under boiling heat we took a boat to the mangroves which protect the coral reef – the second biggest in the world. Fear...Daniel Birnbaum
The aim was to collect as much rubbish as we could, sort of blackberrying for trash. In a couple of hours we gathered 450 bags or 4.5 tons of rubbish, most of it plastic.
As vultures and magnificent frigatebirds wheeled overhead, we found the intricate network of mangrove roots tangled with trash.
First up was an Abercrombie & Fitch sandal, then a Pantene hair bottle, a blue Nivea lid, bleach bottles, suntan bottles, water bottles, hypodermic syringes, packets of crisps, toothbrushes and plastic cutlery left to fester for decades in the swamp.
There were hard plastic bottle tops, the plastic stems of cotton buds, broken toys and dolls plus styrofoam, which rapidly breaks up into tiny particles that spread across the sea.
Plastic bags floated translucent in the water looking for all the world like jellyfish. No wonder turtles eat them – and die.
We also saw microplastic and even tinier nanoplastic develop. Some pieces broke into dust as we picked them up, already ground down by years of sun, wind and waves. So much of this tide of trash lay unseen, buried in the sand, relics of years of modern life which could be with us for centuries. Tackling this is the modern equivalent of the Greek myth of Sisyphus who was given the task for all eternity of pushing a huge boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down again every time. As fast as we picked up campaigner Maria Westerbos, of the Plastic Soup Foundation, said: “Eight million tons of plastic are thrown into the oceans every year. In 2015 the world produced 380 million tons of plastic and consumers threw 40 per cent of it away after just 20 minutes. A polluted ocean is a serious danger to our health.”
The biggest peril is posed by minute plastic traces, formed when bigger items break down, which work their way up the food chain. And by 2050, there could be more plastic by weight than fish in the world’s oceans... the rubbish, more was brought in, bit by bit, on the waves.
SodaStream chief executive Daniel Birnbaum said: “We are not here to clean up garbage.
“What we collected over the past two days represents 30 seconds worth of the plastic thrown into the sea every year.
“We are here to get inspired so we can inspire others at home and create a movement, a revolution for change.”
We were on Roatan because last October it hit world headlines when a
A young volunteer joins in with the clean-up on Roatan and, inset, a hermit crab
off the coast of the coast of the island and went viral on social media.Daniel Birnbaum, 56, the former British-owned company’s chief executive, warned: “This isn’t about saving nature or dolphins. It’s about saving humanity.” Environmental