Author Archives: Sonali Chauhan

Plastic in the ocean is now a big threat to the health of marine and terrestrial life

Facts

  • Plastics comprise 50–80% of the litter in the oceans
  • An estimate from United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says that fishing gear makes up 10% of all marine litter which is around 640,000 tonnes.
  • Global production of plastics is above 300 million tonnes per year. A large part of it ultimately ends up in the ocean.
  • The nets used for fishing and dumped in the ocean after they are no longer fit to be used, tyres, buoys, buckets, bottles and bags are major source of plastic found in the oceans worldwide.
  • Fishing net traps and kills many animal species ranging from turtles to seals to birds.
  • It is observed that approcimately 90% of the Seabirds called fulmars that are washed ashore dead in the North Sea had plastic in their guts.

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Oxygen is the key for life on Earth, all living beings depends on it for their survival. All of us know that oxygen comes from plants but the interesting fact is that, these oxygen machines not only grow on land but also in water.

phytoplanktons

Phytoplankton consumes carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. These small microorganisms are food source of many Zooplankton thus critical for survival of life in Sea. Image from : earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Phytoplankton

Here is the fact, majority of oxygen that we take in is produced by the tiny plants found in sea water known as Phytoplanktons.

Phytoplanktons are small microscopic organisms found in water and produce oxygen using sunlight and nutrient from water. Not only Phytoplanktons produce oxygen and help in carbon fixation but also serve as food for various organisms in marine ecosystem.

The oxygen generated by these small plants are difficult to quanitify but some scientists believe that more than half of the total world’s oxygen is generated by Phytoplanktons.

Plastic in the ocean is a major threat to Phytoplanktons and to the entire marine ecosystem

The research suggests that plastic pollution in the marine is harmful as it is proved to be toxic to phytoplanktons and the higher marine animals ranging from turtles to seals to birds that are part of the marine food chain.

Ocean life is threatened by increasing pollution. And one pollutant that is common in all marine areas is plastic waste. A recent article published in nature detailed out how plastic reaches to world oceans and poisoning life in the sea.

The plastic that reaches Oceans by different channels accumulates in the digestive system of animals, interfere with their reproductive system and harm them.

Plastic in the Ocean

Like this Baby Albatrosses (a seabird) thousands of birds die annually around the World have found to have accumulated plastic wastes in their guts. Image Source: www.chrisjordan.com

“There are three types of plastic pollutants identified by researchers in sea i.e. Macro (size >200mm), Meso (size 4.76-200mm), Larger Micro Plastics (size 1.01-4.75mm) and Microplastics (.33-1mm). The plastic wastes of different sizes are coming from different sources.

How does plastic get into the ocean

Larger plastic wastes in our oceans are coming from fishing gears left in the seas such as nets, buckets lines and the waste material that enters into the sea through beaches. Microplastics are smaller peices of plastic that break down due to sunlight or waves”. Few identified sources are waste water from washing machine , wear and tear of tyres, other plastic products and micro beads added in cosmetic products that drains into water bodies.

Effective plastic waste management with long term impact assessment is required

Plastic is a non-biodegradable component and its disposal is very difficult. As a result it keeps accumulating in the system. Over the years the demand for dump yards to dispose them off have increased.

A technological solution being popularized to manage plastic waste involves using plastic for constructing roads. It is appreciated by both scientific as well as administrative authorities in India.

This technique is now being promoted by various Governments, especially in the rural areas. With regard to the adoption of this technology, certain queries have to be addressed:

  • Whether a risk assessment of this technology has been carried out or not?
  • Are these roads made up of plastic material not going to degrade with time?
  • If these roads wear and tear in future, where the released degraded plastic compounds will go? Is there any chance of its eventually mixing with and polluting water bodies?

Without proper scientific long term assessments, the use of this technology for constructing roads is only an effort to  shift the location of the plastic from dump yards to roads.

End Note

Our water bodies are becoming toxic because of our negligence. News of dead fish washing away to the beaches, people getting sick by eating contaminated seafood are now frequent. These are warning signs that are needed to be taken seriously if we do not want our oxygen producing marine life to die out. It is unlike our land ecosystem where it is feasible to compensate the loss by planting trees. In marine ecosystem we  need to protect what exists.

Few concerned citizens are doing their bit by taking part in beach clean ups across the world. But what actually required is strong monitoring system for the vast coastline.

Swachh Paryatan App cannot be effective unless we have sensibility and stringent norms to keep our tourist destinations clean

Tourism in India is now a booming industry. It contributes around 7% of India’s GDP. However despite being a prolific 200 billion dollar industry its impact on environment is scarcely studied. Till now there is no study to quantify the impact of tourism on environment.

Recently people started voicing their concern for Leh Ladakh, which is unable to cope up with the increasing number of tourists. There is 100% increase in footfall since the year 1974 when the place was first opened for tourism, putting severe pressure on already fragile ecosystem.

In recent years Ladakhi people have dealt with water shortage, which was once a rare phenomenon.

Environment crisis of Ladakh is now well known but it is only attributed as a result of climate change, ignoring the recent changes in social fabric of the area.

In terms of waste management the region is now in a mess. Traditional Ladakhis household never needed sewer drains before,  as they used compost pits for excretory purposes.  Now to cater the need of the tourists more resource intensive alternatives are being used. In the absence of proper sewer disposal mechanism all this sewage enters in the water streams and thus contaminating what is a already scarce resource.  

The area is overburdened with the garbage generated by thousands of tourists visiting each year.

The Hindu an English daily newspaper published an article “tourists as litterbugs” highlighting this problem. Tourists were blamed for the bad situation of tourist spots.

For the last few “nature based tourism” is booming. It was supposed to make people aware of our natural heritage, but instead it started threatening some pristine and fragile ecosystems. Sure it’s a boon for many mountainous regions as it provides an important source of cash income. But this also created a challenge of maintaining the sanctity and beauty of some fragile ecosystems. The pile of plastic bags, bottles, toilet papers and remnants of used toilets is becoming a common site in many popular trek routes.

Have you ever thought what happens to the garbage that tourists leaves behind?  It threatens wildlife.  Plastic waste gets washed off downstream and pollutes water bodies and drainage channels. I sometimes wonder what kind of nature based tourism are we promoting? Shouldn’t the purpose of such tourism is to connect people with nature?

On Feb 22, 2016 Ministry of tourism launched an android app “Swachh Paryatan”. The idea was to promote cleanliness in the tourist destinations. This scheme covers 25 tourist spots in different states. Visitors can use Swachh Paryatan app to report any unclean area, in and around these 25 tourist destinations. However despite investing money in different schemes and policies the sanitation situation of tourist attractions in our country is not improving.  

Swachh paryatan, Sawachh Bharat Abhiyan, Clean India Mission

Technological fix like “ Swachh paryatan ” or even much-hyped “Sawachh Bharat Abhiyan” (Clean India Mission) is not going to solve the problem our pristine area is facing

Technological fix like “Swachh paryatan” or even much-hyped “Sawachh Bharat Abhiyan” (Clean India Mission) is not going to solve this problem unless different stakeholders share responsibility of maintaining important natural and cultural landscapes.

It is important to sensitize tourists about the environment and make them realize their responsibility in keeping the tourist spots clean. Tour operators should make stringent policies for both visitors and staff against littering and government should regulate number of tourists visiting fragile areas like Leh Ladakh.

Schemes like “Swachh paryatan” will further burden already burdened municipality workers and it cannot be implemented in many areas. Instead, the municipality workers should have the power to impose fine on “litterbugs”.

Here are a few tips to become a good tourist.

How to be a good tourist? Don’t be a “litterbug”

  • Avoid taking unnecessary packaging
  • If there is no bin, bring back your trash
  • Properly dispose biodegradable waste on site
  • During camping make sure toilets are away from water bodies and cover it with dust after use.
  • Use resources careful, some places are water scarce
  • Do not disturb vegetation or wildlife
  • Use home stays instead of hotels
  • Be respectful to the place and to the people