Collecting plastic waste and raising awareness

Many of us enjoy promenading around our gardens, forests or parks ; it is less common to visit coral reefs or to zigzag between the kelps that grow on our seabed. The richness and beauty of our forests seem easily palpable. However, the good health of our oceans is crucial yet somehow less obvious.

The underwater world still holds many mysteries. We know more about the far-off world of sidereal space than the abyssal depths of our oceans. Still, these are the true lungs of our planet and comprise around 70% of its surface.

Every day we witness the devastating effects of the consumerist era that sacrifice primary forests to build deserts of palm oil plantations. Even from space, we can see infinite areas of enclosed fields that Americans reserve for their cattle, saturating pastures with liquid manure and antibiotics. In our cities, concrete works are expanding to our countryside. However, from our shores the sea always seems to remain blue and unscathed. This is actually far from the truth.

We make the most of our stopover in Malendure (Guadeloupe) by taking up scuba diving. This bay is home to the Cousteau Reserve, a protected natural marine park. This reserve bears witness to the state of our seas as divers observe on a daily basis various instabilities: moray eels die without reason, lionfish invade the seabed, barrel sponges become asphyxiated by microalgae and corals barely survive the increasing acidification of the oceans.

Today we address the plastic waste in the bay.

Voluntary waste collection held on May 6th, 2018 in partnership with the diving center Les Heures Saines and the association Évasion Tropicale

Raising awareness: the most effective long-term action!

To complete our voluntary waste collection campaign, we gathered the participants for an interactive briefing.

In the form of a small quiz, Noémie tells us about the degradation time of plastic waste in the ocean.

Each year, waste and numerous pollutants are dumped into the oceans. Most of this waste did not even exist fifty years ago. Plastic materials are the most visible pollutants, but fertilizers and pesticides commonly used in agriculture, as well as industrial waste and exhaust gases, also end up in the oceans at some point. Afterwards, sea currents help disperse all these elements around the globe.

Overfishing, maritime transport and cruise ships are equally responsible for killing, disorienting or disrupting the aquatic fauna, which is essential for the balance of our planet.

That is why we need to act now against these practices!

Plastic waste:

Released into the oceans from the coasts, but also from continental areas, the plastic waste that we use on a daily basis—most of them single-use—end up floating in a huge mass, some of which are three times the size of France (in the case of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch).

Mass of plastic waste (North Caribbean Sea)
Source: Caroline Power Photography

After several decades, plastic materials degrade into microparticles. These particles colonize every corner of the planet. They accumulate in the tissue of fish that we later eat and become the endocrine disruptors that lead to cancer and other diseases.

Sunscreens:

The principle of a sunscreen is to block UV rays in order to protect our skin, but this feature is a double-edged sword. In highly touristic areas, swimmers covered in sunscreen explore the corals and other underwater landscapes leaving greasy trails behind them that block UV rays from the surface, preventing the crucial photosynthesis of aquatic plants. Deprived of photosynthesis, corals die in less than 48 hours. The seagrass on which turtles feed and is home to numerous small fish do not take long to disappear as well.

Dead corals for lack of photosynthesis

Fertilizers:

The purpose of agricultural fertilizers is to accelerate the plant growth. They are often spread too close to water sources and released into the ocean, increasing the proliferation of invasive algae. The beaches of Northern Brittany are being invaded by green algae that are potentially dangerous to health given their high concentration. A similar situation to the banks of sargassum weed that accumulate on the coasts of the West Indies, for example.

Accumulation of green algae in Brittany; source: Ouest-France
The growing problem of sargassum in Guadeloupe; source: Journal France-Antilles

We thank the participants that volunteered for the waste collection, the diving center Les Heures Saines and the association Évasion Tropicale for their collaboration.

We also thank Axel and Delphine for their help and involvement in the project.