The Southerlies Reveal Society’s Sinister Side

March arrived this year like a perfectly choreographed sunset, announcing summer was over and autumn was here. The hot days were pushed aside by a sudden crispness in the hours of dawn and dusk. The afternoons of the nor-easterly breezes have gone and the southerlies begin to beat the shores of Callala Beach. A ‘wet season’ arrived and with it a tropical humidity and the storms.

Hugging the coast, as we do here in Callala Beach, we are privileged to see how these mighty weather systems continuously change our coastline. On one of these early March mornings I took my walk down the beach, head-first into the southerly. The swell was huge and the full moon left a tide mark close to the dunes. Driftwood, pumice, strands of weed revealed the ocean’s lapping. And in amongst nature’s trail I followed a path of carelessness. Brightly coloured plastic objects of all shapes and sizes. In all states of decay – some new, others years old.

It started with a plastic picnic plate, a balloon and some streamers. I wondered if they were connected or if each item held the memories of a different celebration – on a beach…somewhere. An earplug, various sizes of thongs, bottles and the remnants of plastics that had obviously been beneath the surface for so long they were covered in their own eco-systems.

Plastic Picnic

Plastic Picnic by Rowena Sierant

 

Soon I became overwhelmed by how much I had collected. My arms were full and I asked myself many questions.

Seeing these plastics in Jervis Bay took me back to another time. Nearly 30 years ago I was lucky enough to travel to Koh Samui in Thailand as a part of my university training. I remember arriving in the early hours of the morning by boat as this was the only mode of transport to this atoll paradise in the Gulf of Thailand. I was astounded by the natural beauty. Three years ago, I went back. This time, I was nothing but disappointed. As I stepped into the ocean my feet were lost in the murky water. Bottles, paper, disposable plastics and more disposable plastics. I looked around at the greed of tourism, took my feet out of that water, never went back and hung out by the pool. I wondered why I ‘d spent so much money to travel here when what I have back home is so much more beautiful…for now.

Thai Full Moon Party

The aftermath of a full moon party in Thailand (Photo: Nate Clark Images) on the island of Ko Pha Ngan

In Australia, we are rapidly becoming more aware of the consequences of disposable plastics. Our students at schools are being educated. They know that turtles mistake plastic bags for jelly fish. Many of us have heard of the slogan, ‘Take 3 for the sea.’ So, I ask myself why does this keep happening?

I looked up the definition of disposable. Intended to be thrown away after use. Synonyms: throwaway, expendable, one-use, non-returnable, replaceable. It is such a negative word.

Plastic is a substance our earth and oceans cannot digest. It is believed that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean (by weight) than fish.

Every individual should question their personal use of plastics – especially those that are aimed at single use. Single use plastics can include: plastic bags, straws, coffee cup lids and bottles. Over the years we have become familiar with: Recycle; Reuse and Reduce. Another R has been placed in the mix – Refuse.

We all need to ask ourselves questions such as: Could I live with less? Could I live without single-use plastics? Could I refuse disposable plastics: Sometimes? Most of the time? All the time?

 

 

Ban the Bead – Hidden Plastic

Scrub. ……Exfoliate…….Cleanse……Rejuvenate……So Smooth…….

I know I have purchased many products over the years that promised to make my skin feel healthier. Younger. More radiant. My teeth whiter, cleaner and brighter. Back in the nineties I sourced these products in health food shops. They contained sea salt and coconut shell. And somehow, I hardly noticed that things began to change. With the advancement of technology these exfoliants became cheaper, more accessible, and they also seemed to become more blue. Supermarket shelves are now lined with their promises. The use of microbeads of plastic can do the same job in making your skin feel oh so silky smooth – at a fraction of the cost. Why crush organic coconuts when there is plenty of plastic around?

However, when I learned that these lovely little scrubbing balls of pleasure were made from plastic that end up in our oceans, my skin felt lack lustre and I took a deep breath. We are all familiar that when we call something ‘plastic’ we are inferring it is fake. These ‘blue’ exfoliants are nothing like the natural coconuts growing on the atolls of the Pacific.

These tiny additives that peel back a layer of our largest organ are being rubbed onto our faces and bodies, rinsed around our mouths, before being washed down the plug hole. Off they travel unnoticed by our water treatment systems, into our rivers, lakes, bays and oceans. Now if I were a fish and I saw these round beads, measuring a third of a millimetre, sitting on the ocean floor or floating along a current, I would gobble up those little ‘fish eggs’ and look for some more. Filter feeders such as molluscs enjoy digesting them too. These lovely spheres of polyethylene and polypropylene must be like candy!

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Ban the Bead!

 

Now, there may not be sufficient evidence to say that polyethylene and polypropolene themselves are carcinogens but plastic is really good at absorbing the toxic chemicals that exist around it, such as in the silt along river beds, in our waterways and oceans. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and DDTs (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) may have been phased out during the 70s and 80s but these chemicals that were once used for commercial and agricultural purposes are very much prevalent in our environment today. The risks are numerous: tumours, low birth weight, poor intellectual performance, nervous system problems and the list goes on. According to research done by Dr Chelsea Rochman ( http://www.chelsearochman.com/Home.html), plastics she has examined from the ocean, contain these chemicals as well as metals such as copper, lead, nickel and cadmium. In addition, salmon and Orca whales have been found to be the most contaminated of all marine life. However, it is not just one fish, one bird or one whale consuming these contaminants.

Try to comprehend that using just one tube of cleanser contains an estimated 300 000 plastic microbeads (The 5 Gyres Institute). Imagine how many tubes are being used each year? Microbeads now cover 21% of the Earth’s surface. Walk along the beach and they are camouflaged as grains of sand. So, it is guaranteed that chemicals of some sort are travelling through the food chains and ecosystems. And there is no point in even thinking, oh well I don’t even eat seafood… it won’t harm me.

Our oceans provide us with oxygen, food and regulate the climate and that is why we need to care for them. To throw another chunk of chemicals into this plastic smog, the ABC Catalyst Program investigated microbeads here in Australia. Sydney Harbour in fact. When examining fish guts, they expected to find the types of plastics found in cleansers but something even more intriguing revealed itself. Micro fibres of plastic. Under close scrutiny these were revealed to be strands from our clothing, washed into our waterways via our washing machines and into the stomachs of fish. Fabric fibres from nylon and polyester. Plastic clothing. Unfortunately, these threads have a greater surface area than microbeads and therefore are even more capable of absorbing and spreading chemical contamination.

So what can you and I do? Firstly, purchasing power is crucial. Don’t buy products that contain microbeads. We also have to push our governments to realise this is a fact. As far as the threads of plastic go, I see no reason why washing machines can’t be fitted with filters.

Advancement, science and technology have contributed to this problem. However, science has also revealed these miniscule secrets within our waterways. Every individual can make a difference. So, what’s on your dinner plate tonight?