A quick walk along a quiet beach in Thailand reveals a myriad of objects. There’s seaweed, shells and crabs. There’s washed-up wood and old, smooth glass shaped by the sand and tide. There’s dead coral, dead fish and trash as far as the eye can see.
This is Koh Lanta, a small island off the coast of Krabi. In its high season many visitors from all over the world frequent its beautiful beaches and relaxed bars for a carefree getaway. The sea is calm, the beaches are blissful visions of white and golden sand.
Now in its low season, it’s easy to have an entire beach to yourself. While there are still sunny days, there’s definitely more rain, and the wind and waves come too. This is when the impact of the high season is revealed as thousands upon thousands of pieces of litter are washed ashore with each incoming tide.
This sore sight appears as visitors leave, and many onlookers jump to the assumption that it is the local people who create such mess – and of course there will be some that do – but the nature of the sea, with its currents and its tides, means that a piece of litter could have entered the sea many, many miles away from where it washes up. This could take days, weeks, months or longer.
Having grown up by the coast in the UK, I’m very used to spotting litter on beaches. A year-long project looking at this during my university degree in Cornwall was when I really started to take it seriously. Litter, unfortunately, is nothing new.
What is new is how long it’s been there. My eyebrows can’t help but raise whenever I see whelks, barnacles and other marine life attached to all kinds of manmade objects, using them in the same way they would use naturally floating objects like seaweed or driftwood. The biggest surprise is that, out of all of the washed-up creatures living on plastic and other materials, almost all were still alive and moving.
Nature’s most adaptable creatures always find a way, but the worries still remain for those that don’t. Increasing amounts of plastic are being found inside marine animals. Fish consume plastic they cannot digest, and die from starvation because they feel permanently full. Turtles mistake plastic bags for their favoured food of jellyfish. Seabirds feed their young a tangled, toxic web of fishing net and bottle lids.
Do you really know where your litter goes?
What about when you go on holiday? Do you know for sure where your bins are taken? You and I can help this increasingly sad situation by tackling both the cause and the effect.
Relieve the effects
Imagine if every person in the world filled up a bag of litter whenever they visited a beach? Billions of people removing billions more damaging items every day. I do this whenever I can either on my own or as part of an organised beach clean-up.
Stuck for time? Forgot your bag? The #3PiecesOfPlastic scheme encourages everyone to remove at least 3 pieces of litter with every beach visit.
Those in the UK can check out the Marine Conservation Society’s website for information on organising or joining a beach clean.
You can also look out for Trash Heroes when on your travels. This awesome initiative actively encourages and partially incentivises action against plastic and other rubbish.
Avoid single-use plastic!
We've just had #PlasticFreeJuly and that means there has never been a better time to start your plastic-free journey. Need some advice or resources? On my own website I’ll be sharing my top tips on how to reduce your impact while also saving money in the long run!
Laura is a photographer, blogger and communicator with a deep-rooted passion for eco-living and the natural world. Communicating important messages and making nature more accessible is at the heart of everything she does. You can find out more about Laura on her Website, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook Page.