Project Green Tent
by Mira Nencheva
The beach at Punta Chame (Panama) where Ivo goes to kitesurf with Rado is a beautiful sight at low tide. A vast wet landscape painted with black-and-yellow sand patterns formed by wind and sea, sparkling in the light of the setting sun. Here and there, large driftwood sculptures break the monotony of the mile-long sand strip. Little sandpipers run in groups on the edge of the sea searching for small crabs as the waves recede, frigates like dark kites ride the high air currents above, and black vultures roam the shores scavenging for anything dead that comes out of the ocean.
Isolated, at the end of a long narrow peninsula, this beach is not very popular with tourists or locals; only kitesurfers visit as the winds here are the strongest in the entire region. It is one of the wildest most desolate beaches in continental Panama. It is also the dirtiest. No one cleans the incredible amount of plastic trash that comes out of the sea here every day.
The first time we see the amount of garbage in Punta Chame we are shocked. At the edge of the sand strip just before the grassy shore begins, there is a pile of plastic bottles and cans, lots of flip-flops and crocs of all sizes, broken foam containers and all sort of other non-degradable trash stretching accross the entire length of the beach. As if a garbage trucks has been dumping its contents here every day for months. There are a few hotels and a few private residencies facing the sea, but no one cleans or maintains the public beach.
Current and waves dump all that trash coming from the Gulf of Panama, where thousands of big cargo ships sit at anchor waiting for days for their turn to transit the Panama Canal. The ships, as well as people living near the shore dump illegally their waist in the sea and some of it ends up back on land, on the beach. The rest remains in the ocean, largely unnoticed, harming irreparably the sea life and the entire marine eco-system.
As Maya and I are just sitting around while Ivo and Rado are kitesurfing, we decide to clean up the beach a little. There is a broken green tent in the dump at the kitesurf shack- perfect to collect trash in, as we don’t have any garbage bags. Maya is excited. She is not simply collecting plastic bottles in an old tent; she is working on a whole new project: to clean the Planet’s environment, to reduce plastic pollution, to help the Ocean and all the creatures in it.
Maya is doing a great deed and it is not just cleaning a few square meters of beach but learning and teaching a lesson; giving an example. She is also working hard for a prize. If she fills the tent to the brim with beach trash she can have a chocolate of her choice at the end of the day, I promise! What kid wouldn’t spend an hour or two picking up garbage for a nice big chocolate?
The job is not as easy as it might seem. To clean this particular beach just the two of us, we would need much more than a couple of hours and many more than one green tent. The garbage has accumulated beneath the sand, packed in layers, and we only pick up the top one. It seems to me, that if we start digging and take all the plastic bottles under the sand, the entire place will collapse and disappear, as when you remove the foundation of a building…
The tent is full but only a small area of the beach looks cleaner. Yet, it feels like a tremendous achievement and Maya is super excited and proud of herself. Some people passing-by noticed what we are doing, and people noticing is probably more important than what we actually did.
It is not the first time we have been cleaning dirty beaches and Maya decided to keep doing it in the future as part of our newly initiated Project Green Tent.
Plastic Pollution Facts
• Over 220 million tons of plastic are produced each year.
• The average American throws away approximately 35 billion plastic water bottles and 185 pounds of plastic per year.
• There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic trash in the world’s oceans.
• Each year, 8 million tons of plastic are added to the count.
• Each year, 26 million pounds of plastic travel hundreds of miles from inland areas to our oceans, contributing to massive floating garbage patches, and killing one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals.
• The level of waste is starting to reach a crisis point.
• Plastic breaks down into small pieces that look like plankton and is eaten by everyone from plankton to whales, acting as a poison pill.
• China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam contribute more than half of the oceans’ plastic since their waste infrastructure hasn’t kept up with rapid industrialization.
• 80% of pollution enters the ocean from the land.
• The Great Pacific garbage patch, also known as the Pacific trash vortex, is a gyre of marine debris particles in the central North Pacific Ocean not easily visible, because it consists of very small pieces that are almost invisible to the naked eye.
• 46 percent of plastics float and it can drift for years before eventually concentrating in the ocean gyres.
• Unlike organic debris, which biodegrades, the photodegraded plastic disintegrates into ever smaller pieces while remaining a polymer. As it disintegrates, the plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms that reside near the ocean’s surface becoming part of the food chain.
• Some of these plastics end up in the stomachs of marine birds and animals and their young, including sea turtles and the black-footed albatross. Many albatross chicks die due to being fed plastic from their parents.
• By expanding garbage collection systems and plugging up their leakage points, plastics leakage could be cut by 50% by 2020.
In order to make Maya’s initiative a success, there are a few things you can do to help:
1. Read the facts above and learn more about Ocean Pollution.
2. Try to buy, use and throw away less plastic. Recycle.
3. LIKE and SHARE this article so that it reaches more readers. Not many people like to read about garbage and to look at pictures of dead sea turtles, so this article, like so many of its kind, will most probably remain unnoticed, unless YOU help us share it with a larger audience.
4. Clean up a beach.
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