Western seabed a garbage dump
By Eunice Ruth
Marine plastic pollution has become a significant problem worldwide and Sri Lanka is more vulnerable to this global problem, which poses environmental, economic, and public health threats. Over 50 per cent of Sri Lanka’s seabed is polluted and this includes 80 per cent of the seabed in Western province, according to research findings of the National Aquatic Research Agency (NARA).
The research report revealed that the amount of plastic particles, mixed with the sea water, had increased, especially due to wrapping materials, industrial waste and fishing equipment being dumped into the sea. As a result of that, the Western sea area has been identified as the most polluted area.
In Sri Lanka, only 50 per cent of waste is dumped or discarded into the environment while, a large amount of land-based waste enters the coastal and marine areas as marine litter. Sri Lanka is in the fifth rank among the largest marine polluters with respect to single use plastics and 1.59 million metric tons of Sri Lanka’s mismanaged plastic ends up in the ocean annually.
Coordinator of Pearl Protectors, Muditha Katuwawala, noted that due to the increase in marine pollution the negative impact on coastal and marine environment also increased, such as consumption of micro-plastics by marine life, coral reef destruction and underwater ecosystem impacts among others.
The important ecosystems such as coral reef, sea grass beds and mangroves get affected in many ways due to the disposal of plastics as reefs play a major habitat role for several species and when it gets affected, all marine life and coral systems get affected immediately. The plastics form micro-plastic particles which can contaminate marine life causing a huge threat to marine life as well as human lives. Most importantly, this under water pollution will impact the national economy through the destruction of livelihoods of people who depend heavily on ocean-based industries such as the tourism and fisheries.
“The use of single use plastics needs to be reduced and rejected as it is a major threat to the marine environment in Sri Lanka. We are not following a proper waste management system when compared to other countries, where they follow 3R and 5R long-term waste management systems in order to reduce environmental pollution,” said Katuwawala.
General Manager of the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) Dr. Terney Pradeep Kumara said that the Sri Lankan water beds are not only contaminated by plastics, but also by micro-plastics. These micro-plastics which form due to the improper waste management of plastic, can cause severe environmental problems such as health hazards and impacts on food chains. He also noted that only 30 per cent of plastic waste floats on the surface while the remaining goes under the water and plays a huge role in effecting corals and the all marine life.
“A collective and effective waste management mechanism needs to be followed in order to avoid extensive marine pollution in Sri Lanka and alternatives should be introduced and used in order to prevent the pollution. The Sri Lankan public should reduce their consumption of plastic and plastic products for domestic purposes and should support the minimising of plastic pollution in the marine environment,” said Kumara.
He said that micro-plastics were classified according to polymer type, geometry and colour and the contamination by micro-plastics in sand was 60% and 70% in the surface waters off the coast. The size range of micro-plastics from surface waters and beaches were to 1.5 – 2.5 mm and 3 – 4.5 mm, respectively. A majority of these were identified as polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) with some polystyrene (PS) foam and the fragments derived from larger debris appearing to be the dominant type of micro-plastics.
Micro-plastics were present in either sediments, sand or water surfaces, however, the highest levels of micro-plastics on the water surface were associated with fisheries harbour locations where polystyrene foam was a major component, whereas high counts on beach sand were at recreational beach sites.
“In order to minimise the marine pollution and protect the marine life, the MEPA has organised an underwater cleanup programme of the sea beds of Palagala in Mount Lavinia with the help of Sri Lanka Navy, Pearl Protectors Sri Lanka and some other organisations. Even though we collected around 65 kilograms of wastes from underwater and 13 kilograms through snorkeling, there is more waste under the water, where it cannot be cleaned up within a couple of days. This cleanup programme is not an easy task, but the MEPA will conduct more events like this to clean our sea beds and to make it a clean place,” he said.
Also, he noted that awareness among public regarding the marine pollution needs to be raised and the public should act responsibly by cooperating with the authorities to make Sri Lanka a plastic pollution-free country.
(Pix courtesy Pearl Protectors)