Selamat Datang, this is now my fourth month at the Perhentian Turtle Project and what an amazing four months it has been. I am in the same situation as Dan with this being my placement year of my university degree. In contrast to Dan I study Animal Behaviour and Welfare, in which I focus on terrestrial and marine animals. For me the attraction to the project was the chance to engage in first hand conservation. Before coming here I had experience in a Pet Shop, Vets, Nature Reserve and Zoo, so I really wanted to have the opportunity to work directly in a research environment. The Perhentian Turtle Project has certainly given me that. Although not having a great deal of knowledge on marine life before coming here, I have quickly learnt a lot and gained new skills. Something I experience here daily is the impact of tourism and the effect it has on the ecosystem. I am going to focus here on this blog on the beach clean work we do at the project and the damage that is done by all the rubbish we are unable to collect
Since I’ve been at the project there has been 20 beach clean ups done around the islands by our project, 9 in which I have been involved in. These beach clean ups are done with our volunteers on a weekly basis, they can last up to an hour and the quantity of rubbish that is collected is astonishing some days. On one clean-up at Tanjung Butong on the North of Perhentian Kecil between five people we collected 22 bin bags of rubbish.
Here are a few examples of litter we collect and the time it takes for it to break down:
· Paper/Cardboard- 2-6 weeks
· Plastic Bags- 10-20 years
· Foam Cups/Tin Cans- 50 years
· Aluminum Cans- 80 years
· Plastic Bottles- 450 years
· Glass bottles- 1 million years
This just shows how much of a problem littering is, with it taking this long for each of these materials to break down it only builds up unless people take responsibility and dispose of their waste properly and people like us collect and remove it.
It is clear not all rubbish from our clean ups is from tourists and locals dumping it. Often stormy/windy conditions on the beach brings a lot that comes from the sea, however this is another issue that needs addressing as the rubbish found in the sea obviously originates from people somehow. Ocean pollution is a serious problem, 100,000 turtles marine mammals such as dolphins, whales and seals are killed every year by marine litter every year. The major killer being plastics, it is estimated that 18,000 pieces of plastic fill every square km of the oceans and there is approximately 357 million square kilometres of ocean. That’s a lot of plastic in our oceans, this is why we have started using an app called Clean Swell that monitors the types of litter that is collected by organisations like ours on our beach clean ups. It is interesting to us to see what type of rubbish is most common and for us it seems to be Styrofoam, plastic bottles and cigarette butts. All of these have negative impacts on the environment and the wildlife around the islands. This has led to us encouraging a new challenge set up by Ecoteer’s Dive Project called the cigarette butt challenge.
The cigarette butt challenge is a simple one which involves picking up an empty plastic bottle and spending up to half an hour collecting as many cigarette butts as you can in the local area you live or are visiting. On my first challenge I collected 1111 cigarette ends in about 45 minutes from Teluk Keke a popular snorkelling spot and picnic spot on Perhentian Besar. Cigarettes are the most common discarded piece of waste worldwide however despite what many people think and sometimes how they are sold they are not biodegradable. It takes 18 months to 5 years for a cigarette filter to decompose and the filters contain tar and other toxic chemicals that are trapped so they don’t reach the smokers lungs, by carelessly discarding these filters pollutants get into our soils and earth causing severe damage to the environment. Another harmful effect these cigarettes have is on the wildlife around, many have been found in the stomachs of birds, sea turtles and other animals marine and terrestrial. This is where they have mistaken the filters for food resulting in digestive problems and even death.
So what can you do to prevent these harmful effects? Well first and foremost disposing of your rubbish responsibly. If you go out and there are no bins available take it back with you and use your bins or where you are staying. Getting involved in recycling schemes as well as educating your friends and family about their waste is also really helpful in keeping our world a cleaner place. Another thing you can do is mini clean ups in your local area or get involved in a cigarette butt challenge. At the end of the day the less waste in our natural environment and precious habitat the better. Let’s make the earth a cleaner place and reduce the waste in our oceans to protect our incredible turtles and the rest of the marine life around!