While we certainly have many pressing environmental issues, the undeniable problem with plastics in the marine ecosystem is one that I would hope all seafaring people would rally around. There are no politics in the discussion. Simply put, we need to divert our dependence on disposable plastic products. While in the United States we do an excellent job of hiding our trash, third world nations lack the infrastructure to manage the disposal of these products. Walk the beach on nearly any coastline and you are sure to find some amount of plastic. Walk the beach in a third world nation and you are certain to find plastic.
During my recent trip to Baja California I was appalled by the amount of plastic on the shoreline. While some beaches appeared pristine, a quick walk around the headland to a beach that is more open to swell and wind reveals the truth of the problem we are facing.
Some may be quick to point a finger at the population of Mexican nationals who seemingly don’t have a solid concept of littering, however I might point out that no matter where they put their trash in the desert landscape it is littering just the same. There is no municipal dump that manages the trash, there is no recycling program, hell often times there are no trash cans.
I am reminded of a 2001 trip to the island of Moorea in Tahiti. Here I stayed with a Tahitian family for nearly a month. The Tahitians were the warmest, most hospitable people I’ve met. Descendants of an ancient people, they have lived off the land and sea for centuries. In a time not long ago, trash did not exist. Everything from the earth and sea returned to the earth and sea. With the introduction of Western culture and products they are slowly diverging from their ancient ways. While I certainly understand their love for globalized products I don’t understand how they are going to handle the volumes of trash that are created by the consumerism. Moorea is a tiny island and they are facing real problems with the amount of trash in the ocean. I was saddened to see plastic bags and bottles in some of the most beautiful inlets and beaches. I tried to talk to the family about the problems with plastic but much of what I said was either lost in translation or lost to convenience.
Back to Baja… While most of the trash on the beaches was coming from the small fishing communities along the coast, I was blown away by the trash created from traveling surfers. The surf community often praises its connection to mother earth, claiming our sport creates a bond between the surfer and the ocean. That said, time and time again I would watch groups of surfers arrive from the dusty dirt road only to open their rigs and spill out a plethora of disposable plastic products. Plastic grocery bags, disposable plastic water bottles, plastic soda bottles, plastic cups, plastic, plastic, plastic.
Following their short trip they would pack up and drive away. Oblivious to the fact that there is no proper landfill or recycling facilities for hundreds of miles, they would leave their trash (in a plastic bag) in the one trash can on the point. Three days later the Mexican landowner would come around and pick up the trash, throw it in the back of his truck, and drive off into the desert. Guess where that bag is going…
Baja is the back country.
Pack it in, pack it out.
If you don’t want to pack it out, don’t pack it in.