The end of the busy fishing season and monsoon in Kerala was the perfect time for us to start our cleanup and ongoing survey’s in Vizhinjam Harbour. In the short-term our goal is to become a visible part of the fishing community; setting a good example by cleaning up plastic and other waste, quantifying and categorising what we find and answering questions from curious onlookers and locals. Long-term we aim to provide waste and environmental infrastructure; establishing waste management procedures, recycling systems and programs, local employment opportunities, as well as education and motivation for local Vizhinjam residents, and the broader community to realise that they can collectively turn the tide on plastic pollution and work towards a healthier future.
Over the past few months since our full-time team has been operating in the region we have developed relationships with 6 local partners (community, faith, industry and government groups) and these initial surveys mark our first hands-on work in Vizhinjam where we can start to address the inherent issues of waste at their source. Our first clean was a bit of a shock - years of accumulated plastic was buried in layers under the sand and it took some effort to try and remove as much as possible. We quickly realised that the original area that we intended to survey would have to be condensed. Our new 10m x 10m survey area will be used to extrapolate plastic abundance data from across the harbour. Just this small 10m x 10m survey took our team over 2 hours to clean and yielded a whopping 2000+ pieces of plastic in various forms of degradation. Aside from remnants of fishing equipment, single-use plastic items such as bags, spoons, cigarette butts, food wrappers and straws made up the bulk of what we collected. When we returned the following week we were dismayed to find even more plastic waste on the surface of our clean-up area than the week before. We estimated that rain which fell during the week had taken waste from the town onto Vizhinjam Harbour Beach.
The extent of the waste problem here requires a united community effort to clean-up and behavioural changes to keep it that way and ensure a healthier future for the local community and marine life. There is currently no waste management infrastructure within the harbour area (not one single bin!) and single-use packaging is used for most commercial items and discarded after use!
We will continue our surveys fortnightly from here on in (hopefully motivating community members to join us), whilst adding free educational programs and workshops within the harbour for everyone to attend. Our team will also be working to get stallholders and vendors to move away from single-use plastic items as a part of our Single-Use Plastic Free for The Sea initiative here. In a very short time we have already managed to stop a lot of plastic from entering the ocean so far, however we still have a very long way to go towards ensuring that we can stop the flow of plastic to the sea and to start working alongside the local community towards remediating coastal areas that are suffering from extreme levels of pollution. We are positive that this can be achieved with collaboration , a lot of hard work and the continued support from all those who value and cherish the oceans and a brighter future for the local community who relies upon it for survival!