Dom loves nothing more than a couple of hours of picking up litter, and so on Monday morning, I organised for us to help with a beach clean up. Not only would this be a nice little gift for Dom, it would also help offset some of our clowns shoe sized carbon footprint that we have stamped into the earth due to our traveling.
The beach clean is organised by a lady called Tiffini and occurs every Monday. Utila is a beautiful island but unfortunately it is a magnet for all things that are discarded into the sea. The locals and tourists are only responsible for a tiny fraction (if any at all) of the waste. A very sad reality for the islanders and its wildlife inhabitants. Wildlife that include turtles which use the beaches to nest. As if the poor things don’t have enough on their plates.
Our day started at 8:45. We were picked up outside our hostel, loaded into the back of a truck and transported to the beach. The volunteers have built wooden traps in which they place the rubbish. This is then collected from the traps, emptied into the truck, sorted, and either recycled or disposed of properly.
As the beach clean has only been in operation for a year or two, the volunteers have their work cut out. They are forever playing catch up. We were only there for three hours and I managed to fill about seven sacks. Once we were out of sacks, I also built a wooden trap and filled it with hundreds of bottles, ready for next weeks volunteers to collect. Dom was on polystyrene duty. Although she is fully aware of the problem, witnessing it first hand has made her vow to give up everything that contains polystyrene. That is no easy feat in this neck of the woods; plastic and polystyrene are widely used. A serious issue which needs to be addressed.
Amongst the numerous plastic bottles I collected, I picked up children’s toys, flip flops, sandals, toothbrushes, syringes, pritt-sticks, bits of sunglasses, plastic forks, a steering wheel, plastic pallets, bits of polystyrene, lots of unidentifiable objects, and even a number four. All of which do not belong in the sea. The ocean is after all, a place where some of our food supply comes from. You wouldn’t scatter litter in your vegetable patch or feed plastic to livestock would you?
One good turn deserves another, so as well as giving the beach a little bit of a spring clean, I almost got to help what I thought was a shark which was struggling in the shallows. I saw a fin flapping about and quickly waded in. I was in my flip flops though and kept slipping on the slippery rocks below the surface, and so by the time I got to where it was, the tide had washed it safely back out to sea. The guy who was my cleaning partner informed us afterwards, that it was probably some kind of ray and not a shark.
If anyone reading this decides to learn to dive in Utila, I strongly recommend giving something back to the island and get involved in the clean up. It only takes a couple of hours, is rewarding, and the experience may even change some of your planet polluting habits.