Our Little Litter Warrior

beach clean up
beach clean
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ocean plastic

One of the most noticeable things that we simply can’t ignore here in Thailand, is the overwhelming issue they have with litter and plastic waste.

John was first here as a child at only 8 years old, and he recalls a totally untouched paradise.  That was over 30 years ago and long before it was discovered by commercial mass market tourism.

We then visited ourselves in 2001, and sights like Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh were pristine, mind-blowingly beautiful and relatively undamaged.  But you could see a lot of speedboats charging around and it did feel like this ‘secret’ paradise, was definitely no longer a secret.

Fast forward to our visit whilst travelling in 2010… we spent 10 days on Koh Phi Phi Don and whilst there, we took a longtail boat trip over to the now iconic Maya Bay and it is still, of course, incredibly picturesque. But this time, it was a more disturbing visit.  As we waded in the crystal waters of the bay, there was plastic debris and litter in the shallows.  It was a clear sign of the damage that was occurring.  A lot of this was blamed on the tsunami in 2004, and clearly parts of Phi Phi Don Island were still re-building even all those years later. But in reality, it was a sign of the growing problem of overwhelming tourist activity and the debris that this creates.

The hardest part to swallow in all this, is the fact that whilst we travel to see the very best the world has to offer, we are the tourists, and we are unwittingly contributing to this problem.  Which is a really upsetting reality.

The infrastructure here in Thailand is clearly struggling to cope with the growing number of visitors and the recycling capabilities are a long way from where they need to be to be able to cope in the long term.  It’s hard to imagine things in another 10 years from now, how much more devastation will occur.

We hoped to take Finley to Maya Bay during this trip, but this year the authorities and the conservation organisations have closed the island to visitors, and rightly so.  They are allowing the island time to recover, so the eco-system can rebuild and the coral can regenerate.  Even in the future if the island re-opens, they are planning to limit the number of daily visitors and will be taking more stringent measures to ensure the protection of this island paradise.  It’s a pattern that can be seen now in sacred places globally.  It’s as if sometimes, things are better left undiscovered by humans.

Underwater, is where you get the hardest hitting picture of how things are deteriorating.  We have snorkelled and dived on islands around Thailand, and there are areas where large parts of the coral is bleached and dying.  Even in parts of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, this was evident.  And it makes you feel really sad, seeing first hand the devastation that is being caused to life beneath the sea.

It feels like a huge uphill climb to try to reverse the ongoing damage being done.  Depressingly, the problems seem to get worse and worse as nations grow in population and economy.  

In the meantime, there is a stark contrast of realities throughout large parts of Thailand - take a photograph one way, and you see a world famous, picture postcard view of paradise.  Take a few steps back off the beachfront and onto the streets, and there is litter and debris you simply cannot ignore.  And of course, this isn’t just a problem here in Thailand, it is a global issue.

We are feeling less optimistic in some ways as to whether things can be turned around.  Seeing Sir David Attenborough recently take the people’s seat at the global climate change conference, was hugely inspiring and it really resonates that literally every single person needs to do their bit.  He’s also challenging those in power to take greater steps…

If only every (high profiting) luxury resort in every dream destination, was made directly responsible for a mile (minimum) radius around their properties, to clean, recycle, educate and regenerate materials back into the local communities.  This alone would make a hugely positive contribution to the touristic impact in resorts worldwide.

It’s also a no brainer, that it should become enforceable that all multi-national food chains, soft drink brands and large supermarkets etc contribute to the waste management of all the debris that they mass-produce.  Why is this not even happening?  

And then of course, serious action has to be taken to reduce the amount of plastics that are produced in the future.  There are so many more innovative solutions out there now and it is crucial that these become mainstream and single use plastics no longer get mass-produced.

Of course we do our bit, in our own little way.  We’ve recycled for many years back home in the UK.  And more and more we have taken a minimalist approach to our day-to-day lives.  Whilst travelling, we try to limit the bottles of water we buy.  We recycle everything possible and decline plastic bags and straws as much as we can.  There are also some fantastic sustainable products that are perfect for travelling. We use the Lush Shampoo Bar, which lasts for 6 months and has no plastic waste whatsoever.

I guess the best thing we can also do, is educate Finley to be conscious and responsible as he grows up.

Whilst walking along the riverside in our hometown in England this summer, Fin and I were having a detailed conversation about litter (and dog foul), and how wrong it was that people just didn’t clear up after themselves. Fin was curious, asking so many questions and it felt important to me to give him a clear mindset into how it affects so many things; local wildlife, the natural beauty of a place, and the harm it causes to nature.  He was so proud of himself as he repeated long words like ‘biodegradable’ and he knows that apple cores and banana peels are generally ok in nature, but that plastics and litter takes 100’s of years to biodegrade (at best!).  

So fast forward a few months, and he will often shout out “OH litter!” almost everywhere we go.  Whether we are walking down the road, or on a boat in the ocean, he seems to spot it a mile off!  Now he is reminding us of just how bad a problem it is!  His awareness already makes us so proud, he’s only 3 and this is just the start.

Whilst we were staying on Koh Lanta, he was starting to take things one step further.  He would shout “Litter!” but then he would ask me if he could put it in a bin. That’s my boy! (I am also obviously cautious about this, as I don’t want him to handle anything he shouldn’t, but…) I couldn’t help but admire his attitude to make things better.

So we teamed up one morning, grabbed a little bag and decided to do our own little beach clean up in the immediate area of the beach next to our resort.

Fin felt so productive, he was finding plastic straws, old plastic rope, bottle tops and plastic bottles, all manner of debris.  He would race over with the next piece of litter and was saying this was “our work for the day!”.  

In a matter of minutes we had filled our bag to the top, then we washed our hands and enjoyed an ice cream as a reward!  It felt really good to do our little tiny bit.

That same morning, I gave Fin a gift; a little bracelet made by the incredible organisation 4Ocean who are on a mission to rid the ocean of plastics.  So far well over 2 million pounds of trash has been recovered.  

Fin was excited to know that his bracelet is made up of beads that have been recycled from the salvaged rubbish.  In fact each bracelet, directly removes 1lb of waste from the ocean.  So he now proudly wears his new bracelet and hopefully he will be growing up with a greater sense of responsibility for the planet.  

No doubt he will do a better job throughout his childhood and beyond, than we ever did at his age.