I don´t like starting the New Year with an emphasis on the negative, but I´m feeling a bit crazy over this situation with trash. The last time I complained about the garbage I run into walking through the jungle. These images are from the beach in Tulum, one of the most beautiful in Mexico and the world.
If you go out early in the morning, this is what you find.
The hotels at least hire an army of workers to clean the beach every morning, if not several times a day. The worker below is named Miguel Angel and he´s a very nice guy.
But if you happen to walk in front of an empty property, or one that doesn’t have cleaning staff, it is impossible to lay on the beach without spending 10-15 minutes cleaning up all around. And it isn’t just an aesthetic problem. Among the dolls, flip-flops, and toothbrushes one also finds shards of glass and syringes with needles. I’ve stepped on both and the needles at least are enough to ruin ones vacation and leave one worrying for weeks.
I want to be very clear that I am not complaining about he Sargassum. Nature places it there, and for good reason. It slows erosion, is foraging grounds for birds, crabs and other critters, and also serves as nesting material. The strange thing is that we are so disconnected from nature that we are often more grossed out by algae that has always been and will always be around, than we are by our own filth.
And what is truly alarming is that these plastics are just the visible and colourful fraction of all the crap we toss into the seas. If only we could see all that sinks or is dissolved. If we could see the organic waste, the toxic chemicals, the heavy metals- would we still vacation by the sea?
Inside the reserve it is even worse. In theory this beach is “protected” but since there is no cleaning staff, it is disgusting to a degree that makes it impossible to enjoy. I´ve participated in a few beach clean-up events, but the truth is they do very little. Within a week, if not the next day, they look as they did before.
When there is an oil spill, we rightfully get alarmed and indignantly demand that the guilty be punished, the affected area cleaned, and the ecosystem restored as much as possible. Why then do we allow this to happen every single day? Every day, every beach is covered in garbage and nobody says anything.
And that’s because there is no one guilty party. It’s all of us, everywhere. Once I took it upon myself to read the labels on bottles I found on the beach. I found they weren’t only from Mexico, or even the Americas. They originated also from Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. Obviously some of these had been imported and entered the sea locally. Others were tossed from cruise ships or other boats. But some crossed the Oceans on marine currents. And before that, they reached the sea dragged by streams and rivers.
Really the only solution is to stop using plastic- at least the disposable types. It sounds crazy, but plastic bottles and bags did not exist when I was a child. They are not necessities. And disposable plates, cups and forks are even less so. Their only purpose is to keep us from washing dishes. Their sole justification is our laziness, and I for one do not believe that sloth justifies trashing our beaches.
And if we can’t even get rid the beaches of plastic forks, what chance do we have of eliminating sewage and industrial waste from our seas?
David Nuñez is a biologist, photographer and author of several books on the Wildlife of the Mexican Caribbean, as well as a founding member of Mexiconservación.