About 2 720 cigarette butts, 15 488 food wrappers and just over 71 000 items in total were collected by the South African volunteers during Ocean Conservancy’s series of clean-ups in 2014. Just under 12 000 kilograms of rubbish was collected along 133 kilometres of shoreline – an average of 90.22kg per kilometre.
The sheer amount of waste strewn along South Africa’s coastlines and river banks has been cause for alarm for some of the country’s marine and freshwater conservationists and has led to various bodies such as Plastics South Africa and Nampak committing to playing an active role in mitigating the impact of their products on marine biology.
Their efforts are compounded by those of Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit environmental advocacy group based in Washington DC.
Human rubbish has a devastating effect on ocean ecosystems. Sea birds, for example, often mistake small pieces of floating plastic, such as bottle tops, for food. The indigestible material then accumulates in their stomachs, slowly starving the birds. The result has been graphically documented by photographer Chris Jordan.
Watch a short film by photographer Chris Jordan and the MidWay Film team documenting the effect marine pollution has on the delicate balance of nature:
Each year for the past 29 years, hundreds of thousands of volunteers all over the world have taken time out of their day-to-day lives to head to the nearest body of water and take part in Ocean Conservancy’s global effort to remove rubbish from the planet’s coastlines and major waterways to root out the sources of the massive amount of debris that finds its way into our oceans every day.
According to the conservancy’s 2015 report, in 2014 more than 7 million kilograms or 7 000 metric tons of waste were collected from the beaches and waterways of the 91 countries involved in the clean-up. Leading the pack in terms of the sheer weight of the waste collected was the USA, where volunteers picked up just under 1.9 million kilograms of rubbish from some 29 000 kilometres shoreline. This is an average of 65.5kg per kilometre.
The drive to preserve the integrity of the planet’s oceans and waterways received huge buy-in from all over the world in 2014. More than 560 000 volunteers covered a distance equivalent to 2.5 times the total length of the Great Wall of China or 509 marathons.
Ocean Conservancy chief executive officer Andreas Merkl said he was thoroughly impressed by the collective effort spanning nearly three decades, making it “the largest of its kind on the planet”.
“I am deeply appreciative of the men, women and children who dedicate their time to remove unsightly and dangerous trash from the ocean and the rivers, lakes and streams that flow into it, especially the 150 country and state who delivered more than 5 500 clean-ups in 2014 alone.”
He also expressed his gratitude towards all of the governmental agencies, foundations and corporations that provided the funding the organisation needed to “pull off” a global clean-up of this magnitude.
Estimated at more than 1.5 million pieces measuring less than 2.5cm, plastic outnumbered any other type of material collected during the year’s efforts. Foam pieces numbered just over 1.25 million and glass about 0.55 million pieces collected globally.
In terms of items picked up, cigarette butts were by far the most common, with more than 2.2 million of them collected globally, almost twice as many as the second most common item, food wrappers, which numbered just under 1.4 million.
The top ten items collected globally during 2014, according to Ocean Conservancy’s 2015 report, were:
- Cigarette butts – 2 248 065
- Food wrappers – 1 376 133
- Plastic bottles – 988 965
- Plastic bottle caps – 811 871
- Straws and stirrers – 519 911
- Plastic bags e.g. bread packets – 489 968
- Grocery bags – 485 204
- Glass bottles – 396 121
- Beverage cans – 382 608
- Plastic crockery – 376 479