Less plastic for the Pacific

Saturday October 06, 2018 Written by Published in Environment
The ELP vessel Today trawls for plastic with the Manta net. 18100429 The ELP vessel Today trawls for plastic with the Manta net. 18100429

The Eat Less Plastic (ELP) team, who were recently in the Cook Islands, have continued their mission from Rarotonga to Beveridge Reef, Niue and Tonga.

 

On this stretch of the journey, Rarotonga-based John Beasley was recruited as part of the team to document the ELP team’s journey at sea along with covering how our neighbouring Pacific island nations are currently dealing with their plastic waste issue.

In a nutshell, the ELP team has been sailing around the Pacific collecting plastic found in the ocean. Plastic is collected with a 6-metre long manta trawl net that is dropped behind the vessel and is towed multiple times for 1 hour at 3-and-half knots. All pieces of plastic from microplastics (under 5mm) to macroplastics (more than 5mm) are collected from this trawl, and are observed and recorded.

Beveridge Reef, a four-day boat ride from Rarotonga saw only two pieces of plastic being collected in the trawl, which was very promising for the team. Beveridge Reef is near Rarotonga but closer to Niue, and is about half the size of Manuae, comprising of a lagoon with no motu.

From Beveridge Reef the team then sailed to Niue, where school presentations were made to highlight to the students what other Pacific islands were currently doing in terms of dealing with their plastic waste.

The ELP team was really impressed with the students’ knowledge and awareness on plastic waste, and noted Niue in general was a relatively clean island.

The Niue government has also come on board in recognising plastic waste as becoming a real concern, and it is currently working on a policy to ban the importation of plastic bags.

In Tonga, the team recognised there was a shift in behaviours towards plastics, whereby plastic waste was more visibly seen. It is believed the attitude towards conservation and waste management may have been a result of the majority of Tongan land being owned by the royal family, making it difficult for the Tongan community to form a connection with their land and environment. ELP was fortunate enough to make contact with Adrian Midhouse who is currently coordinating an NGO called “Ocean Ambassadors’’ in Tonga. Ocean Ambassadors have been proactive in conducting a number of grass roots awareness-raising programmes in local schools to help instil environmental pride into students to become environmental change makers.

Waste disposal in the outer islands, particularly plastic, is still an area that needs attention, as majority of waste produced is either buried or burnt.

            - Te Ipukarea Society

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