Why something as unassuming as a drifting plastic bag, may be an omen of the end of the human race as we know it.
Time and again, the world has expressed its love for the ‘endless white’ beaches of Maldives, dubbing the islands ‘heaven on earth’ while ‘Insta’-ntly achieving #bliss.
To most Maldivians however, home brings to mind grandma’s ‘valhomas mashuni’, followed by dips in crystal clear lagoons laughing with friends and family as you dare each other to ‘rihaakuru’ infused ‘majaa’ bowls of literal fun.
Heading home to jasmine rice served lovingly by our moms with ‘garudhiya’ stewed from today’s catch, before gobbling up an assortment of spicy ‘hedhika’ and delicious sweets we, perhaps too often, treat ourselves to at sundown. Mmm!
Basically, we Maldivians love ourselves some tuna. The fish-ception that is our typical meal (Fish ‘biryani’ rice served with fried fish, garnished with fish chips, sometimes infused with fish paste… see where this is going?), though it may sound strange to the rest of the world, is something we’d be hard pressed to live without.
But we may soon find that in just a few short decades, our infamous Maldives’ tuna will kill us as rapidly as it has satisfied our appetites for hundreds of years. That is, if we still manage to find one by the year 2040.
Dear Maldivians, This is not a drill. This is not a scene from some apocalyptic Hollywood Sci-Fi flick depicting an unfathomable dystopian future.
Earth is suffering. Our oceans are dying. And with it, disappears all the amazing life within it, followed shortly and inevitably by those residing above it.
So we find ourselves, as unprepared as we may be, the unfortunate generations tasked with answering the most difficult question of all time,
And if that question doesn’t provoke you, try this one on for size,
Well, we stop killing Earth, that’s how.
Environmentalists often call it ‘conservation’, but to an islander living on the lowest, and flattest country in the world, in a time when sea levels keep rising and the globe keeps heating things up, the goal is closer to ‘salvation’, certainly.
But whatever you choose to call it, ‘preservation’ ‘conservation’ ‘protection’ or indeed ‘saving the planet’, the reality is that our world is in peril.
Countless theories, controversies and conundrums aside, most environmentalists agree that the most imminent threat to Earth, and certainly to its oceans – is Plastic.
It all began in the rather exciting 60’s, when invention and innovation had begun to transform human lives around the world, quite blindly it would seem, to the effects these ‘developments’ wrought on the rest of our living planet.
This period marked the beginning of plastics global conquest, as affordability, convenience and weight of the polymer led to mass production of tupperware, toys, saran wrap, lycra material, artificial plants, pipes, jewelry, cotton buds – the list only goes on.
Half a century later, the world must face the music.
As the new millennium dawned, plastic was virtually everywhere. Not a single household, even somewhere as relatively remote as the Maldives, is free from its use. As Katy Perry croons “do you ever feel, like a plastic bag…” – the implications are undeniable. The danger has found its way into our homes, our lives, our bodies – even questionable American pop culture, and what’s worse, we welcomed it.
Today, our daily routines require as much as 80% of plastic use. And yet from creation to disposal, the risk plastic places on our lives is only set to grow. By 2016, world plastics production totaled around 335 million metric tons and roughly half of annual production are attributed to single-use plastics.
And what, you ask, does all that have to do with the delicious plate of steaming ‘kulhi riha’ in-front of you?
Picture yourself at the grocery store, purchasing a tuna can, slipping it in a plastic bag despite the huge handbag on you shoulder. You come home, throw that plastic bag into the bin and forget about it.
Yet that plastic bag travels. As it heads to Thilafushi (an artificial island in the Maldives created as a municipal landfill for the capital), many of its brethren are fated to be blown elsewhere by the wind. Some are dropped directly into the ocean by careless passersby. This plastic bag finds its way to the isle of garbage, but slips into the ocean soon after.
Labelled “biodegradable”, the plastic bag doesn’t dissolve into the salty water. It crumbles into tiny pieces called ‘microplastics’. These microplastics are then gobbled up by hungry fish that can’t differentiate between the tiny fish they eat, and the bright specks of plastic.
All is fine and well until of course, you are hungry again. This time however, when you buy a fish, you land on one that is saturated with toxic chemicals from all the plastic it has consumed. But you have no idea, because none of these dangers are particularly visible.
Of course, 10 years later, when you visit the doctor, you have no way of pinpointing the exact moment that you began poisoning yourself. You cannot say for sure that you caused the pain you are feeling in your body. But what did you do to try and prevent it?
It is now twenty years into the future, and plastic infused food has brought its own plague. With dead and uninhabitable reefs, our diving industry has also died. A large percentage of tourism has faded. What was once ‘paradise’ is no more.
Now, this writer has no way of foreseeing the future. Yet there are numerous facts, and devastating figures that indicate that the picture painted with these words, are not far from reality. The solution is not to stop ‘eating fish’ or to ‘donate to charities’ – the change must begin within local communities, by making sustainable lifestyle choices. It is as simple as reduce, refuse, reuse, recycle and remove – and of course, not to litter!
These are just a couple of ways the plastic problem affects humans. The devastation it wreaks on fragile ecosystems are equally, if not more, tragic. The vast amounts of marine debris found in the ocean are already responsible for the near extinction of several creatures from turtles to sharks, all more ancient than our own species. In fact, more than a 100 million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean.
The greatest war of our time is proving to be the battle to salvage our planet and with it, the existence of the human race. Maldives might not sink this year or perhaps in our lifetimes. But the sea is getting warmer, and corals are dying, and our fish are dying – these are cold, hard facts that every observant diver, snorkeler and ocean enthusiast can attest to. We, as a planet, are running out of resources whilst consumption increases. And that in turn creates more waste.
Ultimately, all these problems are connected and lead to the same end. We die out. If we want our race to survive, for our children and their children to enjoy the best life possible, as cliché as it sounds, there is really only one choice left - to deliver the best fight against the destruction of our planet that we possibly can.
It is never too late to make a change. Every day is an opportunity to do better, to learn more, and find better solutions. And what a difference these changes make!
Half a million straws are used in the world every day.
We must ask ourselves, have we become incapable of drinking from our cups? How could we let a product that is so trivial to our lives, become such a massive problem? Many shops now carry reusable metal or glass straws, and even compostable straws made from ‘pasta dough’ or ‘bamboo’. On Children’s Day this year, Jalaaluddin School in HDh. Kulhudhuffushi actually used straws made out of papaya leaves!
Four trillion (with a T!) plastic bags are used worldwide annually.
Nearly everyone owns a handbag, briefcase, or carrier of some sort. Are we really too lazy or vain to use them for their intended purpose? The average lifespan of a plastic bag is 15 minutes - why use it to store things that are already packaged like water bottles, tissue packets or medicine tablets?
Several retailers in Male’ sell fabric bags for shopping purposes, that can easily be stored in your handbag, and pulled out for use.
Most of the Styrofoam disposed of today will still be present in landfills 500 years from now.
Although polystyrene, the material that most disposable cups are made of, has been linked to cancer by International Agency for Research on Cancer, we continue to use them at kids parties and other events.
Purchasing reusable cups, and refusing single-use plasticware is the answer, and a simple one at that!
A full 32% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced annually is left to flow into our oceans; the equivalent of pouring one garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
This is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050. By 2050, this could mean there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.
At this point, the Maldivian Fishing Industry, and Tourism Industry will be a resounding and very inelegant “Ka-Put!”
Maldivians enjoy a diet that typically consists of 60 percent fish or seafood. If that weren’t enough, we depend on our oceans for nearly 50% of our GDP (Tourism, Fishing as per Statistical Yearbook of Maldives 2018).
If our oceans die, the effect that has on our tourism will be immense. All we have to do is stop putting our litter into the ocean, or littering on our streets where it likely ends up in the sea – and realizing that out of sight, certainly isn’t out of mind. “Don’t excrete where you eat”, or so the saying goes.
Even when single-use plastics are sent to garbage dumps, they aren’t harmless. Harmful pollutants often trickle into our oceans or drift with the wind.
And for every moment toxic waste hits the water, it also makes its way into someone’s mouth.
There are millions of ways to stop adding to the plastic problem. Single use plastics, though easy to use and access, are proving to be a much larger problem in the aftermath. Find alternatives and better ways to live your life whilst reducing your plastic contribution and thereby your carbon footprint.
There are many NGO’s invested in protecting the environment in the Maldives, and often organize cleanups in Male’ and other islands. Most of these activists are happy to visit and conduct waste management seminars, and waste audit trainings to empower Maldivians across the country to take matters into their own hands, and solve this problem.
To volunteer for beach and reef clean-ups, or to learn more about conservation and living a more environment-positive life contact:
Project Damage Control describes itself as being a social action project that aims to clean up the swimming areas in Male', often hosting cleanups at Maafannu’s Rasrani and Galolhu’s Swimming Track, to collect litter from various targeted locations. Follow @projectdmgctrl on Facebook or contact 7458063 (Azzam) or 7692877 (Ihsaan) for more information.
Save The Beach celebrated its 10 year Anniversary in 2018, and regularly hosts cleanups, waste training sessions, conservation workshops, conducts reef surveys and has implemented several coral rehabilitation projects in the Maldives. For more information please visit www.savethebeachmaldives.org or connect with STB on Facebook or Instagram @SaveTheBeachMaldives or follow @SaveTheBeachVM on Twitter.
Parley for the Oceans, collects large quantities of plastic from the Maldives, and around the world, to be used for recycling. In fact, this year Adidas teamed up with Parley, utilizing recycled plastic to create the retailer’s official kits for FIFA World Cup 2018. Please reach out to Parley Maldives for more information about how you can adopt their cause, learn and assist their efforts.
Learn. Change. Evolve.
When you’re talking about saving lives, it’s never too late to begin.
1. Garudhiya: A fish stew that is widely regarded as a national dish of Maldives.
2. Rihaakuru: A savory fish paste made from cooking tuna over an extended period of time.
3. Thelli-mas: Fried fish, usually marinated in a delicate mix of garlic and spices.
4. Valhomas Mashuni: Served with roti, this dish is made up of smoked tuna, mixed with coconut flakes and onion, infused with lime, and chillies.
5. Majaa: Also used as a colloquial term for having fun, Majaa here refers to a concoction consisting of tuna paste, green papaya or mango, and spices.
6. Hedhika: A collective term for short-eats typically enjoyed over tea in the evenings, usually incorporating some form of fried or baked dough and a tuna mixture.
7. Kulhi Riha: A very spicy coconut-based curry made with tuna fillet.
Global environment statistics derived from: