Local communities in India are helping save the ocean.
A group of farmers-turned-divers shoulder two important tasks. They guide tourists to enjoy scuba-diving along the local coastline, where there is rich marine biodiversity.
They also pull plastic waste from the sea.
It’s part of a U.N. program to promote marine conservation.The program links conservation to sustainable livelihoods for local communities.
“During the day, they take the tourists for scuba diving, but they are conscious that their environment has to be kept clean. And that is prompting them to keep the biodiversity intact. If there are elements like pollution getting into the waters, they are people who would raise their voice. So, that is the kind of synergy that we are trying to build,” said N. Vasudevan, chief conservator of Mangrove Forests, Maharashtra.
There’s about 150 million tons of plastics in the oceans. That includes abandoned fishing nets, bottles, and wrappers.
This waste can be very harmful to marine life.
The scuba divers collect the trash and pick out the recyclables. They also free the fish and other animals trapped in the nets.
“If we don’t take it out, nothing will survive. If we do not take out the ghost net (abandoned net) then it will kill the fish and the marine life. We won’t be able to save anything in the water because of the plastic … there won’t be fish or corals—only plastic will survive. One day will come when people will see only a sea of plastic,” said Bhushan Kashinath Juwatkar, a 30-year-old fisherman-turned-scuba diver.
The animals also ingest the plastic waste and tiny plastic microbeads.
“Some of the turtles chew plastic as if it was a jellyfish or it gets into the system of some of the dolphins and other animals. So there is a lot of damage caused by these waste materials, solid waste,” said Vasudevan.
It’s also in local community’s interest to save their oceans. The fishing communities along India’s nearly 4,660-mile coastline rely directly on the ocean economy to survive.
According to the United Nations, the oceans are also a major source of protein for more than 3 billion people, putting them at risk of consuming plastic indirectly.
Absence of effective waste management and disposal systems for sewage and pollutants add to the problem.
A World Economic Forum report claims that by 2025, there will be 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish in the oceans. It also states that given the projected growth in production, oceans could contain more plastics than fish by 2050.