This beautiful island town where locals rely on the ocean for their livelihoods and daily transportation. The ocean is life in Vava’u. And life is ocean. Everybody in town is tied to the ocean. If it’s not the main work environment in the household then they rely on it for transportation. Yet – one thing that strikes you from the first venture out on the ocean is the amount of debris floating on the water into the harbor. Many people recognize that this pollution is not a new thing here. It is sad because it’s becoming the accepted and the expected. Talking about the sad state is likely to find reactions like “oh this is nothing compared to Asia” or “oh it’s everywhere here anywhere you go with the wind blowing from the sea you’ll find tons of plastic on the beach.” The topic will then quickly be dismissed. Leaving behind many questions and unexplored solutions and potential. 
The debris comes in from different waste streams. First – there are plenty of local trash that is either thrown into the ocean or just floats in with the rain waters. The population lacks awareness about their impact on the environment and the oceans. The culture so untouched they all still enjoy their food as our ancestors were meant to – peel and throw peel to open fields. Though the peel of the mostly processed foods now found on Vava’u are not organic as those of their ancestors’ choices – bananas, coconuts etc. Most of the time the wrappers of these imported goods not even recyclable or biodegradable. Even if they are, the island is so small and primitive it lacks facilities to process or any way to re-use the recyclable plastics. Second there is the problem of handling the true waste and recyclable materials on the island. There isn’t a good waste management system – just a landfill, an incinerator and a couple of aluminum crushers. Then there is always the waste that is washed in through long journeys on ocean currents – the foreign objects that just show up on the beach. 

On the north side of the island there is a forgotten beach called Keitahi. It is a mostly rocky beach with another beautiful South Pacific landscape and turquoise waters. Yesterday was a  rainy and stormy day hence the waves and wind were high. With the higher winds came in heavier things like industrial dishwasher racks – suspecting cruise or cargo ships. 

Just after a 30min walk on  Keitahi, Paul, from Two Hands Project, and I were able to extract this many plastics – and it was “only” this much – about 2.5lbs – because we were limited by how much we could carry in our hands without a collection bin or bag. From the suspected local trash – to the foreign thrown plastic materials – Colgate toothbrushes that are not easily found on the island, Coca-Cola caps and bottles that have endured the test of time in the salty waters to an absolutely stunning car and scooter parts as well as a Rubbermaid cooler lid… 

Rubbermaid cannot be found anywhere near this island, not even on the main island of Tonga. You could tell it’s been in the water for a period of time from the damage on the sides and the growth of sea organisms on it. It could have been tossed from a sail boat, or maybe floating in from Australia or as far as America – no real way of knowing for sure. Just that it doesn’t belong here.

Another very sad find was a Nike Air sole – Nike your AIR is ruining our WATERs. Is there any way that you think you can help with keeping those soles out of our waters and away from our sea life? This sole was washed up and then blown in a little into the land because it was so light and “air”y.

And many many plastic bottles, bottle caps and small plastic pieces that were impossible to identify the origins – including a few nerdles. It is sad what we are doing to our earth. Many of the pieces had teeth marks suggesting something trying to chew it down. 

This one piece is especially worrying with the clear turtle teethmarks – first hand proof how we are hurting the wild life we never even get to see. That’s all they know about us.  That’s all they get to see OF us. An inedible dangerous and toxic material that is likely to poison or choke them.

Contrast that with what we think when the FDA approves something that they don’t know at the time is harmful to our fragile human health and allow it on the shelves for us to consume. 

I felt sad… knowing that when I was looking into those deep thoughtful eyes of the humpbacks who so gracefully swam next to me with their tons of power they had also swam past things I had used and threw out that could have been, or even still could be, deadly for them. I am truly deeply sorry friend. Change is on the way. But you know how different swimmers we are from you? That’s how different we are when it comes to caring about harming another too. When I jump into your home you do your best to avoid touching and harming me. And I… What do I do? 

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