Marine pollution has been a serious issue and threatens both marine life and people living in coastal areas even before the MV X-Press Pearl disaster. Conservation efforts in Sri Lanka are still at a primary stage, but private organisations and concerned individuals are now engaging more and more in conservation efforts, offering a glimmer of hope.
Earthlanka Youth Network (co-founder Sudarsha de Silva), Turtle Island Restoration Network and Shanthi Sustainable Development (founders Ashan Weerakoon and Janith Jeewantha) together with Ypsylon Resort Sri Lanka (chairman Mrs. Dagmar) organised a reef clean up in the Bentota-Beruwala reef in last April.
A team of divers including Dagmar, Shehan Kannangara, Nirmal Kalubowila, Gayathma Yapa, Kavitha Vijayaraj, Amali Wickremasinghe and Upekha Kottage removed over 150 kg of abandoned fishing nets and other pollutants that were endangering this important marine habitat. They found metal anchors left behind by fishing vessels, and nylon nets which can be there in the reef for centuries as they do not decompose.
"The nets, made from nylon or other plastic components, can last for centuries without decomposing"
Such abandoned fishing gear can have an enormous negative impact on marine life species such as reef fish, coral formations, sea turtles, aquatic birds and marine mammals. The team saw fish which had perished after getting trapped in those discarded nets.
The Bentota-Beruwala coastal area attracts diverse forms of marine life. It boasts of a major influx of sea turtles that come throughout the year, crossing the reef to hatch along the coast.
Plastics can disintegrate into smaller pieces called micro plastics (smaller than half a meter) or even nanoplastics that can eventually end up in the ocean.
These plastics enter the marine food chain as well. The attached toxins can also move and accumulate in animal fat and tissues through a process called bioaccumulation.
Single use plastics are responsible for much of this plastic pollution. It is estimated that around 8.8 million tons of this mismanaged plastics enter our oceans every year. Discarded fishing nets in the marine environment are one of the most harmful forms of plastic pollution and scientists estimate that more than 650,000 marine animals are killed or seriously injured every year after getting trapped in such nets.
Ghost fishing gear refers to ropes, nets, and other fishing waste that’s lost or discarded at sea. The nets, made from nylon or other plastic components, can last for centuries without decomposing.
Though the resurgence of this third Covid- 19 has interrupted their plans, the people behind this reef cleanup effort hope to continue once conditions permit their work to resume. They also hope to attract corporate sponsorship as reef clean ups are expensive, including the hiring of diving gear, boats and divers’ fees.