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Buried in rubbish: Bali’s beaches blighted by sea-borne waste

Bali, Indonesia – Every day at the crack of dawn, hundreds of fishermen land their traditional outrigger fishing boats at Jimbaran Bay, a long arch of golden sand in Bali’s south, to unload the night’s catch.

But this week they were greeted by an horrific scene: an estimated 100 tonnes of plastic and paper waste piled up to one metre (3.2 feet)  high along the beach and entangled with branches and logs.

Similar scenes have dismayed beachgoers further north at Kuta, Seminyak and Canggu since the start of the year. The disaster was made worse by the washed-up remains of four endangered Olive Ridley turtles and a nearly 14-metre (46-foot) long  Bryde’s whale that were thought to have died after ingesting plastic waste.

“This is not our rubbish. It comes from over there,” Putu, one of hundreds of local residents who spent the day sorting, collecting and burning trash on Jimbaran Bay, told Al Jazeera while pointing east at the sea. “It comes from Java,” added Made, another man raking the sand, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.

Bali’s tidal rubbish problem is an annual event caused in part by monsoon weather that blows marine pollution from the densely populated neighbouring island of Java – Indonesia’s economic engine. The country is one of the worst marine polluters in the world, accounting for 1.3 million of the eight million tonnes of plastic that ends up in the ocean every year, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“Every year the ocean current pattern in the Bali Strait will impact the west coast of Bali. When the seawater in the Bali Strait has garbage, it will be carried to the beach,” said Gede Hendrawan, head of the Marine Computation Laboratory at Bali’s Udayana University. “This issue has been happening for almost a decade.”

The carcass of what is thought to be a Bryde’s whale which washed up on Bali’s Batu Belig beach last month [File: Handout/Badung Environmental and Hygiene Services via AFP]

Bali’s Environment and Sanitation Service has confirmed the tidal rubbish problem is worse this year than in 2020 despite the resort island recording its lowest visitor numbers in more than 10 years because of COVID-19-related travel bans.

“It’s possible the problem is being made worse by the pandemic as we can see the rubbish on the beaches this year are mostly plastic,” Hendrawan says. “Perhaps people are using more plastic for protection from COVID-19?”

Plastic dumped

Britta Denise Hardesty, a research scientist at Australia’s CSIRO science agency which is working to help solve environmental problems in Indonesia, says it is not surprising that the pollution is getting worse.

“It’s not just about how much is produced each year but how much has been produced in total,” she said. “Even if we are 20 percent better at handling plastic waste, there is 30 percent more of it. We are going to keep on seeing the legacy problem of years gone by.”

Tiza Mafira, the executive director of the Indonesia Plastic Bags Diet, an advocacy group in Jakarta, says Java is not the sole cause of the problem: “They say that the trash comes from Java based on the brands seen on plastic cup brands that are not sold in Bali. But every monsoon Bali officials anticipate a swell up of waste from rivers that carry waste out to the ocean, though there’s no data to prove it.”

She adds: “The lack of data highlights how poorly equipped we are to deal with the problem.”

The rubbish includes old plastic containers and discarded bags as well as logs and branches. People in Bali say the pollution comes from neighbouring Java [Al Jazeera Staff]

Marine pollution is a global problem.

Ocean currents swirl rubbish into giant rubbish patches – the…

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