Drowning in Waste

Whilst in Mexico, I was educated on waste and the substantial affect it has on the ocean – a situation which is seemingly hopeless and needs immediate attention. Plastic has become almost indispensable in our daily lives however it decomposes very slowly and this process can take a few hundreds to a few thousands of years, thus plastic debris is one of the biggest sources of global marine pollution.

During a lecture, the facts that were presented before me were disheartening especially when informed about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; the world’s largest ‘landfill’ which is estimated to be two times the size of Texas (source: LA Times, 2006). The vortex was founded in 1997 by Captain Charles Moore and resembles a plastic sea-soup. Plastic constitutes 90% of all trash floating in the world’s oceans (source: LA Times, 2006). About 80% of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land, much of which is plastic bags, bottles and various other consumer products all of which present numerous hazards to marine life, fishing and tourism.

When volunteering in Mexico, I witnessed this issue directly on a weekly beach clean, where we endeavored to clean 200m of the Sian Ka’an reserve. On my last week a team of 8 collectively picked up 26 kg of waste, which accumulated to 723 bottle caps, 283 pieces of plastic cutlery, 142 straws, 28 toothbrushes, 23 pens, 8 syringes and so on. Although it was devastating to see such a naturally beautiful area polluted by unsustainable lifestyles, I personally was confronted by the issue when cleaning out turtle nests on Yu Yum beach. I traced turtle tracks under plastic bags, found nests next to used forks and watched babies crawl towards the sea surrounded by bottle caps. We were there to help but it seemed ironic that, collectively, we are the problem.

It was difficult for me to believe that I could make a difference to this astronomical problem, however by making the following changes to my daily routine I learnt that we could make a difference:

1. Drink out of glasses not plastic bottles.
2. Use stainless steel water bottles not plastic bottles.
3. Refuse plastic bags and carry reusable bags.
4. Look at what you’re buying and chose products with less packaging.
5. Do not use glad wrap and avoid Tupperware – try and save glass jars and use these instead.

Ultimately, more plastic recycling and wider use of biodegradable materials is the best hope for controlling the garbage patch, but that’s an uphill battle. We need to educate people on the proper disposal of things that do not break up, like plastics. Opportunities for recycling have to increase, and as a society, we have to get better at reusing what we buy.”

Developing Cultural Awareness

I have been teaching on and off now, for a couple of years, I am accustomed to an array of western classrooms, however I had never taught English as a second language up until the other day.

I arrived in Mexico, fresh from teaching at a traditional American summer camp, I had the sole ambition to dive, conduct research and detox from children. However, a few days in I was asked to visit Punta Allen; a remote fishing village located down a dusty road ridden with pot-holes, and help a community project which focused on teaching English. To my surprise I jumped at the opportunity, I was happy to give up a day diving too immerse myself in an unfamiliar culture, get a negligible perspective on the Mexican school system and once again interact with children.

The project ran once a week and helped those from the ages of 3–14 learn basic English – a skill which has become more vital in recent years since Punta Allen’s slight tourist influx. Different to western schools, the classes were small with a variety of ages and abilities. With only one Kindergarten, Primary and Secondary school in the village, it was a shock to see the large size of the kindergarten compared to that of the secondary school. Having only ever read about high school drop out rates in areas such as Punta Allen, being confronted with the reality made me appreciate the positive affect projects such as these have on local communities.

Typically English, I speak no other language except my own, although this had its draw backs I found the children to be friendly and eager to participate, a rarity that would have been hard to come by back home.