Single-use plastics: Throttling Sri Lanka’s seabed

By Sarah Hannan

In early March, we reported how 32 million kilogrammes of garbage accumulated within a year in the coastal regions of Sri Lanka, with the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) confirming that about 90% of the garbage is brought to the beach through inland waterways and only 10% of it is from the coastal region.

The MEPA pointed out that plastics get pushed to the ocean and some plastics start to float, with about 70% of it getting deposited on the seabed, while another portion floats mid-sea.

A recent video, documented by Island Scuba in collaboration with The Pearl Protectors, has acted as an eye-opener to many, as the footage captured how single-use plastics such as sachet packets of tea, washing powder, snack packs, polythene bags, and disposable gloves have deposited not only on the seabed, but also over the coral reefs in the sea of the Palagala area.

The Morning spoke to The Pearl Protectors Co-ordinator Muditha Katuwawala to inquire on what they had witnessed and documented, and whether there were especially vulnerable areas where all these discarded plastics have started to gather.

“From time to time we organise beach clean-ups to keep the beach stretch clean and with the rough sea conditions that were present in the western coast, we also saw a massive amount of garbage that got beached in Mount Lavinia. Most of the garbage would have found its way to the beach not only from the ocean but also through the waterways that are arriving at sea from inland areas,” he said.

According to Katuwawala, what they had observed was that a good amount of the garbage was deposited on the seabed and only 10% of it is actually picked up from the nearby beach during beach clean-ups.

“Although we are able to clean up the beach no matter how many times it gets littered, there has been no initiative to clean the seabed which is choking on the garbage that is washed into the sea. In areas where there are no currents, these plastic items remain stagnant and it creates a layer of garbage, which causes severe pollution in areas especially closer to harbours, lagoons, or estuaries, threatening the marine and aquatic culture,” Katuwawala noted.

According to the MEPA, plastics that settle in the bottom of the ocean physically damage the animals dwelling at the bottom and block sunlight to the ocean bed. Over time, these plastics start to release chemicals and when they start to break down, they do not decay. These plastics then break down into micro and nanoparticles.

Global plastic production is estimated to have reached approximately trillion tonnes with packaged consumer goods exported to developing countries from developed countries.